HN Gopher Feed (2017-06-26) - page 1 of 10
How FireWire came to market and ultimately fell out of favor
74 points by anjalikhttps://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/06/the-rise-and-fall-of-fir...
jjguy - 46 minutes ago
> After being informed of IBM's hundreds of millions in yearly
patent revenue, CEO Steve Jobs authorized a change in FireWire's
licensing policy. Apple would now charge a fee of $1 per port. (So
if a device has two ports, that's $2 per unit.)...Intel sent its
CTO to talk to Jobs about the change, but the meeting went badly.
Intel decided to withdraw its support for FireWire?to pull the plug
on efforts to build FireWire into its chipsets?and instead throw
its weight behind USB 2.0, which would have a maximum speed of 480
megabits a second (more like 280, or 30 to 40 MB/s, in
practice)...A month later, Apple lowered the fee to 25 cents per
(end-user) system, with that money distributed between all patent
holders. But it was too late. Intel wasn't coming back to the
table. This was the death blow for FireWire in most of the PC
market.For all of you who embrace the "fail fast" mindset, keep
this story close as a reminder that some mistakes are irrevocable.
This was one decision, reversed after 30 days.
Gracana - 15 minutes ago
What is your interpretation of the "fail fast" mindset? This
sounds like the perfect example of a big project failing
catastrophically that "fail fast" intends to avoid.
dreamcompiler - 1 hours ago
I call this the "invented here" syndrome: When company management
becomes so dysfunctional they don't trust anything invented at
their own company unless it's been externally validated.
Yellow_Boat - 1 hours ago
This is an amazing story about hardware innovation, politics and
some kind of bullying. I am amazed that despite all, corporations
had innovation in focus, even at the cost of decreasing profit
payne92 - 1 hours ago
FireWire: the hardware interface where the designers &
implementers thought offering unfettered DMA was a good idea.
qubex - 1 hours ago
If I'm not mistaken that is also true of latter Thunderbolt.
bluedino - 1 hours ago
I loved FireWire. I had an external HD and DVD-RW, I could daisy
chain them and connect them to my Dell, Sony, and Apple machines.
Faster than USB, only needed one port... everyone complained
FireWire was more expensive but the devices performed so much
dsr_ - 1 hours ago
I've used FireWire to connect external disks (verdict: as stable as
eSATA, much better than USB2) and to pull video from a cable set-
top-box (verdict: the cable box was crappy; no problems directly
attributable to the FireWire connection.)The major problem with
FireWire, shared with Thunderbolt, is that it offers DMA to
external devices: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DMA_attack
walterbell - 1 hours ago
Doesn't USB-C have the same DMA problem?Did eSATA also lose to
USB? I don't think it has the DMA problem.
DiabloD3 - 1 hours ago
USB-C refers to the connector, not the protocol standard.USB
3.0 is what you actually meant, since it finally added
Firewire-like device-initiated DMA.
po - 1 hours ago
Thunderbolt has DMA and it's offered over USB-C so... kind of
by proxy. It's not clear to me if a USB-C device doesn't
support Thunderbolt (i.e. it only does the USB 3.1 part) if it
also is clear of this potential issue.
zkms - 1 hours ago
Offering DMA to devices can be good actually if you care about
performance, and the security issues can be eliminated with a
properly set up IOMMU in the mix.
walterbell - 21 minutes ago
Can IOMMU securely differentiate between devices on an external
bus, such that a hostile device  cannot spoof a non-hostile
throwaway2016a - 1 hours ago
Since we're sharing our nostalgic Firewire stories... the first
video camera I ever bought (almost 20 years ago) could only connect
to computers via Firewire. I remember almost all digital cameras on
the market only supported it. It seemed like a clear winner.It's
interesting to see an article that explains why it died.
NikolaeVarius - 1 hours ago
Yeah, I remember this time being strange. I had bought a good bit
of Firewire equipment for my Cameras and even got a PCI-E card
for my PC. It just seemed to vanish without a trace. I still have
those cables and accessories somewhere.
kirykl - 15 minutes ago
Article reads like Sony started using the i-Link name before iMac
edzorg - 1 hours ago
Great article - unbelievable really.Is USB-C by all measures now
superior to FireWire? Or are we still paying for Jobs' mistake?
wtallis - 1 hours ago
USB-C is just a connector. Some of the devices using that
connector only support USB 2.0 signaling over that connector, so
USB-C does not imply complete superiority over FireWire.
walterbell - 1 hours ago
What protocols are commonly implemented by Intel host chipsets
which support the USB-C connector, e.g. on a 2017 laptop?
jsjohnst - 48 minutes ago
Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort, USB 1.1-3.1, FireWire, HDMI, MHL,
analog audio, power delivery
walterbell - 23 minutes ago
FireWire? That would have been a good addition to the
article. Hopefully that will allow older FireWire devices
to be used with a USB-C-to-Firewire adapter.
jancsika - 1 hours ago
> Speeds across networks of all sizes are now so high that there's
also little need for something like FireWire. "The packets can
arrive way before it's needed, because it's so fast," Sirkin noted.
