The new high-speed variation of IEEE1394 is popularly called FireWire-800 or FireWire-b. This is not quite correct as IEEE 1394b has not yet been accorded a trivial appellation. Officially, the standard is currently simply referred to as IEEE 1394b. Besides new connectors - from the front these look like a larger version of the i.Link plug (about three times as big) - new drivers ensure a performance leap. Maximum gross throughput rates in an ideal environment are around 100 MByte/s (800 MBit/s). In practice, average throughput in measurements of connections from the PC to external devices such as hard drives or DVD drives usually only reaches half of that (50 MByte/s) and direct connections between two computers only a quarter (25 MByte/s) of the maximum data rate of 800 MBit/s = 100 MByte/s. Despite Ethernet's collision management (CSMA/CD), Gigabit-Ethernet networks attain average throughput rates of 70 to 80 MByte/s (effective). Collisions occur when two data packets are sent simultaneously.
As a serial transmission technology, FireWire avoids collisions through intelligent time management - unlike Ethernet - so that jitters are in the pico-second time range, in other words over three decimal places less than with Ethernet. Hence FireWire is better suited to time-critical data transmission such as uncompressed audio and video data. Whether the industry will ever take it on, however, will reveal itself in the fullness of time.
Compared to the Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, the Unibrain and OrangeWare drivers produce a factual speed increase, even if it is not as high as what both vendors claim. Compared to the OHCI driver from Windows XP with SP1, however, there is no noticeable performance gain. Microsoft has enough time to optimize its Service Pack 2 drivers or to replace them by better functioning ones. Whether they deliver on the driver front remains to be seen.
FireWire 800 will certainly gain in significance in the mass-storage area, while in networking, apart from in a few, smaller user groups, will not conquer the mass market. Gigabit-Ethernet is already too widely used and the first 10-Gigabit products are already in the starting blocks. Quantity and not quality looks likely to win the day and FireWire will concede to Gigabit-Ethernet because of a lack of development. Nevertheless, if the industry joins forces, FireWire could find its niche, for example in cabling surround systems serially and digitally. It remains to be seen what comes of it.