What is a Serial ATA (SATA) Cable?

SATA Cables, Connectors, and More on the Serial ATA Standard

Close-up of a serial ata cable pluged in to a hard drive
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SATA, short for Serial ATA (which is an abbreviation for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment), is an IDE standard first released in 2001 for connecting devices like optical drives and hard drives to the motherboard.

The term SATA generally refers to the types of cables and connections that follow this standard.

Serial ATA replaces Parallel ATA as the IDE standard of choice for connecting storage devices inside of a computer.

SATA storage devices can transmit data to and from the rest of the computer over twice as fast as an otherwise similar PATA device.

Note: PATA is sometimes just called IDE. If you see SATA being used sort of as an opposite term with IDE, it just means that Serial and Parallel ATA cables or connections are being discussed.

SATA vs PATA

Compared to Parallel ATA, Serial ATA also has the benefit of cheaper cable costs and the ability to hot swap devices. To hot swap means that the devices can be replaced without turning off the entire system. With PATA devices, you'd need to shutdown the computer before replacing the hard drive.

SATA cables themselves are much smaller than the fat PATA ribbon cables. This means that they're easier to manage because they don't take up as much space and can be tied up more easily, if need be. Also, the thinner design results in better airflow inside the computer case.

Like I said above, SATA transfer speeds are more than twice as fast as PATA. 133 MB/s is the fastest transfer speed possible with PATA devices, whereas SATA maxes out at 600 MB/s. Even SATA's slowest speed is 150 MB/s, which is still faster than the maximum speed that can be accomplished through PATA.

The maximum cable length of a PATA cable is just 18 inches (1.5 feet). SATA cables can be as long as 1 meter (3.3 feet). However, while a PATA data cable can have two devices attached to it at once, a SATA drive only allows one.

Some Windows operating systems don't support SATA devices, like Windows 95 and 98. However, since those versions of Windows are so outdated, it shouldn't be a concern these days.

Another disadvantage of SATA hard drives is that they sometimes require a special device driver before the computer can begin reading and writing data to it.

More About SATA Cables & Connectors

SATA cables are long, 7-pin cables. Both ends are flat and thin. One end plugs into a port on the motherboard, usually labeled SATA, and the other into the back of a storage device like a SATA hard drive.

External hard drives can also be used with SATA connections, given of course that the hard drive itself has a SATA connection too. This is called eSATA. The way this works is that the external drive attaches to the eSATA connection at the back of the computer next to the other openings for things like the monitor, network cable, and USB ports. Inside the computer, the same internal SATA connection is made with the motherboard just like if the hard drive were lying inside the case.

Note: Most computers don't come pre-installed with an eSATA connection on the back of the case. However, you can buy the bracket yourself pretty cheaply. Monoprice's 2 Port Internal SATA to eSATA Bracket, for example, is less than $10.

However, one caveat with external SATA hard drives is that the cable doesn't transfer power, only data. This means that unlike most external USB drives, eSATA drives require a power source.

SATA Converter Cables

There are various adapters you can purchase if you need to convert an older cable type to SATA or convert SATA to some other connection type.

For example, if you want to use your SATA hard drive through a USB connection, like to wipe the drive or to browse through or backup the files, you can buy a SATA to USB adapter. Through Amazon, you can get something like this SATA/PATA/IDE Drive to USB Adapter Converter Cable for just that purpose.

There are also Molex converters you can use if your power supply doesn't provide the 15-pin cable connection that you need to power your internal SATA hard drive. Those cable adapters are pretty inexpensive, like this one from Micro SATA Cables.

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