"So you don't need to worry about being synchronous any more."For
use cases where reliable low-latency transport is required (i.e.,
Firewire's main strength), what could possibly be meant by "packets
arrive way before it's needed"?
LeifCarrotson - 34 minutes ago
I think it's being compared to something like 12 Mbps USB 1.1:
Firewire is just so much faster that it doesn't matter.I deal
with upgrading a lot of industrial electronics, and have to
answer this question frequently: people are concerned about
replacing Modbus RTU and similar setups with modern protocols:
"But it's not real time!", "It's too high-level!" "Consumer or
office network gear can't possibly work here!"No, it can. It's
freaking gigabit Ethernet. You had 9600 baud before and were
happy to read out a few tags a second, now we can stream multiple
sensors at a multiple kilohertz each, or transfer the entire
image of your old PLC in a couple packets.There was a brief time
when Firewire was way faster than everything else, but it didn't
keep iterating like USB did. Honestly, that's probably a more
accurate reason why it died. Plus the decision to use separate
connectors for 400 and 800: if they had done like USB and allowed
Firewire mice at 50 Mbps to connect to the same port as 800 Mbps
camcorders, and built Firewire 1600 and 3200, it might still be
jancsika - 18 minutes ago
I'm not sure I understand. Are you replacing hardware for
clients who think they need low-latency realtime delivery of
data, or for clients who actually need to hit low-latency
delivery deadlines?From the article:> And FireWire had its own
micro-controller, so it was unaffected by fluctuations in CPU
load.This is still an important distinction for, say, an USB
soundcard vs. a Firewire soundcard.
LeifCarrotson - 5 minutes ago
They need to get data in like... 3 seconds... So the
operators can shut the machine down if something goes
wrong.But now the machine has much more intelligence, so it
shuts itself off quicker. And where they needed to check the
"low latency" and "realtime" boxes in the 90s to get adequate
performance, now any bus (like Ethernet, or you can stick
Ethercat or Powerlink on top if you need realtime) is so much
faster that it doesn't matter.It's like someone saying they
need their Enterprise-grade 15k RPM SCSI drives in their
server...when they just need an ordinary consumer SATAIII
SSD.Economies of scale are huge in tech. Stuff that reaches
billions of people is often more performant than specialized
iheartmemcache - 21 minutes ago
At least on Linux, you can easily be barraged by tons of IRQs
from your FireWire device. Every time some data comes in from
your device (let's say some music production platform) it's going
to DMA that data right on over via a PCI lane or 4 then fire off
an interrupt to inform your OS "hey hey got some new information
for ya!".Now imagine the platform was poorly designed so it fires
off that IRQ once for each track. You're re-tracking the drums
since the drummer you're recording couldn't work with a click
track. Let's say conservatively, you've got 2 overhead
condensers, some ambient mic, and an SM57 at the kick. He's
working against the guitarist and bass tracks along with some
scratch vox. Depending on how you're patching and tracks are
configured, you could easily have 12 tracks all firing a "hey
I've got data for you! CONSUME IT!".Each one of those interrupts
is expensive, mind you. I mean not so much now, where we can
shield processes on 16-core HT Xeons and basically dedicate a
whole core to solely dealing with the interrupts. But imagine the
early 2000s where you had P3 single-core's running at 600 MHzs.
Each IRQ will context switch, which means whatever active process
that was scheduled now gets bumped. The first IRQ is serviced and
that process gets back to work and maybe it doesn't even have
time to restore it's execution context before ANOTHER dang IRQ
comes in. Like I say, not really a problem these days, but not
so long ago....
jancsika - 3 minutes ago
This is really interesting.When you say "platform", are you
talking about the Firewire device driver?
Grazester - 1 hours ago
I loved FireWire. It was faster in the real world than usb 2.0(this
was fire 400 too and even 800) and my computer felt so responsive
while transferring files. Ethernet over FireWire in the days of
winxp was great also!!
acomjean - 1 hours ago
I've used it for hardrives and video cameras (it was the standard
way to get Video off a minidv tape camera). I always found it
worked well.But on video I Remember the different names being bing
used being confusing. And while all macs had it some pcs didn't.
With USB being ubiquitous and USB 2 being good enough when it
finally showed up.Somewhat oddly mac was a big pusher of USB as
that's what the original iMac used.Had intel put it in its
dcosson - 1 hours ago
One major thing not mentioned is that apprently not everyone
bothered implementing FireWire the same. I never learned the
technical reason, but if you bought certain digital audio recording
interfaces circa 2007, you learned in the fine print/after you
called customer service that it only worked with TI FireWire ports
. These were the ones used on Macs at this point, I had a dell
laptop which used a cheaper manufacturer so (perhaps combined with
the fact that my recording interface itself was not a high end one
and maybe cut some corners on its end too) the audio recording
quality was staticy and uneven. I ended up having to return it and
get a lower-bandwidth, noticeably higher latency USB powered one
because at least USB ports were consistent.I was always curious if
some manufacturers were not implementing the full spec here (maybe
because by this time according to the article FireWire was already
on its last legs), or if this was due to flaws in the spec that
left certain things optional or something and that ruined