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What is a Parallel ATA?

Emma G.
Emma G.

Parallel ATA, or simply ATA, is the term used to describe a standard connection from a computer storage device to a motherboard. The connection consists of two or three 40 pin connectors attached to a ribbon cable. One end of the cable plugs into the parallel ATA socket on the motherboard. The other end plugs into the back of a hard disk drive, CD-ROM drive, or other storage device.

The letters ATA stand for advanced technology attachment. Until serial ATA was introduced, parallel ATA was just called ATA. The word parallel is used to describe how information is moved. A parallel device uses several strands of wire to move multiple pieces of information at the same time. In a parallel ATA device, the ribbon cable, a thin cable containing many individual wires, moves 16 bits of information at a time.

The socket has two rows of holes. One row has 20 square holes. The other row has 19 holes with a space between the eighth and 11th holes. The parallel ATA plug has pins that fit these holes. Some pins ground the device, while others transfer data.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

A parallel ATA cable can have two or three connections. When the cable has three connections, two different storage devices can be connected to it. The two devices are named using a binary system. So the first device is referred to as 0, while the second is 1.

When using a parallel ATA, connection only one operation can take place at a time. This is known as serialized operations. It means that if two drives are connected using the same ribbon cable, drive 1 must wait to work until drive 0 is finished. Newer versions of the parallel ATA technology allow for overlapping function. However, most drives do not support this function.

ATA technology was first developed by Western Digital in the 1980s. At the time, it was called integrated drive electronics (IDE). This name is often used interchangeably with ATA.

The ATA standard is maintained by the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). INCITS is a group of information technology developers created in 1960. It is accredited by the American National Standards Institute.

Parallel ATA technology was followed by serial ATA or SATA. SATA is an improvement over parallel ATA because it moves information more quickly. Since information is moved one bit at a time, the number of wires is reduced from 80 to eight. This allows for smaller cables that take up less room inside the computer.

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