With the constantly evolving nature of computer technology, it can be hard to keep up with new standards. Processors and GPUs often steal the limelight, but the humble SSD has also gotten faster by leaps and bounds over the past several years. If you’ve heard of the SATA 3 standard, you might wonder if installing one will benefit you in any way.
You don’t need a SATA 3 cable for your SSD, as the older SATA standards will still work. Having one may be desirable if you have a high-speed SATA 3 SSD, as an older generation SATA cable may bottleneck the data transfer.
If you want to know more about the difference between SATA cables and whether installing one will make any difference to the performance of your computer, read on. It can be confusing at first, but a little understanding of the hardware will make your decision that much easier in the end.
How SATA Cables Affect Drive Read/Write Speeds
SATA, or Serial ATA as it is known in some circles, has been around since 2003. Much like other standards, such as USB, it has undergone some improvements. Unlike USB, the design has not changed significantly, but it has gotten much faster with new iterations.
To get the most out of SATA 3, you will need a SATA 3 compatible drive, cable, and a motherboard that supports SATA 3. As a general rule in computing, your system is only as fast as the slowest component.
In other words, you can have a SATA 3 capable motherboard and a matching cable, but if your drive is SATA 2, you will be limited by the speed of your drive. Similarly, if you have a drive and cable that support SATA 3, an incompatible motherboard will only transfer at SATA or SATA 2 speeds.
How Much Faster Is SATA 3?
Now that you’ve got an idea of how the SATA protocol works and that you need all your components to be SATA 3 compatible to get the most out of it, you might wonder how much faster it is than its predecessors.
- SATA – Has a bandwidth of 1.5 Gigabits per second, allowing it to transfer 150 Megabytes per second.
- SATA II – Has a bandwidth of 3 Gigabits per second, allowing it to transfer 300 Megabytes per second.
- SATA III – Has a bandwidth of 6 Gigabits per second, allowing it to transfer 600 Megabytes per second.
Is My Motherboard SATA 3 Compatible?
One of the most important components in your system is your motherboard, or mobo as they are colloquially known. Be sure to check out this article on touching and handling this sophisticated piece of technology before you start scratching around in your PC case.
You can check if your motherboard is compatible with SATA 3 by scrutinizing the SATA ports. Usually, they will be clearly identified as SATA 3 capable by printed markings near the ports. A SATA 3 port will have “SATA 6G”, denoting its connection speed.
Suppose you have a motherboard that is not SATA 3 compatible. In that case, you will be limited to whatever version of SATA that it is compatible with, regardless of whether you have a SATA 3 SSD and cable installed.
SATA 3 PCIe Controllers
Fortunately, if you have an older motherboard, they are usually designed to have some form of upgradeability. This can be done via the PCIe slots.
If your motherboard is not compatible with SATA 3, you can install a SATA 3 controller in an available PCIe slot. This will enable you to connect SATA 3 components, but you will need a SATA 3 cable to get the full benefit.
Something like this JESOT 4 Port SATA 3.0 PCI Express Expansion Card (available on Amazon.com) will enable you to connect up to 4 SATA 3 SSDs. It supports all systems and requires no drivers, and should fit in any of your available PCIe slots.
How Do I Check My SATA Link Speed?
We’ve all been there – running a system for months, only to realize you’ve been operating at a disadvantage because you didn’t seat one of your RAM sticks correctly. It’s always prudent to check if your hardware is performing as intended.
To check if your SATA link speed is performing correctly, download a diagnostic software like HWiNFO. You will see “Serial ATA 6Gb/s @ 6Gb/s” next to your drive controller if your SATA 3 drive is connected to a SATA 3 port and operating at full speed.
Diagnostic software is essential if you are tinkering with your own computer. It’s not usually necessary to run it again once you’ve got everything working correctly, but most reputable diagnostic programs will have a small footprint and won’t require any special subscriptions.
SATA 3 vs. NVMe
If you are upgrading your machine, you may have heard of another type of hardware known as NVMe and are wondering how this is different from SATA devices.
NVMe-based drives are read directly from the motherboard via a dedicated slot, unlike SATA devices which are usually connected via a cable. NVMe-based drives are significantly faster than SATA 3, however, SATA still offers a vast improvement over hard disk drives.
Of course, your motherboard will have to support NVMe to take advantage of the blazing-fast speeds.
You might not need a SATA 3 cable for your SSD, but if you want to get the most out of your SATA 3 SSD, you will have to invest in one – provided your motherboard supports it in the first place.
Thankfully, modern computing often provides workarounds for older hardware, and in this case, your saving grace will be the PCIe expansion slots. These will allow you to connect your SATA 3 SSD, even if your older motherboard has no SATA 3 ports.