Epson Expression 1600 Pro FireWire and Umax PowerLook 1100

Which scanner right for you? If you're a graphics pro or if you edit video, 1394 devices make sense. They're plug-and-play but offer more speed than USB. However, USB devices cost less.

By the time you read this, the USB 2 specification will be final; products will ship by the year's end. This spec raises transfer rates from the current 12Mbps to a whopping 480Mbps. The spec for an improved version of 1394, called 1394b, will be ready at about the same time as USB 2; it raises transfer rates to 800Mbps - double the rate of current 1394 devices.

Different strengths

Which technology will PC and peripherals makers prefer? USB enjoys an advantage because it's already ubiquitous in new desktop and mobile PCs. The greater cost and complexity of 1394 limit its appeal to use with peripherals that need speed desperately, such as external hard drives, scanners, digital camcorders and digital cameras. (And the cost of the technology isn't likely to drop soon.) Business peripherals like printers and speakers simply don't require 1394's speed. Given USB 2's improved power and USB's installed base, camcorder makers and others may be swayed to offer USB 2 versions of their products.

1394 has its advantages. First, 1394 transfers don't have to pass through a PC. You can directly connect 1394 devices - say, hook up a stereo to a DVD player to a TV and a set-top box. The consumer electronics market is taking note and such devices are a natural fit with camcorders that already use 1394. Some vendors showed new FireWire products such as high-end speakers and audio receivers at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The 1394 test

The $2104.30 Epson Expression 1600 Pro FireWire and $4203 Umax PowerLook 1100 scanners aren't for casual home use. We compared both with Umax's $3465 PowerLook III, a SCSI-2 model. (SCSI, an interface that works at 5MBps, is the current standard for high-end scanners.)Using a system equipped with 128MB of RAM and Windows 2000, we scanned four images with each scanner's bundled software, at resolutions ranging from 75dpi to 1200dpi. The 1394 models took four or five minutes to scan a high-resolution, 210x270mm colour page with text and graphics; the SCSI model took about seven minutes. The 1394s finished a few seconds faster than the SCSI on a 75dpi, 130x180mm colour photograph - the kind you might put on a Web site. On two other scans, the SCSI model completed the job more quickly; that result may be related to software and driver optimisation.

Your best strategy

USB 2 will show up in desktop computers no later than December. Since the technology costs approximately the same as USB 1.1, printer and scanner vendors will upgrade quickly. USB 2 is backward compatible with today's USB peripherals.

More home PC vendors are introducing 1394, in addition to Compaq, Sony and Apple which already use it. Look for 1394 ports in Dell and HP PCs within the next few months. People anticipating connecting PCs to audio and video consumer electronics products should look for a PC with a 1394 port (1394 add-in cards are also available). The rest of us can simply look forward to USB 2, which many machines (including Dell's and HP's) will sport as soon as it's ready.

Epson Expression 1600 Pro FireWire

Price: $2104.30

Phone: (02) 9903 9032

URL: www.epson.com.au

Umax PowerLook 1100

Price: $4203

Distributor: Chips

Phone: 1300 134 833

URL: www.chips.com.au; www.umax.com

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