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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 ]

Unofficial IDE/ATA Standards and Marketing Programs

There are a number of official IDE/ATA standards that have defined the characteristics of the IDE/ATA interface over the years. The existence of so many standards can cause such confusion unless there is a good explanation of what they all are, which is why I wrote one. :^) Unfortunately, the situation is actually much more confusing than one would expect merely from the evolution of a formal standard over a period of a decade or so. The real confusion comes from all of the unofficial standards that are sometimes created by manufacturers, and the marketing terms that they think up to try to position and sell their products.

Unofficial standards often arise due to impatience on the part of a manufacturer that does not want to wait for the next version of a real standard. Sometimes a company has a desire to try to lead the market by extending a formal standard themselves, in the hopes that other companies will follow. A manufacturer may take an existing standard and add features or capabilities in an attempt to win part of the market from other companies that are still adhering to the "old standard". All of this of course prompts the other companies to respond with their own "extensions" to existing standards, and the result is often a chaos of competing and incompatible interface variations. This is why the formal standards development process now used for the IDE/ATA interface was created, and why it is so important.

Marketing programs cause confusion by creating different names for official standards or feature sets defined in the official standards. This may be done because the formal name for a feature is not considered sufficiently "exciting", or in an attempt to build name-brand recognition of, or market preference for, a particular hard disk brand. Here again, the result is often confusion, because two companies may be selling drives with the identical interface, but using two very different names.

In an attempt to shed a little light on all of these terms and "unofficial" standards, I describe each of the common ones here. Where relevant, I provide links to the official standards and features that correspond to the unofficial terms. If you have not yet done so, you may wish to first read the section describing official IDE/ATA standards.

Next: Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE)


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