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USB vs. FireWire: does it matter for printing?

By Rick LePage | January 2, 2008

When it comes to printer interfaces, most photo printers sold today have a single USB 2.0 port for connecting to your PC or Mac. Both Epson (with the Stylus Pro 3800 and HP (Photosmart Pro B9180, among other models) ship printers that include an Ethernet port, which is great for networking your printer, but USB is the general standard. And, in the case of HP’s Photosmart C7280 All-in-One, you can get a very good printer that is also WiFi-enabled (more on that printer in a future post).

Epson also ships a few printers with both FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 interfaces, notably the Stylus Photo R1800 and R2400, and some of Canon’s higher-end printers have FireWire instead of USB interfaces. We’ve had a few people ask over the years if there was any advantage to using one or the other port, so while we were running some speed tests on a group of printers here in the office (for an upcoming round-up), we ran some tests on an R1800 and a series of 300-dpi photos. The result? No difference at all, from a borderless 4- by 6-inch image all the way up to an expansive 12- by 18-inch print.

The results (shown in the tables below) really aren’t that surprising: USB 2.0 has theoretical throughput speeds (480 Mbit/sec) that are slightly higher than FireWire (400 Mbit/sec), although USB 2.0 tends in practice to be a bit slower for things like file transfers between disks (when other factors are equalized). In this case, even with a 300-dpi file, you still aren’t throwing that much data down the data pipe to the printer.

While this was one printer from one vendor, we’d imagine that the results would be pretty similar across the board for the R2400 and other dual-FireWire/USB printers. In the end, choose the interface that works best for the ports you’ve got available.

R1800: Firewire vs. USB (default print quality)

Print size USB FW
4x6 0:29 0:30
4x6 (borderless) 0:49 0:46
5x7 0:37 0:37
8x10 1:10 1:10
11x14 2:02 2:02
12x18 1:34 1:35

R1800: Firewire vs. USB (better print quality)

Print size USB FW
4x6 1:04 1:03
4x6 (borderless) 1:31 1:28
5x7 1:19 1:20
8x10 2:23 2:22
11x14 4:24 4:24
12x18 5:29 5:29

[All times in minutes; print sizes in inches. Tests run from a MacBook Pro, with Mac OS X 10.5, Adobe Photoshop CS3. File resolution was 300 dpi at the print size. Three trials, averaged.]

Topics: Technology | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “USB vs. FireWire: does it matter for printing?”

  1. Plastkort Says:
    June 4th, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Great information. I was always curious which was faster.

  2. Neil Says:
    September 8th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    For what it’s worth, the USB port on my R1800 has been very unreliable, making print via that connection a major pain. However having a FW port right there, I have actually been able to continue using the printer. Another advantage of having both options available.