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Serial ATA Overview
What does SATA mean today?

Written by: Ed Lau [04.11.03]
Edited by: Carl Nelson

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There's more to a high performance PC than just a fast processor and a video card.  Up until the emergence of 8MB cache "special edition" drives, no one really paid much attention to hard drive performance as it was thought to be more or less a "all look same" kind of deal.  Whether you got one from Maxtor or Samsung or Western Digital, all people were really looking at was reliablity and capacity.  I mean, what's a millisecond of seek time compared to more video rendering power, right?

However, relatively recently, people have realized what some PC enthusiasts with deep pockets and SCSI have known for years.  The hard drive is actually one of the worst bottlenecks for your system and can severely limit how fast your overall system performance really is despite the brand spanking new processor and the ridiculous amount of RAM.

The hard drive bottleneck works in two ways.  The first would be the obvious speed limitation but the other, less obvious one would be the air constricting IDE cables, which, until the advent of rounded cables, were wide and always in the way.  A flat IDE cable in the wrong place can severly impede airflow in your case and while rounded IDE cables have remedied this problem to a certain extent, there is still much room for improvement.

Enter serial ATA, a interface technology that we have been waiting for for what seems to be an eternity.  Whereas regular IDE cables were ugly, fat and annoying, serial ATA cables are sleeker, sexier, more convienient and flexible.  Serial ATA drives also increases the maximum transfer rate from 133 to 150MBps (for now... theoretically it can go MUCH higher), while consuming only a tiny fraction of the power that regular ATA133 drives do.

Also, while you are limited to one device per cable (unlike ATA133 where you can plug in two devices per channel), serial ATA cables will only use 7 pins instead of 40 and will have a maximum length of 40" (compared to 18") so all of you with HUGE chassis can rejoice.

So serial ATA sounds like the innovation we've all been waiting for, does it?  Well, in order to investigate this further, we'll be taking a look at two hard drives from our friends at Seagate today, who were the first to incorporate serial ATA into their storage designs.  We'll be checking out their new Baraccuda ATA V drives in regular "parallel ATA" and serial ATA flavors.

Just Like The Pilgrims and Christopher Columbus...

Have any of you ever seen the show Fear Factor?  Yes, it's absolutely retarded but that weird host guy does say one thing that holds true for just about any competition: if you're first, set the bar high.

While there are a few serial ATA drives on the market now, Seagate was the first to offer the next generation interface in their desktop consumer drives in the Baraccuda ATA V. 

Only upon closer inspection would you be able to tell these twins apart.  The parallel ATA drive is just like every other parallel ATA drive so we'll just skip it and take a look at the serial ATA's features.

First of all, you'll notice that only a very small portion of the back panel is filled with pins.  Gone are the annoying molex connectors and 40-pin IDE cable connectors.  They are replaced with the Jenny Craig'ed versions which are much more convienient and easier to attach.

Jumper settings are also a thing of the past, only used for limiting drive size to resolve compatiblity issues with older systems.

Both Baraccuda V's run at 7200rpm and feature a 8MB cache and use two 60GB platters.  There are also versions that use 40GB platters.  The PATA drive is available in 40, 60, 80 and 120GB capacities while the SATA drive is only available in 80 and 120GB.  While 120GB is still quite a bit of storage space, it is significantly smaller than the maximum capacities of comparable models from Western Digital, Maxtor and Hitachi (formerly IBM's storage division).

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