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Installing and Using Serial ATA Drives Learn how to add Serial ATA to your existing computer and connect standard ATA drives to a Serial ATA host adapter

Installing and Using Serial ATA Drives
Learn how to add Serial ATA to your existing computer and connect standard ATA drives to a Serial ATA host adapter

Serial ATA - On Retail Shelves Near You

I have written about Serial ATA drives and host adapters in Chapter 7 of Upgrading and Repairing PCs, 14th Edition, but until recently Serial ATA (SATA) technology was still largely on the drawing boards. Fortunately, Serial ATA drives and host adapters have finally arrived at your local computer and electronics superstore. In this article, you learn:

  • The real-world benefits of Serial ATA
  • How to install a Serial ATA host adapter and drive
  • How to prepare a Serial ATA drive for use

In a future article I discuss using motherboards with built-in Serial ATA host adapters, and how to convert an existing ATA drive to connect a Serial ATA host adapter.

Real-World Benefits of Serial ATA Technology

As I discuss in Upgrading and Repairing PCs, the faster interface speed provided by Serial ATA (150MBps, compared to 133MBps with ATA-133 or 100MBps with ATA-100) is a largely theoretical advantage with current drives. Todays ATA drives are not fast enough to achieve ATA-100 speeds on a consistent basis, let alone ATA-133 or Serial ATA speeds. However, Serial ATA has real-world benefits you can experience today:

  • Because Serial ATA is a serial, not a parallel, technology, it uses narrow cables that can be up to 1 meter (over 3 feet) long. Parallel ATA cables, used by ATA-66 and faster drives, use 80 wires and should be no longer than 18 inches; longer cables are available but they pose a risk of data corruption.

  • A Serial ATA drive and its host adapter make a one-to-one connection: there is no need to worry about jumpering a drive or about putting the drive in the wrong position on the cable.

Longer, narrower cables and no jumpering makes Serial ATA easier to install than standard (also known as Parallel) ATA drives.

Serial ATA Hardware Installation

Seagates Barracuda Serial ATA V drive is the first widely available Serial ATA drive: it can be purchased at many computer and electronics stores. The retail-packaged version I purchased includes a Serial ATA data cable, a power adapter cable, a driver CD, and instructions.

Since most systems dont have Serial ATA host adapters, I needed to purchase one for use with my existing computer. I chose an SIIG Serial ATA host adapter, one of many brands on the market. Figure 1 shows this host adapter with a Serial ATA cable.

(Click for Larger Image)

Figure 1
SIIG Serial ATA host adapter with Serial ATA cable.

As Figure 1 shows, Serial ATA host adapters use the PCI expansion slot. To install the host adapter:

  1. Shut down, turn off and unplug your computer.
  2. Take the precautions against ESD (electro-static discharge) that I discuss in Chapter 22 of my book.
  3. Open the cover and locate an empty PCI slot.
  4. Remove the slot cover of an empty PCI slot.
  5. Insert the Serial ATA card into the slot.
  6. Fasten the card into place using the screw that previously held the slot cover in place.
  7. Connect the Serial ATA data cable to one of the SATA connectors.

After the host adapter is installed, it's time to install the drive.

  1. Connect the power adapter to the rear of the drive.
  2. Compare the length of the Serial ATA data cable to the distance to empty drive bays. Use this technique to determine which empty drive bay you can use for the Serial ATA drive.
  3. Select an empty 3.5-inch drive bay within reach of the cable and fasten the drive into place with four screws.
  4. If you need to use an empty 5.25-inch drive bay, install a 5.25-inch adapter kit for 3.5-inch drives. The kits made for standard ATA drives also work with Serial ATA drives.
  5. Connect a 4-pin power lead from the power supply to the rear of the drive.
  6. Connect the Serial ATA cable running from the host adapter to the rear of the drive.

Figure 2 shows the rear of the drive before power and data cables are connected, and Figure 3 shows the rear of the drive after power and data cables are connected.

(Click for Larger Image)

(Click for Larger Image)
Figure 2
Power (left) and data connectors (center) on a Seagate Serial ATA drive.
Figure 3
Power (left) and data cables (center) connected to a Seagate Serial ATA drive.

After the Serial ATA host adapter and drive are installed, reattach power to the computer and restart it. Close up the case after you verify that everything is working correctly.

Verifying the Serial ATA Host Adapter and Drive are Working

When you restart the computer, you should see the following information before Windows starts:

  • The model and BIOS version of the chipset used by the Serial ATA host adapter

  • The brand and model of the drive(s) connected to the Serial ATA host adapter

Figure 4 shows how the SIIG Serial host adapter (which uses a Silicon Image chipset) and the Seagate Serial ATA drive are identified at startup on my system.

(Click for Larger Image)

Figure 4
Serial ATA host adapter information (1) and Serial ATA drive information (2) as displayed at startup.

If information similar to what is shown in Figure 4 isnt displayed when you start your system, recheck your installation. You might need to reattach the data or power cables if the drive isnt listed. If the host adapter isnt listed, use a different PCI slot.

Installing the Drivers for the Serial ATA Host Adapter

After Windows boots, it displays a prompt, asking you to supply the drivers for the host adapter. The drivers are supplied on a CD-ROM or floppy disk (and should also be available from the hardware manufacturer's Website as a free download). Insert it into the correct drive when prompted. Depending upon the version of Windows you use, you might need to restart your computer before you can prepare the drive.

Preparing the Serial ATA Drive

Although the interface used by a Serial ATA drive is physically different than that used by a Parallel ATA drive, Serial ATA uses the same commands as Parallel ATA. Thus, you can use either of the following methods to prepare the drive:

  • Operating system utilities such as Fdisk/Format (Windows 9x/Me) or Disk Management (Windows NT/2000/XP). I discuss the use of Fdisk and Format in Chapter 14 of Upgrading and Repairing PCs.

  • Proprietary disk installation utilities provided by the drive vendor, such as Seagates Disc Wizard (provided with the Seagate Serial ATA drive). See the drive vendors website for details.

After the Serial ATA drive has been partitioned and formatted, you can use it as you would any ATA hard drive.

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