USB vs. FireWire: does it matter for printing?

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.

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