Three SATA-II Hard Drives Reviewed

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2005-06-14 Print this article Print

SATA-II hard drives are starting to ship. Do the new features add any value for users? We test three SATA-II drives from different manufacturers to find out.

Serial ATA has become the storage mainstay of current-generation desktop PCs. Were even seeing SATA drive penetrating into laptop storage and some entry-level servers. But the term "SATA-II" is now technically incorrect. Realizing the potential for Serial ATA beyond just PC hard drives, the SATA working group has formed an industry organization dubbed SATA-IO, for Serial ATA International Organization. What was previously dubbed "SATA-II" has been redefined to include a variety of technologies. For example, most people only think of SATA-II as offering a 3Gbps (gigabits per second) serial pipe for data. In reality, that 3Gbps is only one facet of second-generation SATA. While well call the standard "SATA-II" for simplicity, bear in mind that the standard includes a few other features:
  • External SATA, or eSATA defines a new, more robust connector and cable lengths of up to 2 meters. Note that eSATA devices will typically run at 1.5Gbps.
  • Port Multipliers. Port multipliers are chips that allow one physical port to access up to 15 drives. Multipliers would be used in multidrive configurations to simplify cabling. Heres where the 3Gbps speed defined in the second generation standard can really have an impact. Note that generation-one SATA drives can connect to port multipliers.
  • 3Gbps. Not all SATA-II devices are required to run at 3Gbps, but the increased speed is there for applications and drives that want to take advantage of it. 3Gbps drives are completely backward compatible—you can plug them into a first-generation SATA system, but theyll just move data at a maximum 1.5Gbps. Cables are compatible, and first-generation SATA drives will work fine in systems that support 3Gbps although the drives themselves will still be 1.5Gbps.
  • Native Command Queuing. NCQ can intelligently reorder commands as needed to improve performance.
  • A new, more robust cable connector that gives tactile feedback ("clicks") when you snap it in. But its compatible with old connectors, and old cables can plug into a device with the new device connector.
  • Hot plug capability. This is pretty important for users of external drives, but also applies to server systems. The hardware now manages power and data integrity when drives are hot-swapped.
    Now that we understand second generation SATA, lets move onto the new drives. Read the full story on ExtremeTech: Three SATA-II Hard Drives Reviewed
    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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