The Premature Death of PATA

Posted October 25th, 2006 at 12:12 AM by Big B

Am I the only one who’s noticing the rapid push to get parallel ATA drives out of sight? While it shouldn’t be any surprise that it’s happening, the timing is what’s troubling. Many people have perfectly good PATA drives that have a decent capacity, yet Intel’s new ICH8 southbridge is devoid of any PATA support. Serial ATA ports have been bumped up to six instead of the four found on ICH6/ICH6R and ICH7/ICH7R.

If it were Intel alone, that would be one thing, but nVidia’s nForce 500 series chipsets have cut the available IDE channels to one. ATi’s SB600 has also dropped to one PATA port. While I haven’t run across anything indicating similar actions from VIA or SiS, they will undoubtably do so within a few years. By that time, I think SATA will be much more common, particularly on optical drives.

Going back to the useable PATA drives many people still have: that’s an issue. If it’s serving the purpose, has enough space, and still works, you tend to keep it. Even as a simple backup, a 40GB hard drive has yet to be too small to be useful. Hard drive companies are still producing and planning for PATA drives. Seagate’s 7200.10 hard drive line, which utilizes perpendicular recording, still includes plans for IDE hard drives along with SATA ones. I don’t know the ratios of PATA drives to SATA ones, but it doesn’t seem like the hard drive manufacturers are starting to ditch PATA yet.

Problems, Ahoy

Another thing to consider is optical drive support. Aside from a few SATA variations largely produced by Plextor, CD- and DVD-drives are still coming with PATA. Sure, a few SATA drives are available, but I have a hard time believing that you’ll convince people to jump to a drive double in price that most people probably won’t notice and/or care. This is nothing against Plextor. The company makes a good product and factoring in the quality, yes, it’s only right that they charge a higher price. It’s the same thing if you were to buy a Sony boom box instead of piecing together an CD player, reciever and speakers made by, say Onkyo, for listening in your room. Sure, the system pieced together is going to walk all over the boom box, but not everyone has, or want to spend, the money for the component system. Many people have good drives, and most of them aren’t going to drop it if it’s doing the job and still works…at least for an interface change.

Besides the simple interface issue, what about OS installation? In a system with ICH8, for example, you can expect at least some of the motherboard companies to offer an additional one or two IDE channels through an external controller chip. The problem comes in when you have a controller chip that’s not designed for optical devices or that the OS installation CD, which is more that likely Windows, does not recognize the controller. It cannot communicate with the rest of the system, and can’t install the OS.

I’m sure some of you might be thinking, “Well, IDE and SATA drives, should work on said interfaces without a hitch, so what’s the issue?” If only it were that simple. As you’re probably aware, motherboards are frequently coming equipped with RAID functionality. When these controllers are in RAID mode, only hard drives are able to function with this capacity.

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