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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Interfaces and Configuration ]

Integrated Drive Electronics / AT Attachment (IDE/ATA) Interface

The most popular interface used in modern hard disks--by far--is the one most commonly known as IDE. This interface is also known by a truly staggering variety of other names such as ATA, ATA/ATAPI, EIDE, ATA-2, Fast ATA, ATA-3, Ultra ATA, Ultra DMA and many more as well. The invention of this interface catapulted hard disks into a new era of performance, reliability, and compatibility. IDE/ATA hard disks are used on the vast majority of modern PCs, and offer excellent performance at relatively low cost. They are challenged only by SCSI, which has certain advantages and disadvantages when the two interfaces are compared..

One problem with this interface is the ridiculous number of different names that are used to refer to it, and how misleading some of those names are. For starters, the most commonly used name for this interface, "IDE" is a misnomer itself. (See this page for a discussion of the history behind this term.) The "proper" name for the IDE interface is AT Attachment, or ATA. This name is not as commonly used, for historical reasons (people are stubborn :^) ). I use the generic term "IDE/ATA" to convey the dual naming conventions used for the various generations and variants of this interface.

In this section I examine the IDE/ATA interface in detail. I begin with a brief overview of the interface, discussing a bit of its history and how it works in general terms. I describe the different generations of the various standards that define the ATA interface. I then discuss the plethora of "unofficial standards" or marketing terms that are used to refer to IDE/ATA, in a hopefully fruitful attempt to clarify what all those strange acronyms are. :^) The following two sections get into the nitty gritty of the interface, describing the various IDE/ATA transfer modes and protocols, and then providing relevant information on how to configure and connect IDE/ATA devices on your PC.

Next: Overview of the IDE/ATA Interface


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