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Everything You Need to Know About SATA Hard Drives

HDD, SSD, RAID, ATA… the list feels endless. There’s no shortage of acronyms in the tech world. While abbreviating these technological concepts and devices saves time, feeling confused by the barrage of alphabet soup is natural.

Today’s tech acronym is SATA, which stands for serial advanced technology attachment (SATA). This handy device is a type of hard drive used in popular consumer electronics. SATA drives are one of many hard drives on the market today and compare to the traditional hard disc drive. But more on that later.

First, we’ll look at everything you need to know about SATA drives, how they work, why they’re used, and how they compare to other popular storage solutions available today.

What is SATA?

SATA is the interface of a hard drive used to read and write data to and from the data storage—either HDD or SSD—and the computer. Also called serial ATAs, these devices are usually found in desktop computers, laptops, servers, and even gaming consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft installed SATA drives in the PlayStation 3 and 4 and the Xbox 360 and One, respectively.

There are different sizes of SATA devices based on their intended use. Desktop SATA drives are 4 inches wide, 1.03 inches tall, and 5.79 inches long. They are often called 3.5-inch hard drives. A more compact version of the desktop SATA drive is available for laptops. Laptop SATA hard drives are usually 2.7 inches wide, 0.37 inches tall, and 3.96 inches long. These are typically referred to as 2.5-inch hard drives.

How were Serial ATA hard drives developed?

Before SATA drives came on the scene, Parallel ATA (PATA) interface hard drives were the computer world’s preferred storage solution. Originally developed in 1986, these drives were far slower and much larger than their successor, the SATA hard drive. PATA drives write at 66 to 133 MB per second. Comparatively, SATA drives write at 600 MB per second. That’s six times faster—a pretty significant upgrade!

In 2000, the Serial ATA Working Group, a non-profit collection of the greatest minds from the world’s largest tech companies, released the specifications for the first SATA drives. Since then, the Serial ATA International Organization has released many iterations of SATA technology, and the drive remains as relevant today as in 2000.

Why use SATA drives?

There are several advantages to using a SATA hard drive. They’re well-known for their quality transmission speeds, ample capacities, compatibility, and value.

As previously mentioned, SATA devices are capable of writing data at about 600 MB per second. Modern SATA hard drives range from 500 GB to 16TB and cost between $50 to upwards of $500, depending on the storage capacity and features.

Another advantage of using a SATA drive is compatibility. SATA devices can be used in almost any configuration and across different manufacturers (even Apple) with no difficulties. What’s more, users can hot-swap SATA hard drives. Hot-swapping adding or removing a hard drive while the device is still running. That’s not a feature you find on every hard drive!

SATA drives are a good option for users who need a large amount of storage at a small price. They’re also great all-around hard drives for everyday users.

What’s the difference between SATA-enabled HDDs and SSDs?

There are two main types of SATA-enabled hard drives: hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD). Overall, SATA HDDs and SSDs are the same in function. But they use drastically different technology to store data. SATA-enabled HDDs take a little longer to boot than SSD, but SATA’s transmission speeds on HDDs are just as good. They also have a lifespan of about three to four years and often fall victim to mechanical problems.

SSDs, on the other hand, have an average lifespan of about ten years making their longevity far superior to HDD drives. SSDs are also much faster, both in boot times and read/write speeds, than HDD devices. However, HDDs are far more affordable than their SSD counterparts, costing about half as much for the same storage capacity.

What happens if my SATA HDD or SSD fails?

Failure is an inevitable outcome with every piece of technology, including the storage drives. If you’re experiencing SATA-enabled HDD or SSD failure, contact DriveSavers for a free evaluation!

Mike Cobb

Director of Engineering
Mike joined DriveSavers in 1994. He leads and supervises the R&D efforts for past, present, and future storage technologies, and manages the engineering department's day-to-day operations, including RAID, SAN, NAS, along with the physical and logical recoveries of rotational media, SSDs, smart devices, and flash media. Mike also advocates the continued training and certifications of the DriveSavers Data Recovery engineers. Mike has a B.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Riverside.

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