You have heard before that SATA SSDs are faster than hard disk drives. Well, that depends on the SATA interfaces on your motherboard. So, what difference will you notice between SATA 1 vs SATA 2 vs SATA 3?
You will want to read this one because knowing how SATA interfaces work, what kind of speeds they can put out, and how their compatibility affects system performance is necessary for recognizing the best storage options for your laptops, PCs, and server stations.
Let’s know the differences between SATA I, SATA II, and SATA III and how to recognize them on your motherboard so that you can utilize their full potential.
SATA 1 vs SATA 2 vs SATA 3
SATA – What does it mean and its full form?
Serial Advanced Technology Attachment or SATA is one of the two primary interfaces (the other one is PCIe) on the motherboard that connects essential components to the PC, such as hard drives and optical drives (CD/DVD), and types of solid state drives.
SATA’s main function is to transfer data between a motherboard and many storage drives. You can typically find 4-6 SATA ports on an average motherboard, more additional on gaming, or server-grade systems.
While SATA ports are widely used to connect mechanical hard drives, they can also connect SATA SSDs, except the M.2 SSDs are connected differently via a dedicated M.2 connector type of slot on the motherboard.
SATA’s Introduction – Why it Replaced Previous PATA?
SATA was introduced in 2000 to replace PATA (Parallel ATA). PATA was more popular since the mid-1980s, but the technology had seemingly peaked as its top speed couldn’t exceed 133 megabytes per second (MB/s). In contrast, SATA’s first version able to communicates at 150 MB/s.
Unlike PATA’s half-duplex transmission, SATA offers full-duplex transmission. This means the interface can simultaneously receive and transmit data, which signifies a higher speed transfer rate than a half-duplex.
In addition, each SATA port has its serial bus compared to parallel, which has significantly increased the interface bandwidth. This was facilitated by the use of higher frequencies and good noise immunity of the cable used in the connection.
For its work, SATA uses a 7-pin connector for data exchange and a 15-pin connector for modular power supply.
Lastly, SATA cables are thinner, more flexible, and compact than PATA cables, serving important functions of less cable-clutter and better airflow.
SATA was commercially introduced in 2003 and quickly replaced the previous generation PATA interfaces. Of course, at the time, it was just known as SATA, but today, due to newer upgrades, it is become known as SATA I.
SATA I – the first-generation SATA interface – has a bandwidth of 1.5 Gb/s (gigabits per second), also known as SATA 1.5 Gb/s. However, its actual data transfer rate is 150 MB/s (megabytes per second).
Being the first generation, SATA I is also compatible with newer SATA II and SATA III ports. Regardless, you will hardly find any SATA I port today in PCs since it is outdated technology.
GB Vs. Gb And Why The Bits To Byte Conversion Doesn’t Hold Out? (Important)
It is essential to note that GigaBITS (Gb) is not the same as GigaBYTES (GB). There are 8 bits in a byte, so 1.5 Gb/s = 187.5 MB/s. Wait, shouldn’t the actual transfer rate on SATA I equal 187.5 MB/s?
If it is then why is it 150 MB/s instead?
It is because the interface uses 8b/10b encoding that replaces every 8b signal with a 10b signal (and code). Simply put, this is done to compensate for data losses, or in technical terms: DC bias and Clock Recovery.
This concludes, 1.5 Gb/s is actually 0.15 GB/s or 150 MB/s transfer rate of SATA 1, while overall reduced speed (from 187.5 to 150) more than compensates for data that would have otherwise been lost.
SATA II is the second generation of SATA interfaces introduced in 2004. It is formally known as SATA 3.0 Gb/s because of its bandwidth (you guessed it) 3.0 Gb/s. And as explained earlier, due to 8b/10b encoding, its real transfer rate is 300 MB/s.
SATA II is both backward as well as forwards compatible. However, the speeds will be reduced during backward pairing with SATA I. Similarly, SATA III will be bottlenecked to face slower speeds equal to the SATA II port.
SATA I and SATA II ports are also absent in newer motherboards. But you can still find these ports in older motherboards and some of the server type systems that haven’t been upgraded in a while.
Native Command Queuing (NCQ) – This Makes SATA 2 to Perform Better than SATA 1
A part of why SATA II can deliver higher speeds than SATA I is the introduction of NCQ. NCQ is a technology that enables SATA version 2 to accept several commands (instead of just one) simultaneously.
The NCQ made it possible to increase the speed and number of processing of simultaneous requests. In addition, NCQ increases the drive’s performance by reducing the number of drive head movements when multiple read or write commands are queued.
SATA III is the third generation SATA interface appeared in 2009, and now, in fact, is dominant on the market as it offers a bandwidth of 6.0 Gb/s, and the actual transfer rate is 600 MB/s.
It is backward compatible with SATA I and SATA II drives, but the speed will be reduced according to the drive it’s being paired with. SATA III is also forwards compatible with newer SATA 3.1 and 3.2 drives typically used in gaming-grade or high workload systems.
The SATA II ports are more than enough for an average mechanical hard drive usage which was popular a few years back. However, it is with the SSDs that SATA III ports show their true potential among others.
