Long after it became a hit on Apple's Power Macintosh, the super-fast link to digital cameras, scanners, and external drives will soon arrive on many Windows computers - meaning a lot more FireWire peripherals for Macs as well as PCs.
The peripheral port standard, also known as 1394 after its IEEE standard (and i.Link in the Sony version), currently offers up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps) throughput. That's enough to handle videos with little degradation, and better colour and resolution than other peripheral ports can deliver, say analysts.
Originally developed by Apple, FireWire also speeds up image processing on scanners and digital cameras, many of which now come with 1394 ports. It offers true plug-&-play connection and allows longer cabling than competing ports. The standard first appeared on graphics devices, but is now spreading to external drives.
"I think we'll see it pretty much in all PCs within the next five years," says Martin Reynolds, a vice president at the Dataquest research firm.
Lukewarm support from Intel and Microsoft, and alternatives such as Universal Serial Bus that are cheaper to license and support, have kept FireWire off most PCs.
But the situation improved last spring when Microsoft added supporting software to Windows 98, and 1394 add-in cards for existing PCs are now available, notably from Adaptec.
About 8 million FireWire-equipped PCs will be manufactured this year, says Richard Davies, a spokesperson for the 1394 Trade Association. Roughly three-quarters of those will be Windows machines.
Sony, Panasonic, and NEC make 1394-based systems in Japan, and Compaq offers it in its high-end Presario line. Gateway announced a notebook this month and "three more big names will have something out this year," says the association's chair, James Snider.
USB-2 and high-speed serial ports are likely to edge out 1394 as preferred standards for slower devices on next-generation PCs, Reynolds says, but the much faster 1394 should remain popular for video editing.
Snider says coming months will bring high-performance 1394-based scanners and printers, and a new generation of faster cameras may arrive late this year.
A new specification that doubles the standard's maximum throughput to 800Mbps is expected by early 2000.