Like an unloved house plant, IEEE 1394 - the high-speed peripheral serial bus - appears to be dying on the vine, as Intel nourishes Universal Serial Bus (USB) as the best low-cost solution for attaching peripherals to PCs.


In October, at Intel's USB developer conference in San Diego, the chip giant is expected to release the final specification for USB 2.0. It now appears USB 2.0 will have an equivalent performance to IEEE 1394. USB is expected to perform in the 360 to 480Mbps range or 60MBps, while current shipping versions of IEEE 1394 perform at 400Mbps.

"1394 deployment into the PC platform has proceeded more slowly than expected," said an Intel document on its Web site at http://www.intel.com/pressroom/initiatives/usb.htm.

One key factor in the "slower than expected" deployment of IEEE 1394 may be that the bus is not supported by Intel in its own core-logic chips.

According to Jason Ziller, platform marketing manager for Intel in Santa Clara, Intel has no plans at this time to support 1394 in the chip set.

The Intel Web site also cited "uncertainties about cost and licensing," for not adopting IEEE 1394.

The licensing and cost issues revolve around Apple and the fact that as the owner of the IEEE 1394 patent, Apple must be paid a licensing fee for use of the 1394 bus, according to one peripheral manufacturer who asked not to be identified.

Last year Intel cited video conferencing systems, high resolution scanners and printers, and auxiliary data storage as devices that would benefit from the IEEE 1394 bus. But, this year the company is citing the same peripherals for use with USB 2.0.

However, the ubiquity of USB ports on desktops and notebooks may be a mixed blessing for IT organizations.


On the plus side, once USB 2.0 products are available, expected in the second half of 2000, IT managers will be have a universal docking solution. A USB-connected port replicator will allow IT managers to upgrade or exchange notebooks without having to purchase new port extenders at the desktop.

Ease of installation via plug and play is also perceived as a negative by some IT managers according to Dean Edwards, a product manager at Xircom, California.

Before announcing Xircom's PortStation, a USB notebook expansion system last week, the company conducted focus groups to gauge IT manager acceptance.

"Some IS people still have a problem with the USB concept because they are giving up some control. They want to control everything on the user's desktop," said Edwards. "But just like PDAs, users are getting systems with USB so IT has no choice but to eventually support it," Edwards added.

The PortStation uses individual serial, Ethernet, modem, and parallel modules that snap together and use a single USB port connection.

Modules are priced at US$99 for a 2-port serial and Ethernet 10base modules, and $49 for a parallel module – to ship this month. A $129 56Kbps modem module will ship in October, as will an ISDN module. A DSL module will ship in January, 2000. Prices for ISDN and DSL modules are to be announced.