You can plug any SATA SSDs into any SATA port, but their higher speeds will only be accessible in the SATA III port.
It is between SATA II and SATA III the dilemma arises whether to upgrade the motherboard or not. It will be discussed ahead in the section ‘Should You Upgrade To SATA III,’ but first, let’s summarize what we have learned about the SATA ports.
Comparison Chart: SATA I vs SATA II vs SATA III
2. Actual Speed
3. Backward Compatibility
4. Forward Compatibility
Yes (SATA 3.1 and 3.2)
6. Best Use case
Optical drives like CD and DVD
Mechanical Hard drives
Should You Upgrade from SATA II To SATA III?
SATA III is slowly phasing out SATA II interfaces, but many older motherboards, as well as newer ones, still contain it. Older ones have it because they just haven’t been upgraded, while newer motherboards importantly include it as a part of legacy or nice-to-have features.
SATA II ports can deliver ample performance if you don’t have a very high usage of your PC. Since these ports can deliver speeds above the top speed of mechanical hard drives (which typically range at 30 – 150 MB/s), there’s no need to upgrade to SATA III just for the sake of upgrading it.
This is because you will have to switch your entire motherboard and possibly every component of your PC along with it, which can be pretty costly.
If you’re going to be upgrading it, you should simply upgrade it for other reasons – such as changing the processor or using M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD drives that plug directly into the motherboard to provide blazing fast speeds of 3,000 MB/s.
Is There A Noticeable Difference In User Experience between SATA II and SATA III?
Definitely! Since SATA 3 is a newer technology, you’ll undoubtedly notice some better changes to the SATA 2. To put this into perspective, the differences will be somewhat similar to upgrading from HDD to SSD.
To utilize the potential of SATA III, I will assume you will use SATA SSD. Otherwise, there are no actual benefits if you plan to continue using SATA HDD.
With a SATA III port, you will experience faster boot times (if you use SSD as the primary boot drive); furthermore, programs and applications will load faster, and, of course, you will see faster data transfer rates.
At the same time, the more modern SATA 3 standard provides lower power consumption and an improved power management model, and the further development of Serial ATA 3 (3.1, 3.2 and 3.3) significantly raises the bar for data transfer rates.
For gaming, most of the effects have been discussed here (Is It Okay To Play Games On An External Drive, Even If It’s An SSD?) that are analogous to gaming on an SSD vs. an HDD.
If you stick to the old SATA II speeds, you will face slower load times and installations. Additionally, updates will take longer.
With that said, you will practical experience no apparent benefits once the game is loaded. This is because games always run off the primary memory – RAM. These primary type of storage devices only access (or load) essential game files.
Are SATA 1/2 and 3 connectors the same?
Yes, the connectors are the same and interchangeable. This means they are forwards as well as backward compatible. However, every connector has different speeds, and you will experience a slower speed according to the capacity of the slowest connector.
Can you use a SATA 3 cable on a SATA 2 port, will there be any effect on the speed?
Yes, you can use SATA 3 cable on a SATA 2 port, but there will surely be an effect on speed. SATA 3 speeds will be bottlenecked and reduced to the SATA 2 value. Then again, if you plan on only using HDD instead of SSD, you won’t notice an effect on speed because SATA 2 port is faster than HDD.
Are all SATA hard drives compatible with any motherboard?
Yes, all SATA hard drives are compatible with any motherboard. A motherboard with a SATA port will undoubtedly pair with SATA HDDs and even SATA SSDs. Only the M.2 or NVME SSDs must be double-checked as they require a dedicated M.2 slot connection.
Can a SATA 1 cable be used with a SATA 3 drive?
Yes, SATA 1 cable can be used on a SATA 3 drive as there is no difference in the cable. However, it is recommended to pair similar technology together so that no bottleneck is developed between the peripheral devices. If you can use SATA 3 cable, that’s even better because it has better shielding.
What is the difference between SATA 2 and SATA 3?
The main difference is in the bandwidth, the SATA 3 interface is twice as fast as SATA 2 (6 Gb/s and 3 Gb/s, respectively). In addition, SATA 3 operates at a higher frequency than SATA 2, while providing lower power consumption and a more advanced power management system.
SATA was commercially introduced in 2003 to replace PATA with better technology and offered higher speeds than PATA, which peaked in speed upgrades. Additionally, SATA had fewer signal losses and compacted size, reducing cable clutter and having better airflow.
All SATA ports are forwards and backward compatible. SATA III is the fastest among SATA I and SATA II (SATA 3.1 and 3.2 are even faster). SATA I and SATA II were used in older models, rarely found in newer motherboards. You will also have to look even harder to find a SATA I port in older models.
In conclusion, it is always better to use the latest technology, especially if they’re readily available – as SATA III ports are quite the norm in motherboards these days from budget to expensive motherboards.
However, people prefer using several HDDs for better cost/GB storage and a single SSD for faster boot speeds and some program load times. You can use SATA SSD or take it further and use M.2 SSDs (if the motherboard has the M.2 slot).
So, here the comparison of SATA I vs SATA II vs SATA III ends, hope you find the insights helpful.