Current computers use SATA disk drives. Pentium IV’s and earlier
computers used the IDE
drive standards. How can you intermix SATA and IDE disk drives? This article discusses the options. It is the next in my series of articles on
computer refurbishing.People have three basic questions about SATA and IDE disk drives:
- How can I connect my old IDE drive to a current motherboard
having only SATA sockets?
- How can I connect a SATA drive to an old motherboard having only
- How can I best mix IDE and SATA drives in one system?
I’ll answer these questions from a practical standpoint for those
working with consumer desktops. I omit unnecessary technical
What is IDE ?
disks have passed through a long evolution of connectivity and data
transfer standards. The drive interface standard from the 1980’s
was called the IDE (Integrated
Drive Electronics) specification. Today it’s usually called PATA
(Parallel ATA). IDE includes sub-standards with names like
EIDE, ATAPI, ATA, ATA-1, ATA-2, UDMA, ATA-4, ATA-133, and more. These
sub-standards represent continuing improvement indata transfer speed and
Throughout this evolution, IDE’s physical connectors have remained
the same. So you could take an old 386 drive from 1988 and plop it into
4 from 2005, and it would work! The IDE standards applied across
thousands of different drive and
Here’s how the IDE connector sockets
on the motherboard look, along with the ribbon cable that goes from
the motherboard socket into the back of any IDE drive:
PATA Photos (Wikipedia and www.ComputerHope.com)
The third photo shows a
close-up of an IDE drive power plug, the Molex 4-pin plug. It’s white and it
has a female connector that goes into the 4-pin male connector on the
the disk drive.
The final photo shows the back of an IDE disk drive. You can see where
the IDE data ribbon cable plugs in to connect it to the motherboard and
where the Molex power plug goes. Note the jumpers.
You can connect either one or two IDE drives to an IDE ribbon cable.
You set the jumpers to indicate whether one or two drives on are
the same IDE cable, and which drive is where in the sequence.
(Connecting SATA disk drives is simpler because they eliminate
SATA became popular with the introduction of dual core computers five
or six years ago. SATA stands
for Serial Advanced Technology
Attachment. When it came out the IDE standards were retroactively
renamed PATA or Parallel ATA
to distinguish them from SATA
or Serial ATA.
SATA advantages over the older PATA
specs include faster data transfer, higher efficiency, hot plugging,
reduced cable width, and better internal
air flow. Like PATA, the SATA specs have evolved quickly to
improve data transfer. SATA’s physical connectors for consumer
computers have remained the same
throughout this evolution.
These photos show the SATA data cable sockets on the motherboard, the
red SATA data cable and its end plugs, and the black SATA power plug —
SATA Photos (Wikipedia)
The fourth photo shows the rear of an SATA disk drive. The red SATA
is plugged to connect to a SATA motherboard socket to support data
transfer. To its right
is the SATA power plug. SATA power plugs are by convention
black plastic to distinguish them from the white plastic Molex plugs
used on the older IDE/PATA drives.
The first step in making PATA and SATA work together is to
look at what you have. Most IDE disk drives use an IDE data ribbon
connector and a white power plug, while most SATA drives use
the SATA data cable connector and a black power plug.
However, you’ll sometimes see transition
drives. The one below has a SATA data cable connector plug,
combined with both kinds of power plug connectors. Label “A” is the
power connector, “C” is the
“legacy” or IDE power connector, and “B” is the SATA data or “signal”
plug. Just use the power plug you have, no worries.
Transition Drive Uses Either Power Plug (Gateway)
Inspect your motherboard, too. Most motherboards have only PATA or SATA
data connector sockets. But there are also transition motherboards that have
SATA sockets and one or two PATA sockets. Behaviors of boards with both
PATA and SATA sockets depend on the
motherboard firmware and BIOS. Read your
doc to see how your board works. Or just test the
configuration you want. Be sure to follow any instructions about the
jumpers on the IDE drives.
Many transition motherboards manage PATA and SATA drives together just
But there are exceptions. Sometimes you’ll find that the drive ordering
is hardwired, or
you can’t boot from one drive. Inspect the BIOS configuration
panels to see if you can change settings to get the behavior you want.
Boards with mulitple SATA connectors and a
single PATA connector are still around. They use SATA for their
hard disk(s), and the single IDE socket to
connect a legacy DVD/CD drive (using the IDE ATAPI optical drive
standard). The industry made the switch from
PATA to SATA a bit
later with optical drives than hard disks.
