SATA 3.0 released, solid state drives rejoice

New SATA standard ratified for faster file transfer

We've seen glimmers on the horizon for some time now, but the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO) has finally made official the third iteration of the serial ATA specification. SATA Revision 3.0 doubles the existing SATA 3Gb/s bandwidth to 6Gb/s, or roughly 600 MB/s, using a connector that's fully backwards-compatible with the older specification. Device manufacturers (especially motherboards) won't have to reinvent the wheel connection-wise, which should help the new specification reach full market acceptance in a short time frame.

Other features that come with the new specification include:

— A new Native Command Queuing (NCQ) streaming command to enable isochronous data transfers for bandwidth-hungry environments

— An NCQ Management feature that optimizes performance by enabling host processing and management of outstanding NCQ commands

— Improved power management capabilities

— A small Low Insertion Force (LIF) connector for more compact 1.8-inch storage devices

— A connector designed to accommodate 7mm optical disk drives for thinner and lighter notebooks

These seem less important on their face than the powerful connotation conveyed by the bandwidth doubling. But these improvements, especially the upgrades to native command queuing and power management, will have the most measureable impact on everyday performance--at least, until a mainstay of consumers have switched to flash-based storage technology. That's because conventional, magnetic hard drives have yet to saturate the throughput of a SATA 3.0 Gb/s connection. The best of the solid-state drives have been creeping up against this wall for the past many months, and will easily be the first storage devices to push into the available space that the SATA Revision 3.0 spec will offer.

As always, an update to the SATA specification is more a future-proofing measure than a stop-the-presses technological evolution. Regardless, the storage space just got a bigger stadium, and it will be fun to see how the flash-based drive manufacturers will make use of the extra overhead.

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David Murphy

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