Fixing conflicts between older and newer SATA drives

The two SATA speed standards sometimes conflict, but there are two easy workarounds for the problem.

Serial ATA (SATA) devices come in two basic varieties: the original iteration with a maximum theoretical speed of 1.5 Gb/second, and a newer version with a maximum theoretical speed of 3.0 Gb/second. Not all of the newer SATA drives or controllers sold support 3.0Gb/sec, but a good number of them do, and the 3.0 standard seems set to eventually eclipse the 1.5 standard entirely.

These two standards can sometimes conflict. If you buy a drive that natively supports the 3.0GB/sec standard and connect it to a controller that only supports a maximum of 1.5Gb/sec, the results are not always predictable. Sometimes the controller fails to see a drive at all; sometimes the drive's performance is unusually slow. In the first case, the system BIOS will usually throw an error, such as "Device not found" or "Hardware initialization failed."

There are two easy workarounds for this problem:

1. Upgrade the SATA controller. Sometimes this involves nothing more than flashing the controller's firmware. But most of the time you'll need to replace the existing controller. However, your budget may not allow this, and this fix also won't work if you're relying on an embedded controller (e.g., one supplied with a motherboard). Of course, you can supersede an on-board controller with an add-on controller, but again, your budget may not allow for that.

2. Force the drive to use 1.5Gb/sec. This is typically done by setting jumpers on the drive, just as one used jumpers with EIDE devices to set the master/slave settings. For instance, Seagate drives have a four-pin connector on the drive which can be used to force 1.5Gb/sec transfers if the first two pins are shorted.

(In the long run, if you can manage it, switching to the 3.0Gb/sec standard is the best possible choice—you'll reap the benefits of forwards compatibility and speed.)

Serial ATA (SATA) is a drive interface designed to replace the Parallel ATA physical storage interface. The storage world has been buzzing about SATA drives for years, debating how it stacks up against other technologies.

Users of the SATA interface are benefiting from greater speed, simpler upgradeable storage devices and easier configuration. While SATA drives don't match the performance of Fibre Channel (FC) hard drives, they provide the low cost per gigabyte and high storage densities crucial for "near-line" storage tasks such as performing backups and archiving.

This Fast Guide is a compilation of SATA-related tips that have appeared on SearchWinComputing.com. As our site devotes more coverage to SATA, expect to see more tips related to upgrades and configuration.


Fast Guide: Managing SATA drives

  Introduction
  Balancing SATA and SCSI
  Fixing conflicts between older and newer SATA drives
  SATA technology advances and expands in the enterprise
  Plugging into external SATA
  Choose SCSI over SATA for enterprise servers
  SATA can fill storage upgrade for older computers

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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This was first published in September 2006

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