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1394 Grows Up.

In 1994, Apple Computer announced FireWire, an interface for connecting multiple digital devices together. Although Apple was willing to share the specification with its PC competitors and companies that were developing products that could talk over FireWire, it wasn't willing to share the name. The IEEE adopted the specification in 1995, giving it the imaginative name 1394 (presumably because it was put into consideration after 1393 and before 1395).

In 1997, Microsoft published a Device Bay specification, defining a standard architecture for connecting removable devices, external enclosures, and notebook or desktop computers together. The specification included both 1394 and USB connections. For many reasons, including the relatively high cost of 1394 silicon and an unwillingness of most hardware vendors to produce products that were designed for use in Device Bay, Device Bay never took off.

FireWire, or 1394, remained an important standard for digital video, with implementation on many high-end consumer and professional digital video products. The ability of 1394 devices to talk to each other, independent of a connection to a computer, made 1394 a viable, and useful, interface standard for digital video and other digital devices.

Aside from these relatively small markets, the use of 1394 was relegated to niche devices communicating to each other or to the Mac. Although there has been frequent speculation about 1394 being an interesting interface for connection of storage devices, no major players fulfilled these dreams. Until now.

In late February, Western Digital announced three external 1394 hard drives. The WD 1394 External Hard drive is available in 10GB, 20GB, and 30GB versions with suggested prices of $299.95, $349.95, and $399.95, respectively.

The current version of 1394 supports data transfer rates as high as 400Mbps, and up to 63 devices, over a distance up to 15 feet. Devices that attach to the 1394 bus operate in true plug and play fashion and can be hot attached or removed. Putting additional WD 1394 hard drives onto a 1394 bus is almost as easy as connecting a 1394 cable and applying power to the drive.

Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows 2000, and MacOS 8.6 or higher already support 1394. Hardware device support for Fire Wire is included in most Mac computers made in the last four or five years. Hardware support for the PC may be as simple as connecting a 1394 PCI adapter (suggested list price $79.95) available from Western Digital. A CardBus card, designed for use in notebook computers, is also offered by Western Digital. The CardBus card has a suggested list price of $129.95.

With the availability of easily attached (and easily detached) hard drives and performance as high as 400Mbps, it is not clear what impact the 1394 drives will have on the emerging NAS drive market. However, at the very least, with their low prices and ease of installation and removal, 1394 hard drives may present a viable alternative for users who are using NAS drives primarily for remote, removable, or temporary storage. Western Digital's 1394 products began shipping in March.
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Author:Brownstein, Mark
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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