IDE & SATA: What Is the Difference?

Written by david perez
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IDE & SATA: What Is the Difference?
Both IDE and SATA enable data to travel between hard drives and motherboards. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

IDE and SATA are two types of interfaces for data transfer. IDE stands for "Integrated Drive Electronics," while SATA stands for "Serial Advanced Technology Attachment." Both standards allow hard disk drives to share information with a given computer's system memory. They differ in terms of transfer speed, socket type and cable type. As of 2011, the SATA standard dominates the market, rendering the older IDE standard nearly obsolete.

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Drives using the IDE standard, otherwise known as PATA, transfer information at rates between 5 and 133 megabytes (MB) per second. In contrast, SATA drives transfer data at 150 MB per second. As of 2011, there are two newer variations on this technology -- SATA II and SATA III. These transfer 300 MB and 6 gigabits per second, respectively.


Due to their relatively large size, IDE interfaces are easily distinguishable from their smaller SATA counterparts. IDE sockets contain 40 pins, and their corresponding connectors have 40 pin holes. These are arranged into two rows of 20 pins each. SATA interfaces use only seven pins, aligned in a single row.


IDE drives use a "ribbon" cable. The term comes from the fact that the cable is actually a series of cables connected side-by-side, resulting in a long flat strip along which the data travels. This type of cable can connect a hard drive and a CD drive to a computer's motherboard. It can also connect two separate drives to the board. SATA cables consist of a single wire. The wire is usually red and flat rather than tubular like most cables.


As of 2011, most motherboards installed on new computers have sockets supporting the SATA interface. Computer manufacturers make few boards that support the older IDE interface. This is primarily due to transfer speed. IDE's standard 133 MB per second simply cannot compete with SATA III's 6 gigabits per second. Beyond this, drives using the SATA standard tend be easier to install and manage.

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