Is it worth adding a Firewire card?

I have a laptop and am in the market for an external DVD burner. It is a Dell Inspiron 1150, which only has 2 USB ports (USB 2.0).

In the threads I have read, several people have mentioned that firewire works better than USB for DVD burners (despite an apparently slower transfer rate?). Would it be worthwhile getting a PCMCIA card with firewire on it?

It is scarry to read the reviews and see how many people have problems with their DVD burners, so I want to do it right. Money is tight, so I don’t need a Catilac, but I don’t want to buy twice.

My primary use will be backing up my computer files, but if I am getting a DVD burner, I hope to use it for backing up movies. It would be nice to be able to copy CD’s in a single step with the CD-RW/DVD ROM drive in the laptop.

Any advice on low cost external DVD burner models is also welcome.


1st, the “transfer rate” you refer to is actually “burst rate”. On sustained transfers, I see USB topping out at about 20MB/sec and firewire at about 30 MB/sec on hard drive benchmarks. Personal experiences can vary greatly, and a lot depends on the USB controllers. Many are just pure crap.

On the whole, I suspect that fewer people have problems with firewire than with USB, but on many comtrollers, neither will reach 16x burn speeds.
If you are willing to restrict yourself to 8x burning, either way should work well for you. But if you want to cover your bases, get a dual-link external so you can change your mind. Such an enclosure might run you $40-50, and the drive another $50-60. Buying them separately will usually be cheaper, and affords you the choice of drives you want.

depends on your internal bus. USB is shared so if you do not have any other usb devices other than your burner you May reach 8x (my p4 3.2 gig. compaq laptop can only get 8x through my internal firewire). I do have a firewire pcmcia card and it can reach 8x also on my laptop so you may want to try one (make sure your able to return it if you can not get 8x). My built in usb2 can only do up to 6x without dropping speed.

16x is near impossible on laptops unless you have a brand new one maybe.


This is often due to the slow hard disk drives used in laptops.
My external firewire HDD is much faster than the internal drive.


My sister’s Dell Inspiron 8100, a 4 year old machine with a 1GHz PIII can reach 16x using the built in IEEE 1394 port with my 716UF (doing CD Speed Create Data Disc). PC Card USB 2.0 and Firewire doesn’t seem to work very well though; I tried both types with my 1.7GHz P4 notebook and couldn’t get over 12x with Firewire or over 10x with USB.

Jamos already referred it. USB 2.0 share the bandwidth with other connected devices, and if you have a USB 1.0 device (like a mouse) on the same controller, speed will come down in a very noticeable way.
Firewire will work in a dif way, and can keep sustainable transfer rates.
Both connections depend on the the used chipsets, so the maximum speed depends on it. Have seen reports about 16x or close for both, as I’ve seen people complaining that they can achieve them.
My personal experience says that USB 480 Mbs and FW 400 Mbs means nothing as FW can be faster many times…I’ve DVD drives and HDD. For the DVD drives I’ve dual boxes (i.e., USB abd Firewire interfaces), for HDD I’ve one with Firewire and small size one for a notebook that its is USB.
I prefer FW for HDD, and if it is for video I consider that it has to use it, as it keeps a continuos flow of data going through (USB will depend on I/O inst, with the buffer for the gaps).

I upgraded the the hard drive to a 5400 rpm model and I have plenty of space now. So I doubt that would be my bottle neck.

I have a lot of stuff hooked up to this poor machine through a powered USB hub. That means a DVD burner plugged in would not get all the bandwith it wants? If I put a USB/Firewire PCMCIA card in would that mean that it would get all it wanted and not have to share with the main USB ports? I am out of open ports, so I could just buy a PCMCIA card instead of another hub. Firewire seems to cost more, but is it worth it?

You’re the only one who can answer that. Given the situation you describe, it may well be worth it. Also, your 5400RPM laptop drive will probably not be fast enough for 16x burning, but should work OK for 8x.

I think we can bet that with your overloaded USB port, that’s not the way to go, although a PCMCIA USB card would be considered a separate port and could also worl well. Combo USB-Firewire cards are more expensive, but plain Firewire cards aren’t so bad.

My issues with my laptop and most others have nothing to do with the harddrive speeds…it’s the internal bus thats the limiter. My read buffer is always full, it is the device buffer that fluctates and fails after a certain speed is reached. I use an external firewire hardrive also and it does not matter.

Well, I figured out it would be cheaper to just buy a slim internal burner for my laptop than to get an enclosure, dirve and possibly firewire card, so I went that route. It sounds like it will give me faster or at least more relaible burns.

Perhaps I’ll get an enclosure for the CD burner/ DVD ROM I pull out so I can copy without writing to the hard drive, but not for a while.

Thanks for your help.

Good decision as long as it pleases you and you get a compatible drive.
As a matter of fact, external only justifies if you want to use the drive with more than one PC or you don’t have the chance (or don’t want) to install an internal one.
This way it will get the most from you drive specs + your IDE/PCI channels.