The seismic performance of a steel framed structure equipped with (i) friction damping devices and (ii) base isolators is compared. A parametric study based on energy concepts is performed first using time-history dynamic analysis to determine the optimum properties of the two systems when excited by an earthquake whose energy is distributed over a relatively broad frequency band (1940 El Centro, N-S). Using these same properties, the responses of the two structural systems are then examined when excited by earthquakes whose power content essentially is concentrated at the low frequency end of the energy spectrum (1977 Romania, Bucharest, N-S and 1985 Mexico, SCT E-W). The results of the study show that, while both systems similarly reduce the response of conventional structures to the California earthquake, the friction damped structure exhibits a superior performance under the low frequency earthquakes. Very large shear forces and displacements are observed when the Romania and Mexico earthquakes are applied to the base isolated structure, indicating that the performance of a base isolated structure depends on the characteristics of the site earthquake. By comparison, friction damped structures are shown to behave favourably under the three earthquakes studied; this suggests that friction damping devices offer a more consistent way of protecting structures during earthquakes.