The two most important qualities to look for in data interconnects is data rate (i.e. bandwidth) and supportability. A fast interconnect will not help you if its unavailable on any Home Theater Network equipment. On the other hand, an interconnect that is available everywhere can be frustrating if its data rates are slow. The faster the data rate, the faster you can transfer large files. For example, a 1000 MB file will download in 10 seconds if the data rate is 100 MB/s. The same file will take 1000 seconds if the data rate is 1 MB/s. This is why a 5 Mb/s broadband connection is far more desirable than a 56kb/s (1000 kb = 1 Mb) dialup connection.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) was designed to make it as easy as possible to connect peripherals to computers. Printers, PDAs, cameras, scanners, and others are now “plug and play” due to the USB standard. The USB interconnect is hot-swappable so you don’t have to shut down your PC. It also provides up to 500mA of power to help reduce the need for power cables. USB specification 1.1 allows for a maximum data rate of 12 Mb/s, while USB specification 2.0 allows for a maximum data rate of 480 Mb/s.
The pictures above show a few different types of USB interconnects. Type A is the most common, and is used everywhere. Type B is used mostly for printers and scanners. Lastly, type mini-B is used on the majority of digital cameras. Unfortunately, some manufactures make their own proprietary mini USB interconnect. Always double check with your manual before connecting anything.
Firewire (IEEE 1394, i.Link, DV)
Firewire is very similar to USB, with its plug and play and hot–swappable capabilities. However, one major difference is that Firewire has a bandwidth of 400 Mb/s, which is more than 30 times faster than USB 1.1. This is why USB 2.0, with a data rate of 480 Mb/s, was created. Another Firewire advantage is its ability to supply more power. The specs call out for a maximum of 45 Watts with a maximum current of 1.5A.
Firewire is also called i.Link, DV, and IEEE 1394. Developed by Sony, i.Link is used mostly for video/audio purposes. The power pins supplied by a regular Firewire interconnect are not included in an i.Link interconnect. An upgraded and backwards compatible version of Firewire called 1394b has now been released. The data rates have been increased to a maximum of 3200 Mb/s with data rates starting at 800 Mb/s.
The pictures above show the three different types of Firewire interconnects. The 4–pin interconnect is the i.Link connector without the power pins, the 6–pin is the normal Firewire interconnect, and the 9–pin is the upgraded 1394b interconnect.