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SATA can fill storage upgrade for older computers

When repurposing older computers and deciding how to upgrade their storage capacities, SATA is a logical candidate. But some hardware requirements may mean extra labor or expense.

When you repurpose older computers as they are "retired" from their original uses, the question of storage requires careful consideration.

Because additional memory is inexpensive, it's typically a minor factor when you upgrade an old computer. However, adding a faster processor is usually so expensive that it makes the conversion unattractive. Storage falls somewhere in between.

Even second- and third-line systems often need more storage than they were originally equipped with. The 20 GB hard drive that was pretty much standard on a desktop system three to four years ago now may prove cramping even for regular office tasks.

The combination of drive cost and drive capacity makes serial ATA (SATA) a logical candidate when upgrading storage for repurposed systems.But whether SATA is a cost-effective candidate is another question.

The adapters, made by companies such as Promise Technology, are not cheap. If you need to add an adapter to add SATA capacity to a PCI computer, you will probably pay as much for the adapter as you do for a medium-capacity SATA drive.

However, because of the economics of SATA, this is much more of a problem for desktop systems than it is for storage servers. Since most of the expense is in the conversion itself, the cost for a SATA adapter for a RAID array isn't much more than the cost for a two-drive adapter. If you are building a second-line storage server using an old system and SATA disks, the cost of purchasing the adapter is much less of a deterrent.

When considering such a conversion, the first question you need to ask is whether or not the candidate systems have a built-in SATA interface. Most modern desktop PCs come with a SATA interface on the motherboard, but systems more than two or three years old probably won't have one. If this is the case, you will need to install a SATA host adapter.

If you decide to add a SATA interface to a PCI system, the process is straightforward. The drives will not require drivers, but the adapter will. Drivers will be supplied with the adapters, but it always pays to visit the manufacturer's Web site and make sure you have the latest version of the driver.

Seagate describes the process of installing the drivers in a technical note titled "Why doesn't Windows 2000/XP detect my serial ATA disk drive during installation of my OS?"

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 As our site devotes more coverage to SATA, expect to see more tips related to upgrades and configuration.

Fast Guide: Managing SATA drives

  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

Rick Cook is a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.
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