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What is SATA or Serial ATA?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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SATA or Serial ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) is the next generation drive interface, following the traditional Parallel ATA (PATA).

Anyone who has peered into a computer is familiar with the flat, 40-wire parallel cables that connect the hard drive, CDROM and other devices to their controllers. PATA has been the standard and has served well, but it has also had drawbacks. Cables limited to 18 inches (46 cm) in length often made connections difficult and also clogged cases blocking airflow, while cooling has become crucial. Though rounded cables became available, the most advanced PATA drives (Ultra ATA/133) hit the maximum parallel transfer rate of 133 MB/ps. With the speed of CPUs, RAM and system buses improving, designers saw PATA would soon be bottlenecking advanced drive efficiency in system architecture.

Enter SATA.

Serial ATA has distinct key advantages over its predecessor. Cables are very thin with small 7-pin connectors. They can be up to 3 feet (1 meter) in length, and are easily routed to stay out of the way allowing maximum airflow inside the case. SATA also has a far lower power requirement of just 250 mV compared to PATA's 5-volt requirement, and with chip core voltages declining, this speaks well of SATA's future. Serial ATA does away with Master/Slave configurations and drive jumpers. Setup is greatly simplified, and the technology even allows hot-swapping, meaning drives can be removed or added while the computer is running.

However, the most promising feature of Serial ATA is that it eliminates the transfer limit hit by PATA. First generation has a maximum transfer rate of 150 MBps, and second generation SATA delivers about 300 MBps. A third generation SATA set for 2009, "SATA 6Gb/s" will deliver roughly twice the speed of the previous SATA iteration.

With introductory transfer speed so close to existing Ultra ATA/133 speeds, the increase in real-world performance is negligible for first generation SATA, though prices of the drives are comparable to PATA drives, making the switch to the new technology a good choice when upgrading, building, or buying a new system. Motherboards with integrated SATA and PATA interfaces are widely available to accommodate both types of drives, and there are no restrictions to using both types in the same system. Serial ATA is also a good choice for RAID and is earmarked to eventually replace PATA.

For older systems, third party SATA controllers can be placed in any PCI slot, should you purchase a SATA drive. (A parallel Ultra ATA drive can also be used via a PATA-to-SATA adapter, though drive performance will take a hit, as the adapter must translate the data stream from parallel to serial.)

If upgrading your motherboard, buying SATA-enabled will allow ease of use for future SATA drives even if your current drives are standard ATA.

Note: When using some third party devices or adapters support for hot-swapping may be lacking or "quirky." It is always wise to backup valuable data before risking loss.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments

By anon247496 — On Feb 13, 2012

Thanks for "Wise" tutorials! --Bogdan

By anon173996 — On May 09, 2011

who is the inventor of SATA?

By anon149382 — On Feb 04, 2011

Please someone, give me answer. If sata and pata HDD used in conjunction, then will both hdd work at different speeds or the lower speed from them?

By anon96584 — On Jul 16, 2010

what is USB3?

By anon67951 — On Feb 27, 2010

Thanks a bunch. Clear now.

By anon61673 — On Jan 21, 2010

Thank you. It really makes sense now.

By anon57990 — On Dec 29, 2009

Cool. A clear, simple explanation of SATA. Thank you. J White

By anon38068 — On Jul 23, 2009

Heaven help me - The principles of KISS are completely gone ... what happened to SIMPLE?

By bennyg14 — On Sep 25, 2008

To anon15376:

Go to newegg and search for 2.5" enclosure for SATA HD.

You can't make mistakes with newegg, they are the best. you don't have to buy the most expensive however check in the spec that the enclosure supporting SATA HD and today it will be helpful to buy enclosure that supporting eSATA (external SATA) in additional to the USB interface.

By bennyg14 — On Sep 25, 2008

to wcolligan,

you should go to administrative tools in the control panel, Computer management, disk management and rename drives letter to be continuous.

Be careful when doing it and try not to change the HD's letters if you are not enough skilled.

To change the letter you should click with the right mouse button on the DVD drive you want to change and choose change letter.......

Good luck

By wcolligan — On Aug 08, 2008

I have a new computer and I have installed 2 SATA DVD drives. Hardware manager says that windows cannot load the drivers because there is a duplicate device present. I can disconnect one of the drives and windows recognizes the one drive. I cannot get windows to recognize bothe drives together.

Bill

By anon15376 — On Jul 09, 2008

I have a Seagate Momentus 7200 hard drive that was in my HP DV9000 laptop. It crashed, and I got it replaced. I want now to see if I can get any data off it. The drive is a Serial AT. Is there an external enclosure that can house the drive?

An eSATA will not work. It is an internal drive -- can I even house it in an external enclosure? Thanks!

By anon10872 — On Apr 04, 2008

If I have a motherboard with both Pata and Sata sockets can I use 4 hardrives ie 2 Ata and 2 Sata?

By shuper30 — On Mar 16, 2008

When I booted up my DELL DIM 4600 computer, I got this message: Invalid configuration information - please run SETUP program. I hit F2 to run the setup program and in the drive configuration, among others, the SATA Primary Drive, SATA Secondary Drive, Primary Slave Drive are set on OFF. Should these be ON?

By anon8908 — On Feb 24, 2008

Whats the cost of a pata/sata adapter?

By anon5194 — On Nov 16, 2007

The jumper block adjacent to the SATA interface connector on SATA 300MB/s drives can be used to force the drive into SATA 150MB/s mode for use with older SATA controllers that only work with SATA 150MB/s drives.

By anon3065 — On Aug 08, 2007

Will an SATA 300 hard drive work (and if so, how) in a SATA 150 connection?

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