What Is a FireWire® Dock?

Lee Johnson

A FireWire® dock is a docking station for hard drives which also features a FireWire® port. This port can be used to connect a hard drive to a user’s computer and provides transfer speeds much faster than Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0, although slower than USB 3.0. Some users also have a FireWire® dock to use with smartphones and tablet computers, in order to achieve faster file transfer speeds. FireWire® 800, as the name suggests, can transfer files at a rate of up to 800 megabytes per second (Mbps) compared to the 480 Mbps transfer rate provided by USB 2.0.

A FireWire® dock might be used to transfer data to a tablet computer.
A FireWire® dock might be used to transfer data to a tablet computer.

In basic terms, a FireWire® dock is a connector used to dock devices such as video cameras, hard drives, or smartphones and transfer files to and from a computer. USB is a more familiar connection to many users, and FireWire® can be understood as being essentially the same, but it can only be used with Macintosh and Linux systems. FireWire® cables and ports can be recognized because they get thinner at one end, unlike USB ports, which are perfectly rectangular. The technical name for a FireWire® port is IEEE 1394.

Newer devices are opting for faster USB 3.0 connections instead of FireWire docks.
Newer devices are opting for faster USB 3.0 connections instead of FireWire docks.

Many different types of FireWire® dock exist, but they are generally used for docking devices which require a large file transfer. Most file transfers do not require the speed provided by FireWire®, and as such it is only generally used for exceptionally large transfers. For this reason, a FireWire® dock is likely to be used with a device such as a video camera, hard drive, or smartphones and digital playback devices. The speed of transfer provided by FireWire® enables large video files or bulky music collections to be moved between devices quickly and efficiently.

Apple® Inc. developed FireWire® technology, as an easy-to-use high speed connection port. It was originally developed during the 1980s, and started being used on Macintosh computers from 1995. Most devices which used the original FireWire® were digital cameras and camcorders. As external hard drives became more common, the FireWire® dock was developed to allow fast file transfer to these devices.

The reason FireWire® was created was to allow faster connection speeds than those offered by USB, which it was able to do up until the release of USB 3.0. FireWire® 800 gives transfer speeds of up to 800 Mbps, while FireWire® 400, the previous generation, allowed speeds of up to 400 Mbps. The original USB could only handle transfers at speeds of up to 12 Mbps, but USB 2.0 increased this capability to 480 Mbps. This was still surpassed by FireWire 800, but fast enough for most users. Many ports are usually included on a FireWire® dock, and some feature USB 3.0 ports, theoretically allowing transfer speeds of up to 5.0 gigabytes per second.

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