Building in a Serial

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

ATA Drive"> Of course, before you can benchmark a drive, you actually have to install it and get it running. That proved to be more of a chore than we expected. Using a Serial ATA drive in your system can be somewhat problematic. If you want to simply add an S-ATA drive as a secondary or tertiary drive, its fairly simple to bring up -- attach the drive, boot up, install the driver into the OS and off you go. Oops, not quite. There is the issue of the power connector.
If you examine the picture closely, youll note that the power connector isnt the familiar 4-pin, Molex 12 volt connector weve all wrestled with. Instead, its an edge connector, that looks a bit like a wider version of the S-ATA data connector. While many motherboards now ship with motherboard down Serial ATA support, and even supply you with data cables, almost none of them supply you with power adapter cables. No off-the-shelf power supply currently has connectors for S-ATA power plugs either. We did find two Gigabyte motherboards with adapters for using the drive external to the PC, but this is somewhat limiting. What you need is a Molex 12V to Serial ATA power converter cable. These are not widely available in your local clone shop yet, though now that S-ATA drives are shipping, you should be able to find them soon. However, SIIG, who manufactures a line of S-ATA PCI adapter cards, kindly supplied us with several. The SIIG S-ATA host adapter kit ships with one inside the box. Once you get power and data to the hard drive, the next step is to connect it to the motherboard. The edge connector is keyed, so you cant install it the wrong way. If you examine the motherboard connector, youll see the L-shaped key on one side of the connector. Plugging the connector into the motherboard is literally a snap -- certainly easier than trying to line up and push down that pesky parallel ATA cable. Once in, the connector and cable take up very little room. When installing Windows XP, we had to do a clean install -- simply copying over a partition wouldnt work, due to the dreaded "Stop 0x0000007" error. This particular error usually indicates that the mass storage device isnt recognized properly by Windows. So you have to install from scratch, making sure you have a floppy with the proper Serial ATA host adapter drivers handy. Its much like installing a SCSI host adapter. As Serial ATA becomes more commonplace, its likely to be built into the operating system. There are currently three major suppliers of S-ATA chipsets: Silicon Image, Promise and Marvell (though the Marvell chip is really a parallel-to-SATA bridge chip). Once the standard is built into the core logic, an update to the OS will likely be needed. Serial ATA support for Linux is well under way. Last August, driver source was released for the SiL 3112. Theres no word yet on Linux support for the Promise S-ATA controller. You can check out support for the SiL chip at the Linux IDE project.

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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