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Serial ATA II Gains Momentum

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- An evolution of sorts is unfolding in the storage industry with the development of Serial ATA (SATA) products.

ATA is a disk drive implementation that incorporates the controller on the disk drive itself. The new spec allows for thinner, more flexible cables and lower pin counts as well as better motherboard routing, which is beneficial for smaller and smaller devices.

But the second generation of the specification is getting a real shot in the arm with its first release candidate rolled out announced Wednesday by the Serial ATA Working Group at the Intel Developers Forum.

Currently, the Serial ATA Working Group has surpassed 100 members, including promoting companies APT, Dell , Intel , Maxtor and Seagate. All of the participants are working to replace the larger and sometimes bulky Parallel ATA physical storage interface.

"The industry is working hard and in unison toward the ramp of Serial ATA products," said Jason Ziller, chairman of the Serial ATA Working Group and Intel technology initiatives manager. "Dozens of companies have been announcing product and product plans for the past several months, and we'll be seeing even more ramped up through the remainder of the year. Broad deployment is expected in 2003, not uncoincidentally the same year Intel is planning to launch its first chipset with integrated Serial ATA."

Serial ATA II, is being completed in two phases. Phase 1 was the definition of server and networked storage features. These include new performance features to address server workloads, and infrastructure additions to improve integration of Serial ATA into storage enclosures. These additions include enclosure management services and backplane interconnect support.

The Phase 1 product adoption ramp is expected sometime in the middle of 2003. To make sure there is a smooth transition, the Working Group said Serial ATA 1.0 products are 100 percent software compatible with existing parallel ATA protocol and modern operating systems.

The specification for Serial ATA II's second phase, focusing on next-generation signaling speeds, is on schedule for release in the second half of 2003. The Working Group said Phase 2 products are expected to start deployment in the second half of 2004.

Serial ATA-member companies showed their support of the new standard with several related announcements.

For example, Adaptec demonstrated iSCSI-to-Serial ATA and Fibre Channel-to-Serial ATA solutions for storage networking; Fujitsu showed off its 2.5-inch Serial ATA hard disk drives designed for blade servers and low-end RAID systems; Intel announced the Intel SRCS14L intelligent RAID controller card, employing four SATA disk interfaces for high-performance RAID; and NEC said it has developed an eight-channel high-speed Serial ATA macro prototype that has been tested up to 3Gbps while maintaining 1.5Gbps backward compatibility with Serial ATA 1.0.

Many of the announcements and demoed products at IDF are the public follow-up of the first Serial ATA 1.0 "plugfest" held last month in Colorado.

Also in progress is a standard known as Ultra ATA , which supports burst mode data transfer rates of 33.3 MBps. To take advantage of these high speeds, your computer must also be equipped with Ultra DMA, a protocol that supports faster data transfer rates to and from hard disk drives.