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A Quick Guide To How A SATA Cable Works And More

As a future PC builder or enthusiast, it’s important to familiarize yourself with different components outside of the usual pieces. An overlooked component is the SATA cable, but don’t worry.

Today, we’re going to look at what SATA cables are, how they work, and what they can do for your system.

What Are SATA Cables?

SATA is short for Serial ATA or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. SATA is an IDE standard that was released back in 2001. This cable allowed you to connect storage devices and optical drives to the motherboards.

Serial ATA replaces Parallel ATA or PATA as the IDE standard for connecting storage and optical devices to a system unit as they can transmit data to and from the rest of the system unit faster than the PATA devices.

PATA cables are only 18 inches at max length while SATA cables can go as long as 1 meter or 3.3 feet, which allows you more freedom for mounting devices. The only thing that a PATA device has over SATA is that the former can attach two devices at once while SATA only allows for one.

There are also OS that doesn’t accept SATA cables such as Windows 95 and 98 but don’t worry as these OS’s are rarely used nowadays.

SATA hard disk drives also need a special driver that needs to be installed before a computer can read or write data to it.

You might think that the PATA cables will have the upper hand because of the SATA cable’s limitations, but the data transfer rate and flexibility of the latter will always give it

What Are The Different Generations of SATA Cables?

There are currently three versions, or generations, available for SATA cables. Each generation has its corresponding specification and speed:

SATA I

The first generation interface is the SATA 1. It operated at 1.5Gb/s with a max bandwidth of 150MB/s.

SATA II

SATA II is the second-generation interface that operated at 3Gb/s with a max bandwidth of 300Mb/s.

SATA III

SATA III is the third-generation interface. It has a max transfer rate of 6Gb/s with a max bandwidth throughput of 600Mb/s.

The SATA III is compatible with other generations via backward compatibility.

What Are The Different SATA Connectors?

SATA connectors are available in male and female formats with three varieties, namely:

  • Power only (SATA power cables)
  • Data only (SATA data cables)
  • Data plus power

SATA connectors look a lot like wafers, with pins arranged in single row. They’re wider so they’re able to couple with smaller devices like SSDs.

SATA Data Cables

SATA data connectors only have 7 horizontal pins, with 3 pins for grounding and 4 pins arranged in pairs for data.

You’ll also find a smaller version known as a mini-SATA or mSATA connector, which is mostly used for tablets and laptops.

SATA Power Cables

SATA power connectors have more pins than SATA data cables. A SATA power connector has 15 pins and supplies +3.3V DC, +5V DC and +12V DC. These cables are partnered with a 4-pin Molex LP4 connector that attaches to the computer’s power supply unit (PSU).

Then you’ll have SATA cables that can both provide power and data at the same time.

How Are SATA Cables Mainly Used?

SATA HDD Cables

Your typical computer build will use SATA cables to connect the HDD to the motherboard. A hard disk drive usually features inlet ports, and one of them will be compatible with SATA cables.

The SATA cable also provides power to the HDD so you don’t have to attach another cable. This is an example of a DATA PLUS POWER connection. SATA cables for HDDs can also be used to connect external HDDs to the PC via e-SATA.

SATA Cables for Laptops

Laptops are built differently from a standard PC. Unlike PCs, laptops connect their storage devices directly to the motherboard, which removes the necessity for SATA cables. However, the breakout boards and motherboards are connected to these storage devices with a thin and flat SATA cable.

What Are The Other Types of SATA Cables?

SATA to USB

USB-C-SATA-3 SATA Cable

You can connect external SSD drives to a computer via a SATA to USB cable. A SATA to USB cable is used to plug in storage devices that don’t have external closures.

This allows you to attach an SSD to the system unit without installing it to the motherboard. This is a good way to back up files from an SSD into a PC or laptop.

e-SATA

An e-SATA or external SATA is another form of SATA Cable that allows you to connect external hard drives into a computer via the e-SATA connector port.

Micro SATA

Micro SATA, or mSATA, is one of the smaller SATA cables used for connecting SSDs with an mSATA connector to the motherboard.

Low Profile SATA

A low-profile SATA cable is typically used for PCs with bulky GPUs that end up blocking the SATA ports. A low-profile SATA cable will go underneath any GPU and into the motherboard without bending.

What Are SATA Converter Cables?

SATA converter cables are a form of adapter that you can use to convert any old cable type into SATA, or convert one SATA cable into another connection type.

If you plan on using your SATA hard drive via USB connection without needing to boot it on the system, you can use a SATA to USB adapter.

You can also find Molex converters in case your PSU doesn’t have a 15-pin cable connection to provide power to an internal SATA hard drive.

How Do You Install a SATA Cable?

Installing SATA cables isn’t that complicated, but even so, you should still know how to install them properly.

How you install SATA cables will depend on what their purpose is. If you’re just replacing an HDD’s old SATA cable, then you might want to disconnect the old one from the motherboard first before installing the new one.

However, it’s a different story when you’re installing a new hard drive, then you need to follow these steps:

  • Place the new hard disk drive into an empty bay. Make sure it’s securely located and that airflow is optimal.
  • Connect the SATA cable to the hard disk drive and then connect the other side of the SATA cable to the motherboard.
  • Make sure that the new SATA cable is not hindering the existing SATA connection from your old HDD.
  • Your primary drive, or the hard disk drive you’ll be using most of the time, should connect to your motherboard’s lowest SATA port, which would be SATA 0 or SATA 1.
  • Close the PC casing and power up the system once it’s safe.

Frequently Asked Questions About SATA Cables

How do you know you’re using a third-generation SATA cable, or SATA III?

You can tell that you’re using a SATA III by its latch or locking mechanism. You’ll find a latch on either one side, or both sides of the cable. If there’s a latch on your cable, then that’s a SATA III cable.

Is SATA III faster than the SATA I and SATA II?

Yes. You’ll find that the other two generations have a data transfer rate of up to 1.5 Gb/s and 3.0Gb/s. The SATA III has max bandwidth throughput of 6.0Gb/s.

All SATA generations have backward compatibility too.

What’s SATA Express For?

SATA Express is a bus interface used for connecting your computer’s motherboard to a storage device. The SATA Express supports PCI Express or PCIe and Serial ATA protocols at the same time.

How do you connect an external hard drive to a computer if there’s no eSATA port?

PC’s don’t usually have an eSATA port but you can purchase a SATA to eSATA converter cable. You will then use your external device to this eSATA port using an eSATA cable.

Why does a SATA power cable have many pins?

A SATA power cable or power connector has so many pins because it replaced the 4-pin Molex connector. The higher pin count is for supporting three voltages, providing additional ground pins for hot swapping, and access to other advanced features like a mechanical drive’s delayed spin-up.

What’s the most common SATA cable being used today?

The most common SATA generation used today is the SATA III cable. Then you’ll have three different SATA cables under this generation, namely 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3.

Wrap Up

So there you have it, everything you needed to know about SATA cables and how they work. Knowing how a SATA cable works and what the different functions are will let you build a stronger and faster CPU.

Knowing the different SATA cable types and their functions will also help alleviate some headaches associated with data backup for optical drives and storage drives.

James Stephenson

james stephenson profile picJames is a gaming and tech enthusiast. He has been playing computer games since the Commodore 64 days in the 80s. He has worked as a Broadcast Engineer with BBC News and knows a thing or two about building, fixing, and playing with PCs.