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What Is a 6-Pin FireWire®?

W. Joyner
W. Joyner

A 6-pin FireWire® is a type of port on a computer or a type of connector on a computer peripheral. The designation “6-pin” refers to the number of pins, or circuits, in the port or connector. FireWire® connectors are also available in 4-pin and 9-pin configurations. The 6-pin version is commonly referred to as an alpha connector.

The number of pins referenced is indicative of the speed supported by the port. The 4- and 6-pin FireWire® connectors support speeds up to 400 megabits per second, and the 9-pin runs at a speed of close to 800 megabits per second. The distinct difference between the 4- and 6-pin connectors is found in the ability of the connector to supply power to a device. A peripheral that is running on a 6-pin FireWire® port might receive its power through the two extra wires, or pins, in the cable. A unit connected through a 4-pin interface will require an external power source.

Many newer devices use faster USB 3.0 connections instead of FireWire docks.
Many newer devices use faster USB 3.0 connections instead of FireWire docks.

FireWire® is a high-speed communications standard that is used to connect components through a serial bus interface. It originally was developed by Apple Computer and was later made available as an industry-wide application. FireWire® technology also might be referred to in the industry by other brand names and has been standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as IEEE 1394.

In addition to the high transfer speeds offered by FireWire® technology, other benefits include the ability to connect multiple devices. A FireWire® connection can support as many as 64 devices on a single network. The components also can be directly connected to each other in a chain and can communicate with each other without passing data through the computer’s central processing unit (CPU).

Among the more common applications for FireWire® are video, audio and digital photography. The standard is a particularly popular choice for audio technicians who record or edit audio files because of its ability to pass the audio signal directly from the microphone to a mixing board or audio interface. This greatly reduces the latency factor of the signal and results in a higher quality of recording. The 6-pin FireWire® connector is especially well suited for such an application because of its capacity to supply power to the equipment.

Consumers can purchase 6-pin FireWire® cables in varying lengths, but the longest cable length supported by the standard is 15 feet (about 5 m). Signal repeaters can be utilized to lengthen the reach of a FireWire® network, allowing up to 16 cables to be linked together. Using this method, the network’s range can be extended to 236 feet (about 72 m). Comparatively, 9-pin FireWire® cables can be as long as 330 feet (about 100 m).

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    • Many newer devices use faster USB 3.0 connections instead of FireWire docks.
      By: Shawn Hempel
      Many newer devices use faster USB 3.0 connections instead of FireWire docks.