What Is a FireWire® Board?

Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen
Man holding computer
Man holding computer

A FireWire® board is a component that can be plugged into the motherboard or logic board of a personal computer (PC). The main purpose of this type of expansion card is to add one or more Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 1394, or FireWire®, ports to a desktop computer or laptop. There are a few different versions of the standard, each of which uses a slightly different plug, and number of pin connections. A FireWire® board can use the open host controller interface (OHCI) and generic drivers, though some use propriety drivers and offer additional functionality. Some of these boards are designed specifically for video editing, in which case the proprietary drivers can be useful for functions such as adding real-time effects to video.

FireWire® is the name used by the 1394 Trade Association to refer to the IEEE 1394 standard. A number of other brand names have also been used in conjunction with this standard, though the 1394 Trade Association officially adopted FireWire® in 2002. FireWire® is used to transfer data between PCs and external peripherals, such as hard drives and camcorders, at high speeds. The high transfer rates associated with the standard can be especially useful for video cameras, as they can permit the transmission of uncompressed audio and video.

In order for a computer to be compatible with a device that uses the 1394 standard, a FireWire® board is necessary. These boards are sometimes built in to computer systems, though they can also be installed as expansion cards. This type of expansion board is capable of fitting into the same slots on a motherboard or logic board that are used by video cards and other components. The simplest FireWire® board consists of only one 1394 connection and the electronics that are necessary for it to communicate with the system bus. Other boards have two or more FireWire® jacks, and some even include a universal serial bus (USB) or Ethernet connector as well.

There are a few different versions of the 1394 standard, and each FireWire® board is typically compatible with only one of them. FireWire® 400 was the first version of the standard, and it uses a plug that has four pins. A board that uses this standard is capable of data transfer rates between about 12 and 50 megabytes per second (MB/s). FireWire® 600 adds two pins that carry power, while FireWire® 800 has eight total connector pins. Boards that use the FireWire® 800 version of the standard are capable of transfer rates of up to 100 MB/s.

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