If you have a motherboard like this, you can use the extra plug on the
IDE ribbon cable to add one IDE
hard disk to the system. Set the jumpers so that the hard drive is the
first or primary drive on the ribbon and the DVD/CD
is the secondary or slave
drive. This is an easy way to
add an IDE drive to
a motherboard with a single IDE motherboard socket.
With PATA you didn’t normally mix hard and
optical drives on the same IDE cable because it can slow data access
times. How much degradation you experience depends on the patterns of
your disk use and which IDE standards are involved. (I exclude these
complexities here.) For typical office work this configuration works
If your drives and
motherboard don’t give you compatibility, there’s a wide range of
hardware products out there to address your needs. Just search on “IDE
to SATA” at Amazon. Many products just cost a few dollars.
Unfortunately some are flimsy or have poor quality
control. You’ll also run into occasional compatibility problems if you
don’t do your homework. Read the
product specs and
user reviews at Amazon, Tom’s
Hardware, or Tiger
Direct to verify functionality, compatibility, and quality before you buy.
Simple white-plug / black-plug converters can solve your power plug
Compatibility Plugs (Wikipedia)
One drive integration technique uses your computer’s USB
port to connect an incompatible disk drive. The drive can be a SATA or
PATA hard disk drive (2.5″ or 3.5″),
or it could be any kind of optical drive, such as a SATA DVD or legacy
CD drive. This
picture shows the pieces in
Eforcity’s PATA and SATA Converter Set:
Eforcity’s USB Connector Set
(Eforcity and Amazon)
You use your computers’ USB port as the interface to connect your
incompatible disk drive. Just take whichever
tools you need from the toolset to USB-connect your drive and power it.
(The toolset does not include a drive enclosure,
so you’ll want to buy that
you use this on a permanent basis.) I’ve used the product as a quick
temporary setup for easy data transfer across incompatible
systems. Just connect and copy over your data.
How about permanently mounting an incompatible internal disk drive?
This is where you want to put an IDE drive into a SATA-only motherboard
or vice versa. I’ve used Syba’s IDE/SATA Converter.
gives you a wide black plastic connector you plug onto the rear of your
hard drive. You set a switch on back of this
connector to indicate whether you are going from IDE to SATA, or from
to IDE. Then you connect its special power plug that powers
both the connector and drive. When the computer
boots it includes the converted drive in a transparent manner.
Back and Front of Syba’s Drive Connector
Special Power Plug & SATA Data Cable (Syba and Amazon)
Since the black connector attaches directly to the
end of your disk drive, you need to have the inch or two
of extra space to mount it. On rare occasions you’ll run into a system
with the drives packed so tightly they lack sufficient clearance.
I’m using the Syba product right now on a two-year-old HP Pavilion that
has only SATA sockets on the
motherboard. Two hard drives are connected: a 1 TB SATA disk
and a legacy 160 Gig IDE drive connected with Syba.
This configuration works well and though the access speed is slower for
the IDE drive, I’ve never noticed it.
Another alternative is to buy an adapter card that plugs into the
motherboard and has the sockets you need. The
example I/O controller card below
gives you one SATA socket, one PATA socket, and one eSATA (external
It supports various disk configuration options (RAID, JBOD) with
Windows 7 for only about $20 US —
Masscool SATA & IDE PCI Express Card (Masscool)
You typically install software drivers for I/O controller cards. Be
driver supports your operating system and its version level before
purchase. Drive dongles
like the Syba do not require
device drivers. I use them to avoid driver compatibility issues because
I run Linux.
This chart summarizes the three drive integration solutions I’ve
|Requires Software Driver:
|Supports Multiple Drives Simultaneously:
Drive enclosure for permanent use.
|Space to attach
slot. Software driver.
* Controller cards usually have a eSATA or USB port
that allows external mounting.
I’ve focused on readability so I’ve left out some technical details. To
learn more, read the
Wikipedia entries on PATA,
storage. Should you decide to purchase any compatibility hardware,
be sure to read product descriptions and user reviews before buying.
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Howard Fosdick (President, FCI) is an independent consultant who
databases and operating systems. His hobby is refurbishing computers as
a form of social work and environmental contribution. Read his other
tl;dr version: buy a SATA/IDE converter for ~$3.
(I can’t imagine anyone on here is in the dark about what IDE and SATA connectors look like)