Review: Adding Firewire 800 To Your Computer
Don Bradbury looks at devices that can give you IEEE 1394b or Firewire 800
|Product||Firewire 800 CardBus adaptor
2-Port Firewire 800 Hub, Belkin code F5U624eaAPL
|Company||Maplin and Belkin Corp respectively|
|Price||Cardbus adaptor; £39.99 from Maplin
Belkin Two-port Hub; £49.78
|We like||Maplin Firewire CardBus: Simple installation, with "universal" application.
Belkin Two-Port Hub: Two fast Firewire ports
|We don't like||The Belkin hub came without a power adapter for 13A three pin use|
|Rating||Cardbus Adaptor 9/10
Belkin Hub 8/10
Selecting the goods
For this feature we chose to install a CardBus to add both Firewire IEEE 1394a (400 Mbps) and IEEE 1394b (800 Mbps) to a notebook PC, but PCI cards are also available to bring Firewire capability to Desktop PCs.
Then we wanted to add an external hub to expand the range of devices we could run out of a single Firewire 800 primary port; for this we chose Belkin's twin port Firewire 800 hub, code F5U624eaAPL.
Maplin's Firewire 400/800 CardBus card is a neat little device, fully compliant with the 32-bit PCMCIA CardBus type II specification, and ostensibly capable of connecting up to 63 x 1394a and 1394b devices.
It installed easily, with directions for differing Windows versions from 98SE to XP, and it offered two Firewire 800 ports as well as one Firewire 400 port. Why both? Well, if you're going to need the speed of Firewire 800, you're more likely to have two devices on a single PC that need the 800 protocol rather than 400, so we suppose this is the rationale for the design.
On the other hand, unlike USB 1.1/2.0, the Firewire connectors are not backwards compatible, so you could need both types of lead for different devices you buy, though they'll each normally bring their own lead. And in any event, adapters are available on the market for this conversion duty, should you need them.
The drivers for this device installed without a hitch, and we were up and running in next to no time.
The Freecom drive that we recently reviewed was recognised as a new external device as soon as it was plugged it in and switched on the power. It did not start up if only the data transfer lead was plugged in, even using a powered hub.
The only modification to this card's spec that some might like to see would be a USB 2.0/Firewire 400/Firewire 800 combination in preference, one port of each type, on the grounds that you could always multiply any single port type by interposing a hub. Such a move would, however, put the price up substantially, and in any event, most computers already have USB 2.0 installed.
The Two-Port Hub
Belkin's Firewire hub can be installed in either self-powered or bus-powered mode. For the former, a dual UK/US voltage transformer was supplied for 12 volt, 1.25A power, but frustratingly, it was shaver socket two-pin type and there was no adapter in the pack for standard 13A three-pin use. Fortunately, we had such an adapter to hand, but, come on Belkin, most users will run the device out of a standard 13A three pin socket! The missing converter could have meant a frustrating visit to the local electrical shop before we could get up and running. Most PCs will not, after all, be within reach of a two-pin shaver socket. But there you go; the cost of the adapter was nominal.
The 500GB Freecom Hard Drive Pro, which we reviewed recently, would not run out of this hub unless the hub's own power supply was connected, as we said, even though the disk drive itself was self-powered from it's own power brick. Not a specific feature of this Belkin hub, we believe, as our old 40GB external Iomega Firewire drive would run well without its own power from a powered Firewire 400 hub we had in use, whereas the Freecom drive would not run out of this latter hub without it's own power supply as well as the hub's, just as we found with the Belkin hub. The hub behaved as you'd expect in other respects, with the two fast Firewire 800 ports available for use, plus a downstream third port as is usual.
Firewire hubs do not register in Device Manager, unlike USB hubs, and the only evidence of a satisfactory setup was via two LEDs that were viewable through the top of the hub casing. What LEDs? You may well ask, on first opening the bubble pack, for they were all but invisible while the hub was not attached to the power, being, as they were, flush with the silver top of the hub and, as we said, invisible. Be that as it may, an amber LED showed a powered situation when attached to the power supply, and a separate green LED lit up when an active Firewire port was attached.
Coming with one 9-pin to 9-pin bilingual Firewire 800 cable, and a multi-language manual (there's not that much to say) the package was, in the main, complete - apart from that power adapter. Of course the PC must already have a Firewire host adapter installed for the hub to work, with it's third party Firewire 800 driver, but it claimed compatibility with Windows 98SE to XP, or Power Mac with OS 9.0 and above according to the manual, or Mac OS 8.6, 9x, or X v10x according to the bubble pack.
This hub acts as a Firewire repeater, so you could place devices up to 15 feet apart, and devices connected to the hub with a 9-pin to 9-pin bilingual Firewire 800 cable, or a 6-pin to 9-pin Firewire cable, would be able to draw power from the hub.
Of course, in conjunction with the Maplin Cardbus card, you'd probably not require the two-port hub at all if you only needed two ports. We added the hub to this feature for those finding themselves with only a single Firewire 800 port, perhaps on their chosen PCI card, or for those otherwise in need of port multiplication.
These two devices will get any notebook PC up and running with two Firewire 800 ports in quick time, apart from having to locate that 2 to 3-pin mains adapter. Simple installation, effective communications, and that's about all there is to say. If you have a Desktop PC to equip, look for a suitable 32-bit PCI card.
If you'd like to add both USB 2.0 and Firewire 800 on the same card, you may have quite a hunt on your hands, according to our own searches, though USB 2.0 with Firewire 400 combinations are commonplace these days.