RealTime IT News

Seagate, AMD Double Down on SATA Speeds

AMD and Seagate today announced the first public demonstrations of 6 gigabit per second Serial ATA (SATA) drives, a doubling of the current standard for hard drive throughput in the majority of computers.

The demo is taking place at the Everything Channel conference for system builders, taking place in New Orleans. The SATA spec is maintained by the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO) and not limited to just AMD (NYSE: AMD) and Seagate. They are just the first to show it off. Others will follow shortly.

Marc Noblitt, senior I/O market development manager for client products at Seagate, said products featuring the 6GBit/sec. interface should appear on the market by the end of the year, and are backwards compatible. The motherboards will have no problem with a 3Gbit hard disk, and a 6Gbit drive will work fine on an older computer with the slower bus.

"It just runs, it's all hardware negotiation. It's designed to go for top speed first and downshifts if the hardware negotiation fails," he told InternetNews.com. If need be, a 6Gbit drive can run in an old computer with the 1.5Gbit interface SATA first used when it shipped in 2003.

With drives increasing in size to well over a terabyte in capacity, and files getting bigger, a faster interface was necessary. "Part of this is to keep the drive from being the bottleneck, and part of this is to make the data rates be a little faster for when data comes off the drive," Noblitt said. "As density grows, data rate grows. That means there needs to be improved data rate speed."

A steady stream of data for audio and video

The new SATA interface will feature improved power management and data streaming support in addition to its faster pipeline. The power management means it will be more aggressive in controlling how much power is used by the drive, while data streaming insures a steady stream of data for things like audio and video.

Noblitt expects there to be a slight price premium, about 20 to 25 percent, over the 3GBit drives, but that will come down as the drives reach wider penetration. The drives will also sport a 32MB buffer, similar to the cache on a CPU, instead of the 16MB on today's drives. The increased buffer will help insure a doubling of performance over 3GBit drives.

The interface is "media agnostic," meaning it will work just fine on a solid state drive (SSD), or an optical drive, like DVD-ROM. But those drives are inherently slower and are often parallel, or at best use the 1.5Gbit interface.