What is the difference between sata ata and ide hard drives?

Written by jean brewer
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What is the difference between sata ata and ide hard drives?
Hard Drive (hard drive internals image by BigDog from Fotolia.com)

Most computers still rely on the venerable IDE technology in the hard drive department. IDE stands for Integrated Drive Electronics and is also known by the term ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment). The term IDE is commonly used to refer to a particular type of hard drive connection technically called PATA.


ATA originated in 1984 as a method of combining the controller and hard drive for a direct connection to the bus of the old IBM AT (Advanced Technology) computer. According to Scott Mueller of Mueller Technical Research, the term IDE "originated by the marketing departments of some drive manufacturers to describe the drive/controller combination used in drives with the ATA interface." While all modern hard drives are IDE (ATA), not all are PATA or SATA.


PATA (Parallel ATA) is a 16-bit parallel interface, meaning that 16 bits of data are simultaneously transmitted down an interface cable. This interface uses a 40-pin (44-pin on laptop PATA drives) ribbon cable to connect the drive to the computer system. The PATA interface can handle up to two drives on a single cable, using jumpers to determine the position (master/slave) of each hard drive.


SATA (Serial ATA) was introduced officially in 2000 and began adoption into computer systems starting in 2003. Serial ATA (SATA) sends a single bit of data down the interface cable at a time. This enables smaller cables to be used and allows high cycling speeds because there is no synchronisation needed. The physical interface is completely different from PATA while still being compatible on a software level with the ATA standard. SATA cables contain seven pins, allowing for much thinner cables which enable easier routing within the computer case. Each cable only supports a single device eliminating the need for jumpers to configure the hard drive position of master or slave.


ATA and IDE both represent the same type of hard drive--one containing a controller integrated onto the drive itself. As such, both PATA and SATA hard drives are ATA (or IDE) drives.

PATA and SATA hard drives are software compatible with each other. This means that BIOSes, operating systems and utilities capable of working with one interface are in fact capable of working with the other on a software level.


PATA hard drives (commonly called IDE) use a parallel method of transferring data down a 40-pin cable. Two PATA hard drives are supported per cable and use jumpers to determine position. PATA drives are powered by a standard 4-pin peripheral power connector.

SATA hard drives use a serial method of data transfer, sending data one bit at a time down the 7-pin connecting cable. Only one SATA drive is supported per cable so jumpers are not needed. SATA drives are powered by a 15-pin SATA power cable.

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