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USB and IEEE-1394 (FireWire) Overview

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This document provides a brief description of Universal Serial Bus (USB) and IEEE-1394 (FireWire) connections. It also provides general specifications, comparisons, and troubleshooting information.
CAUTION:Your computer might become more susceptible to damage caused by electrostatic discharge (ESD) when connecting USB devices directly into the ports on the computer. To help prevent damage by ESD, connect USB devices into an external USB hub or connect devices to the computer while the computer is off.

Description of USB and FireWire

USB and IEEE-1394 (FireWire) are low-cost, high-speed connections for computer peripherals. These connections allow you to connect a computer to such devices as printers, portable storage devices, joysticks, keyboards, mouse devices, scanners, modems, digital speakers, removable drives, and many other devices. USB or FireWire peripherals connect directly into ports on the computer, into a hub, or into an extra port on another USB or FireWire device. Windows Plug and Play technology automatically detects and installs most USB and FireWire devices.

USB and FireWire specifications

See the documentation for your computer to determine if it has USB 1.0, USB 1.1, or USB 2.0 ports.
Click the heading or the accompanying plus (+) sign to expand the information.
  • Transmission rates of Up to 1.5 Megabits (Mbps) per second for USB 1.0 and up to 12 Mbps per second for USB 1.1.
  • Supports up to 127 devices (including hubs) per USB controller.
  • Supports Plug and Play.
  • Supports cable lengths of up to five meters.
  • Built-in power supply and distribution for low-power devices.
  • Supported by Windows 98 Second Edition or later.
All the benefits of USB 1.0 and 1.1 with the addition of:
  • Transmission rates of up to 480 Mbps.
  • Fully backward compatible with USB 1.0 and 1.1.
  • USB 2.0 supports USB and high-speed USB devices.
  • All peripherals run at their highest rated speed instead of the speed of the slowest peripheral.
  • Tested at a higher level than USB 1.0/1.1 for reliability.
  • Provides around 2.5 watts of power for attached devices.
  • Supported by Windows XP SP1 or later.
  • Primarily used for fast networking and high-speed multimedia applications.
  • Automatic networking between two computers in Microsoft Windows XP by connecting one FireWire cable.
  • Supports Plug and Play.
  • Transmission speeds of up to 400 Mbps.
  • Supports up to 63 devices (including hubs) through one connection.
  • Can provide around 45 watts of power to attached devices.
  • Supported by Windows Me or later.
  • Has all the benefits of FireWire 400 with the following exceptions and enhancements.
  • Backwards compatible with FireWire 400 through an adapter.
  • Supports cable distances of up to 100 meters through special optical cables.
  • Transmission speeds around 800 Mbps (faster speeds possible with special cables).
  • Data handling is more efficient.

Comparing USB, FireWire, and Parallel connections

The following table lists comparisons between USB, FireWire, and ECP Parallel connection types.
Parallel ECP USB 1.0/1.1FireWire 400 USB 2.0FireWire 800
Highest speed (in megabits per seconds - Mbps) 24 12 400 480 100 to 800 (Higher speeds are possible with special optical cables.)
Maximum recommended cable length10 meters for one non-ECP parallel device. Three meters for an ECP device or more than one device on the same port. Five meters 4.5 meters between each device 4.5 4.5 meters between each device. Up to 100 meters with special optical cable.
Maximum number of attached devicesFour (only one is recommended to avoid conflicts) 127 devices including hubs 63 devices including hubs 127 devices including hubs 63 devices including hubs

Determining if your computer supports USB or FireWire

Windows Vista supports both USB 2.0 and Firewire.
Windows XP supports USB 1.0/1.1 and Firewire 400 (IEEEa). Windows XP Service Pack 2 adds support for USB 2.0 and Firewire 800 (IEEEb).
Windows 98 Second Edition supports USB 1.0/1.1 and FireWire 400.
Previous versions of Windows do not natively support USB or Firewire.

Checking USB and FireWire for problems

By default, USB and Firewire are automatically enabled by the operating system. If you suspect that USB or Firewire might be disabled, you can enable FireWire or USB using the following steps that match your operating system.
Complete the following steps in Windows 7:
  1. Click Start and type Device Manager into the Search field.
  2. Click Device Manager from the results.
    Device Manager opens.
  3. To check USB settings, click the plus sign (+) next to Universal Serial Bus Controller. USB is enabled correctly when both a USB host controller and a USB root hub is listed without any yellow or red error symbols.
    Figure 1: USB controllers in Windows 7
    USB controllers in Windows 7
  4. To check Firewire settings, click the plus sign (+) next to the listing for IEEE 1394 Bus Host Controllers. FireWire is enabled correctly when the FireWire host controller is listed without any yellow or red error symbols.
    Figure 2: Firewire controller in Windows 7
    Firewire controller in Windows 7
  5. If a host or controller has a red or yellow error symbol, click Properties to view more information about the problem. To re-enable the device, right-click its icon and select Enable. Then restart the computer.
Complete the following steps in Windows Vista:
  1. Click Start .
  2. Type Device Manager into the Start Search field. Under Programs, click Device Manager.
    If a User Account Control window displays, click Continue.
    Device Manager opens.
  3. To check USB settings, click the plus sign (+) next to Universal Serial Bus Controller. USB is enabled correctly when both a USB host controller and a USB root hub is listed without any yellow or red error symbols.
    Figure 3: USB controllers in Windows Vista
    USB controllers in Windows Vista
  4. To check Firewire settings, click the plus sign (+) next to the listing for IEEE-1394 (IEEE 1394 Bus Host Controllers). FireWire is enabled correctly when the FireWire host controller is listed without any yellow or red error symbols.
    Figure 4: Firewire controller in Windows Vista
    Firewire controller in Windows Vista
  5. If a host or controller has a red or yellow error symbol, click Properties to view more information about the problem. To re-enable the device, right-click its icon and select Enable. Then restart the computer.
Complete the following steps in Windows XP:
  1. In Windows XP, click Start, right-click My Computer, and click Properties.
  2. Click the Hardware tab, and then click the Device Manager button.
    Device Manager opens.
  3. To check USB settings, click the plus sign (+) next to Universal Serial Bus Controller. USB is enabled correctly when both a USB host controller and a USB root hub are listed without any yellow or red error symbols showing.
    Figure 5: USB controllers in Windows XP
    USB controllers in Windows XP
  4. To check Firewire settings, click the plus sign (+) next to the listing for IEEE-1394 (IEEE 1394 Bus Host Controllers). FireWire is enabled correctly when the FireWire host controller is listed without any yellow or red error symbols showing.
  5. If a host or controller has a red or yellow symbol, click Properties to view more information about the problem. To re-enable the device, right-click its icon and select Enable. Then restart the computer.
Complete the following steps in Windows 98 and Me:
  1. Right-click the My Computer icon on the desktop, and select Properties.
  2. Click the Device Manager tab.
    Device Manager opens.
  3. To check USB settings, click the plus sign (+) next to Universal Serial Bus Controller. USB is enabled correctly when both a USB host controller and a USB root hub is listed without any yellow or red error symbols showing.
  4. To check Firewire settings, click the plus sign (+) next to the listing for IEEE-1394 (IEEE 1394 Bus Host Controllers). FireWire is enabled correctly when the FireWire host controller is listed without any yellow or red error symbols showing.
  5. If a host or controller has a red or yellow symbol, click Properties to view more information about the problem. To re-enable the device, right-click its icon and select Enable. Then restart the computer.
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