What is a FireWire Cable, And Do You Really Need It?

FireWire, also known as IEEE 1394, is not a cable you usually find these days. Popularized in the early 90s, it was the competing standard to USB for a long time, not unlike Thunderbolt is today. Offering much faster speeds, even faster than USB 2.0, FireWire a connection you’ll usually find on older external hard drives and digital cameras.

FireWire 800 vs. 400

FireWire has two versions, and unlike USB 2.0 and 3.0, they’re not backward compatible. They don’t even look remotely alike, which can lead to some confusion. The older standard, FireWire 400, is a flatter connector with one rounded side, and the faster 800 version resembles a fat USB connector.

The naming scheme is accurate though, as it represents the actual speed of the cable: 400 Mbps vs. 800 Mbps. For comparison, USB 2.0 is 480 Mbps, and USB 3.0 completely outdates it with 5 Gbps.

Just Get Yourself a Dongle

Unfortunately for FireWire, nowadays you’ll find yourself needing a FireWire-to-2018 adapter as much as you’ll need the actual cable. You can find some adapters on Amazon, just make sure it’s the right FireWire type, as they’re not compatible with each other.

You’ll also want to avoid a USB 2.0 adapter if you’re looking to connect FireWire 800, as it will be much slower. Though, if it’s the only way you can connect it, running at half speed isn’t too bad.

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