Looking to add additional hard drive space or connect your DV camcorder to your PC?

Try FireWire!

I remember when I bought my first 40MB hard drive in 1986 for my PC. It seemed like it would take forever to fill it up. Well now, I can easily fill a 40GB hard drive with video files in less than a few hours of capturing digital video. That 40GB drive space disappears rather quickly when your capturing video files at 4 Ĺ minutes per gigabyte. So how do you get additional hard drive space when youíve already used up all of your internal IDE connectors on your computer? Well you could install a SCSI card into your computer and then buy an expensive SCSI hard drive. Set up the proper termination and set the SCSI ID on your drive. Make sure itís not on the same SCSI ID as any other devices in the SCSI chain. Make sure it is placed in the proper place on the cable depending on termination. Well, learning how to set up all these things isnít all that difficult. However, wouldnít you like a cheaper, easier and more expandable way to add drive space? Well, itís just gotten a little bit easier and cheaper with the advent of FireWire hard drives. In particular a new product from ADS Technologies allows you to transform any IDE ATAPI device into a FireWire device. Iíve tested one of these drive kits and it works fairly well. I was able to install an IDE hard drive into the kit and have it up and running in about 5 minutes after I opened the box. Iíve been able to connect the external FireWire drive kit using an IDE hard drive to my desktop and to my notebook computer without any problems using Windows 2000 and Windows 98. Western Digital just began shipping external FireWire hard drives already assembled in 10, 20 and 30GB sizes as well. 

So what makes IEEE 1394 aka FireWire so good? One, itís very easy to connect because it is plug and play supported, two, you can connect up to 63 devices on a FireWire bus and three it supports speeds from 100 Ė 400Mb/second and four, itís hot swappable. FireWire is similar to the Universal Serial Bus (USB) technology in that you can connect a lot of devices and donít need to set jumpers or ID numbers to connect those devices. Itís not a perfect technology as far as the drivers go, but it is pretty good. Your operating system needs to support IEEE 1394 which Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows 2000 does. Windows NT does not have direct support for IEEE 1394. ADS Technologiesí Pyro Drive Kit is an external drive casing that has a single IDE connector on it that allows you to simply connect any IDE ATAPI hard drive or CD-ROM, CDRW or DVD drive into the unit. The unit comes with itís own power supply and 3 FireWire connectors on the back. It also comes with a 3-foot and a 10-inch cable to connect the drive to the computer or daisy chain it to another FireWire device. FireWire supports speeds of 100 Ė 400Mb/s throughput. Therefore a hard drive connected as a FireWire device has slightly faster performance as an Ultra SCSI 2 hard drive.

ADS Technologies FireWire drive kit is very easy to assemble. Simply take the plastic enclosure off of the metal casing. Then slide the metal lid off the case and plug in the power connector. Then connect your IDE Drive to the IDE connector and screw 4 screws into the bottom of the drive to secure it to the case. Then slide the metal lid back on and slide on the outer plastic shell. Next screw in the two screws on the back to hold the plastic outer shell on and snap in the front cover if youíre installing a hard drive rather than a CD-ROM. Then simply plug in the power cord and the IEEE 1394 cable to the drive and into your IEEE 1394 port on your PC and wait for the plug and play drivers to detect the drive and install the software. If you connected the cables properly and the software installs you should now have a new drive letter available on your PC if it was already formatted. This is a very simple installation as opposed to the setting up of any SCSI device on your PC. These external FireWire drive kits run between $200 - $250 street price. This allows you to purchase a 40GB Ultra DMA 66 IDE hard drive for about $300 at the time of this writing and install it into the external drive kit to add another 40GB of storage to your PC. If your PC doesnít already have an IEEE 1394 port on it, which most PCís do not at the time of this writing, you can add one for approximately $100. There is some expense to having the extra cost of this external case verses purchasing a SCSI hard drive. However, the cost of SCSI hard drives compared to equivalent storage costs for an IDE drive offset the cost of the external drive kit.



ADS Technologiesí Pyro 1394 Drive Kit


Additionally, being able to hot swap multiple drives in the FireWire chain is a major plus because you donít have to shut down your system and reboot to add additional hard drive space. This technology makes it perfect for a file server where you donít want to have to shut down your file server and open it up during the day to add additional drive space. You can even setup multiple drives as mirrored drives on the FireWire chain for data redundancy. Theoretically you could connect up to 63 40GB hard drives to your PC for approximately 2500GB of storage space. This should be plenty of storage space for most video editing requirements and even most web servers.

What You Need To Know

What you need to know before going this route. Well, your computer must have an IEEE 1394 FireWire port and you must be running Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows 2000 or an iMac DV or one of the newer G series Macintosh computers. If your PC doesnít have a FireWire port you can purchase one for about $100. The most important thing is your operating system. It must support IEEE 1394 devices. The best support that I have found is Windows 2000. However, not all of the video editing software works under Windows 2000 yet. A lot of companies are still working on getting their drivers out the door. I have used Uleadís Media Studio Pro 6.0 and it works fairly well under Windows 2000 with a Sony Mini-DV camcorder.

 Western Digital 1394 CardBus PC Card


Ratoc Systems CBFW1 IEEE 1394 Cardbus PC Card

Connecting FireWire Devices to your Notebook  

There are only a few notebooks out on the market that have built in support for FireWire devices. The most of the newer Sony notebooks come standard with a FireWire or i.LINK connector on them. However, I have only found a few third party notebooks that come with built in FireWire support, one of them being Pro Star computers. However, for all of the other major notebooks out on the market your only solution to connecting a FireWire device to them is to purchase a CardBus PC Card and install it into your notebook in your CardBus equipped notebook PC Card slot. These CardBus PC Cards cost around $130 - $170 depending on the brand. Not all of the IEEE 1394 CardBus PC Cards have multiple connectors and some use dongles verses built in connectors such as the Western Digital version. On my notebook I have tested both the Western Digital 1394 CardBus PC Card adapter and the Ratoc CBFW1 IEEE 1394 CardBus PC Card interface adapters with both my camcorder and the Pyro Drive kit. The camera, the drive and the cards worked as plug and play devices without any real problems. My system spontaneously rebooted once however, when I turned on both the Pryo drive and the camcorder at the same time. So, I wouldnít say that the drivers have been perfected yet, but they work fairly well for the most part.

Now that FireWire devices are becoming more prevalent, you may want to check them out for adding storage and other high-speed devices to your PC like a scanner or your digital video camera. The cost for storage is still less than a comparable SCSI drive but with near the same performance but with the expandability of up to 63 devices on a hot swappable connection.

Rich Simpson is president of Mindís Eye, Inc., a software development and IT consulting firm. He has a degree in aerospace engineering and has been designing and developing custom and commercial database applications since 1986. For more information or to download software demos visit their web site at http://www.mindseyeinc.com or send e-mail to rsimpson@mindseyeinc.com or call 636-282-2102.



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Last modified: March 02, 2009