Firewire Facts: What's a 1394 Network Connection?

By Joseph Moran | Posted July 12, 2011

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Story updated and re-posted on July 12, 2011.


 I’ve got a mix of Windows XP, Vista, and 7 systems on my small business network, and recently noticed that some of the XP systems -- but apparently none of the Vista/7 machines -- list a "1394 connection" under Network Connections. What is this used for, and why is it missing from the newer systems?

 1394, or more formally, IEEE 1394, is the official name the for high-speed data connection that’s more commonly known as Firewire (so that’s mainly what we’ll call it here). Although Firewire is typically used to connect external storage or consumer electronics devices (e.g. hard drives and camcorders) to computers, the 1394 networking connection you refer to is a way to link two Firewire-equipped computers to each other via a TCP/IP connection, much like you would do with Ethernet.

The reason you find 1394 networking in XP but not in Vista/ 7 is because Microsoft removed it from later versions of Windows. In fact, the company yanked 1394 networking from XP Service Pack 3, which may explain why it’s missing from some of your XP systems (either that, or the systems don’t have Firewire ports).

Microsoft excised 1394 networking from XP SP3 and later versions of Windows primarily because the feature largely outlived its usefulness. Networking via Firewire was originally intended as a way to directly link a pair of systems for things like data transfer or online gaming when Ethernet ports weren’t available. And because at 400 Mbps, Firewire offers an inherently faster connection than standard 100 Mbps Ethernet, there was even an arguable performance benefit to using it.

Nowadays, however, Ethernet ports are standard equipment on all PCs, while 1394/Firewire ports have pretty much been eclipsed by USB and eSATA. Moreover, most PCs support Gigabit Ethernet, which offers considerably higher performance potential than Firewire.

While 1394 networking isn’t as useful as it once was, there may still be some situations where it can come in handy, so here’s how to set it up:

A Different Kind of Small Business Network

All you need to network two systems with Firewire is a standard Firewire cable, the same kind that's used with Firewire peripherals. You do need to ensure the cable's connectors matches those on the systems you want to link -- desktop systems typically use a 6-pin rectangular connector, while notebooks typically use a more compact 4-pin square connector. Even if you've never used your Firewire ports before, the 1394 Net Adapter connection in Windows is enabled by default, so once you've plugged the cable into the respective systems, they should be able to communicate.

Since there's no IP address-issuing DHCP server on the 1394 network, the connection will be automatically configured via APIA (Automatic Private Internet Addressing) and eventually be given addresses in the reserved 169.254 subnet (this process can take up to a minute). Once connected, you can check the address on each system with IPCONFIG (WINIPCFG on Windows Me), and use PING to test connectivity between them. If you prefer to use specific IP addresses you can do that, too. Just configure the 1394 connection in Windows as you would an Ethernet one.

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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