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Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Unfortunately, like most computer parts, computer hard drives have been appointed names and descriptions that are nearly always based on hi-tech gobble-de-gook terms. When looking at purchasing a new hard drive this will be your first issue to handle. And, the first term you'll need to come to grips with is, “Do you want an IDE, ATA, or SATA hard drive?? Yes, sometimes shopping for computer parts can be a real 'head banging' exercise.

Recent years have seen many changes in hard drive technology. Like most things related to computers nearly of these changes have related to speed and size. To be more precise, faster (as to how quickly a hard drive can access and move information backwards and forwards) rather than slower and, larger (in the amount of data it can hold) rather than smaller. So, because performance is such an important selling point a large part of a hard drives description relates to either its particular size or speed.


The terms ‘ATA’ (Advanced Technology Attachment), ‘SATA’ (Serial ATA) and ‘SATA ll' (Serial ATA 2) refer to both a measurement standard and an electronic method of transferring information (data) backwards and forwards between the hard drive and the rest of the computer. Kind of like the water pipe system between your house and the city water department – except in this case the water goes both ways. ATA in our water example would represent a method by which your cities water department can take water out of a reservoir and get it to your kitchen tap measured in minutes and gallons. The ATA computer standard is just one recognised method by which your hard drive can do a similar job, only with data, and in milliseconds and megabytes.

ATA hard drives (also generally known as IDE or 'Integrated Drive Electronics' - the terms actually mean the same thing) have been the most common standard for hard drives manufactured since 1986. However, the ATA standard has been consistently developing over these years and there have been several changes to better the size and speed of the hard drives which it can support.

ATA Development Phases
All in all, the ATA standard has moved through seven recognised phases, (ATA-1, 2, 3, etc) and in 2001 stage 7 ATA hard drives came on the market (commonly called Ultra ATA-133). These could make data transfer rates of up to133 MB/sec (megabytes per second). ATA-7 is thought to be the last stage of development before Serial ATA took over. At this stage to make clear the distinction between ATA and the newer SATA standard, the older ATA standard was redefined and named Parallel ATA (or PATA). In other words ATA, PATA and IDE are all different names for the same thing. And, as you'll probably hear of these at some time you may as well know that IDE, FASATA and ULTRA ATA are all different company names for their particular branding of the current ATA technology at the time.

Confused? Like I said at the beginning there is so much jargon in the computer world. It really doesn't help when there are several different hi-tech names that all refer to the same thing. It just goes to show how much competition (and money) there is amongst computer related companies to have their particular brand of the current technology accepted as the world standard. However, they all dipped out as plain old 'ATA' became the accepted term.

SATA Arrives

Anyway, in the year 2000, hard drive technology came up with a new hard drive standard called Serial ATA, more commonly known as ‘SATA’. The SATA hard drives proved superior in several important areas and within a short period of time SATA had become the new standard.

For the more technical here are the differences between ATA (or PATA) and SATA. Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) is based on a 16 bit parallel interface and is normally used to control computer hard drives. However, Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) is a single bit serial advancement of the Parallel ATA. The cable connecting an ATA hard drive uses a ribbon cable with 40 wires (looks a bit like a licorice strap) as opposed to a SATA cable which only has 7 wires. Because of this it is easy to tell a SATA hard drive from an ATA hard drive by the much smaller power and data connections used on the back of the two different hard drives.

When comparing PATA against SATA, SATA hard disk drives have several performance benefits which distinguish them from ATA hard drives. Notably SATA hard drives operate cooler and on higher bandwidths which equates to faster data transfer. The latest models of PATA hard drives (ATA-7) offer data transfer rates of 133 MB/second. The first SATA standard provided an immediate data transfer boost of up to 150 MB/second, and as of 2004 the new SATA II standard allows for transfer rates of 300 MB/second.

Lets sum all this up:
  • PATA and ATA mean the same. They both stand for "Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment'. The 'P' was added to make the difference clearer when SATA came along. ATA is still the more common term.
  • Late model ATA hard drives are still fulfilling most requirements. SATA hard drives are the next step up, ie - slightly better performance. And SATA II hard drives are the highest performing models. However, generally speaking unless you are running large, high demand programs you most likely will not notice any advantage.
  • When you hear ATA vs SATA you now know that the difference between the latest ATA hard drives and the newer SATA hard drives is a performance boost of about 5%. (Considerably more for SATA II hard drives but you'll also need several other changes within your computer to take advantage of them).
  • When it comes to SATA vs IDE hard drives (or ide vs sata), we are in fact actually talking about SATA vs ATA as 'IDE' is simply a company brand name that has stuck that means the same as 'ATA'
  • ATA 100 and 133 hard drives (also known as ULTRA - the latest of the ATA hard drives) are still more common in new computers than SATA because of their lower price.
  • Technology advancement never stops. If you are worried that if you purchase a new hard drive now you'll miss out on something better tomorrow then you will never get one. The new hard drives on the market today were most likely developed 2 to 3 years ago - that's just the way it is.

When it comes to making your new hard drive purchase then in most cases an ATA 100 or 133 harddrive will be quite adequate. However, in a couple of years it's likely that ATA technology will disappear and SATA will become the accepted standard. In my opinion purchasing a 7200 rpm SATA hard drive is the current entry level for a new hard drive, not necessarily for the performance but primarily for the compatibility with future systems and components. And, If you are a 'gammer' or a video editor then the additional benefits of faster performance should see the extra money for a SATA II drive well spent.
Jim Wilson is a computer engineer with over 20 years of design & build experience. If you are looking for hard drive information then surf on over to:

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posted by BoyPJ @ 13:34  
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