First Serial ATA Drive: Expectations Exceed Results

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2003-01-09 Print this article Print

Review: We install and benchmark one of the first Serial ATA hard drives. Performance is a mixed bag, but the future looks bright.

Note: for an in depth look at how Serial ATA really works, check out our companion story explaining the details.
Product: Seagate ST3120023AS
Web Site:
Pro: Surprisingly speedy -- slightly better than the ATA version; less cable clutter; easy configuration.
Con: Requires BIOS support or PCI host adapter; power adapter necessary; still slower than the fastest Parallel ATA drives.
Summary:       Seagates Serial ATA drive bests its parallel ATA sibling. But true performance gains wont happen until the core logic supports Serial ATA.
Street Price: $175.00, check prices
The Drive
Seagate sent us their latest Serial ATA drive, the ST3120023AS. The drive mechanism is identical to the ST3120023A parallel ATA drive we recently tested -- right down to the 8MB buffer. So we thought it would be eminently fair to compare the performance of the two drives. We also tossed in benchmark results from the other 60GB/per platter drives we reviewed recently for good measure. We were able to use the same testbed as we did with the original large hard drive roundup, since the Intel D845PEBT2 motherboard has a Silicon Image 3112 PCI S-ATA controller soldered to the board, and support in the BIOS for booting from a Serial ATA drive. Here are the testbed specifications:
Component Intel D845PEBT2 System (DDR333) Check Prices
CPU 2.8GHz Pentium 4 (533MHz FSB) check prices
Motherboard and Chipset Intel D845PEBT2, Intel 845PE chipset check prices
Memory 512MB Corsair XMS3200 DDR memory (run at DDR333, CAS2, "aggressive" timings) check prices
Graphics Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 (30.82 driver) check prices
DVD-ROM Toshiba SD-1502 check prices
Audio Sound Blaster Audigy Gamer check prices
Ethernet Intel Integrated
Operating System Windows XP Professional, Service Pack 1 installed check prices
Note: the Intel Application Accelerator was not installed because Intels caching algorithms can sometimes mask true disk performance.

Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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