What is a SATA IDE Hard Drive - Review and Comparison

First Impressions - What is a SATA IDE Hard Drive - Review and Comparison

by Larry Neal Gowdy - September 14, 2011, updated October 07, 2013

IDE and SATA connectors.

IDE and SATA connectors.

IDE and SATA Hard Drive Comparison and Review

I originally wrote this article to only show the differences of file transfer speeds between IDE and SATA, but then I thought that it would be a good idea to include a short reference of what distinguishes IDE from SATA so that computer users who are not familiar with hardware can easily recognize which drive is which.

A Brief Explanation of IDE and SATA Differences

IDE = Integrated Drive Electronics (also sometimes referred to as ATA and PATA)

ATA = Advanced Technology Attachment (also sometimes referred to as IDE and PATA)

PATA = Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment (also sometimes referred to as ATA and IDE)

SATA = Serial Advanced Technology Attachment

For most computer owners the two main things to know about IDE and SATA hard drives are that (1) IDE/ATA/PATA is the older style that uses a long rectangular data connector on a wide flat ribbon, plus a 4 pin power connector, and (2) SATA is the newer style that uses a narrow data connector on a narrow cable, plus a narrow power plug. There are well over a dozen other major differences between IDE and SATA versions, but generally if a new hard drive (or CD/DVD player) will easily connect to the computer’s cables without having to use a large hammer, then you likely got the right hard drive.

But is a SATA Drive Really Faster or Better than IDE?

‘New and Improved’ usually only means new gadgets and higher prices without there being a sizable advantage. I don’t care how well something is said to slice and dice, if I don’t see it myself then I will probably not believe it to be much true.

In previous years the increase of IDE hard drive speeds from 5400rpm to 7200rpm showed to have a small performance gain, but typically not enough of a gain to be worth reinstalling an operating system and programs onto a new hard drive. Many of us were not wooed when new IDE versions were released, but we sat up and gave a bit of attention when SATA came on the market.

IDE and SATA load speed graph

During recent tests with Windows® 2000, Windows XP, and numerous desktop Linux® distributions I kept records of how well the same operating systems functioned on separate hard drives in the same computer. The two hard drives used for the following tests were:

WDC wd1200ab-22cba1
2m buffer
5400 rpm
100mbs transfer rate
9.5ms seek

WDC wd800JD-22MSA1
8m buffer
7200 rpm
300mbs transfer
8.9ms seek

While there is an expected increase of speed when an operating system is freshly installed on a new hard drive, the following results appear to suggest that there is a very positive gain of performance with SATA drives. The table of recorded speeds are close approximations using a clock’s second hand to measure load speeds in Windows XP. For common file transfers I do not believe that it is much useful to measure speed in milliseconds if the user would not him/herself ever notice such a small difference. I for one would not invest ten to twenty hours reinstalling an operating system and numerous programs onto a new hard drive if the hard drive would only save me a few milliseconds here and there.

IDE and SATA load speeds

IDE versus SATA load speeds. Lower is better.

XP caches startup files for most programs, and so it is expected that immediately after a new operating system installation the startup times will not be as fast as possible until after the computer has been rebooted a couple of times so as to allow XP to cache the needed files. The above graph and numbers show the results after several reboots.

On my AMD® Sempron 2.3ghz 2g RAM computer the load time for Word® and Excel® can vary from instantaneous to almost one second depending on what other programs are running. Reloading Word and Excel after they have previously been loaded, but without the computer being rebooted the load time is almost instantaneous. There appeared to be a small improvement with the SATA drive for Word and Excel, but since the programs already loaded quickly, then the improvement on the SATA drive was not much noticeable.

The IDE load times for FireFox® were much higher due to FireFox checking for updates during start. I rechecked Libre® Writer several times, but for whatever reason it continued to take longer to load on the SATA drive than on the IDE (the difference may have been due to a Writer program update that is not yet installed on the IDE drive).

While the load time of programs is not overly important, the results do show that we can expect a roughly 50% increase of speed with a SATA drive as compared to a typical IDE. The more noticeable improvement of speed will be when transferring large files to different folders. On my computer one of the things that I like best about the new SATA drive is that it is very much quieter than the older IDE.

For email, Internet, and text documents you will likely not notice much improvement with a SATA drive due to the files being very small. For large videos, photographs, and program files, you should notice a very nice improvement of speed with SATA.

SATA drives are now usually less expensive than IDE drives. If you are in the market for a new hard drive, and you motherboard and power supply support SATA, then I highly recommend that you choose SATA. Nevertheless, due to the large amount of time required to install an operating system and programs, if your computer currently has an IDE hard drive and you do not have a very good reason for upgrading to SATA, then I would not upgrade until after the IDE drive dies or starts making odd noises (a symptom of a hard drive getting ready to die). The only reason that I upgraded from the IDE to SATA on the test computer was so that I could compare Linux and Windows side by side on the same computer and with a brand new hard drive so as to help ensure that both operating systems were getting a clean installation. I tend to use my tools until they break from old age, and so I would not likely upgrade a hard drive from IDE to SATA without good reason.

If you are wanting speed, then you might consider going one step higher and installing a solid state SATA drive. The solid state drives are still fairly expensive as compared to mechanical drives, and the dependability of solid state drives might not be as good as the mechanical, but if speed is the main goal then solid state is currently the best choice.

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