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Getting started on building your first PC or upgrading your storage space could be challenging if you don’t know about SATA cables. Figuring out how many SATA cables your system needs can be difficult, especially if you don’t know anything about these devices.
As a rule of thumb you want to get a SATA cable for every HDD or 2.5” SSD you have in your PC, along with one more if you intend to use a DVD/Blu-Ray drive.
Following this rule I mentioned above will be more than enough for most casual PC users who have modern components in their PCs but, if you want to get more into the nitty gritty, I suggest you keep reading.
In the following sections I’ll cover:
With that out of the way, let’s get into it.
SATA stands for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. It is the interface that is used to connect the various storage devices such as a hard drive (HDD), optical drive (DVD/Blu-Ray) and 2.5” solid state drives (SSD) to the PC.
There are two types of SATA cables, the conventional SATA cable and the eSATA cable. The eSATA cables are used for external storage devices such as portable hard drives. These eSATA cables provide both data transfer and power.
However, you might have seen two cables that are connected to a hard drive, one is the 7-pin SATA for data transfer and the other is the 15-pin connector to provide power.
SATA cables are usually 3.3 feet (1 meter) long. However shorter ones can be used to minimize signal loss and improve the overall aesthetic. Although, in most modern SATA cables signal loss won’t be much of an issue as it once was.
Speaking of modern SATA cables, there are three standards of SATA cables that have been introduced: the SATA I, SATA II and SATA III. The most recent is SATA III with transfer speeds of upto 600 MB/sec.
These modern ports are also compatible with their predecessors but they can get bottlenecked (know more about bottleneck calculators here) by an inferior HDD or SSD, so don’t expect to see 600 MB/sec data transfer rate from your HDD just because you have good SATA cables.
SATA cables are the industry standard when it comes to transferring data from storage drives. These cables have since evolved and come up with some new features to make them more reliable for efficient data transfer.
Angled Connectors: This is my favorite feature, one that I never knew I needed until now. The angled connectors, as the name implies, are angled at a 90 degree angle. This makes it easy to use these cables in very tight spots and unlike their “straight” counterparts they are much more resilient to bending.
Latching Connectors: Most modern SATA cables have a latch or a lock so they won’t accidentally fall off, especially during data transfers. This is a very handy feature and it ensures a strong connection.
Hot Swapping: This is another handy feature; their multiple pin architecture makes it possible to plug or unplug devices without switching off the PC. Please note that this goes for external hard drives, I do not recommend you try this for internal drives.
I mentioned previously that hard drives, solid state drives and optical drives all use SATA cables, but not all SSDs are compatible with SATA cables.
SSDs are better than HDDs and the only reason why you would want to get a HDD is if you are strapped for cash or you need large amounts of storage space for files such as videos and images. For gamers I recommend getting a good SSD, your games will load faster, so much so that you can miss the loading screen tips.
But before you buy an SSD it’s good practice to know about the various types of SSDs in the market. Some use SATA cables and some don’t. Therefore, figuring out which type of SSD you want to integrate into your build is an important decision that will affect your budget and overall experience.
The only type of SSD that uses SATA cables are the SATA SSDs, other SDDs do utilize the same interface but they are directly connected to ports in the motherboard rather than using long cables.
There’s several other PC components you need to keep in mind when getting more SATA cables for your PC. Sometimes, it’s more economic to get a better drive with larger storage space than cramming in more and more physical drives into your case. Here’s what you need to be concerned about when introducing more SATA cables and their corresponding devices.
Most motherboards generally consist of 4-6 SATA ports which look like a rectangular driver, with a seven-pin L-shaped divider. Hence, the first thing that you need to consider when putting in more storage drives, along with their SATA cables is to make sure that the motherboard has enough ports to support your desired configuration.
Therefore always check your motherboard specs and try to get the storage devices that fit your budget and the motherboard’s specifications. Also check if the CPU you are buying is compatible with your motherboard.
Hard drives and 2.5” solid state drives use SATA cables and they require direct power from the PSU. The SATA power connector has a 15-pin interface for the sole purpose of providing power to the drive.
In most modern PSUs there’s only about 3 SATA power ports available; technically you can only connect 3 devices that utilize SATA cables. But, if you are ever in a situation where you would want to connect more than 3 drives there is the option to use SATA power splitters.
Generally I don’t recommend this because of power issues; if you add more devices to the same port using power splitters, there will be power restrictions, especially when multiple devices piggyback off of one port.
It’s good practice to use a minimum amount of drives and make sure that each drive is getting an adequate amount of power from each port, hence I recommend that you avoid power splitters and you supply power in a “one-to-one” configuration. (One PSU port only supplies power to one drive) This ensures safety and reliability for your storage devices. Speaking of PSU, you might be interested in this article about the best PSU brands.
Let’s assume that your great-grandfather left you a small fortune of half a dozen hard drives, he made you promise not to sell them and to pass them on as a family heirloom, you want to use these drives on your new PC but you only have 2 remaining SATA ports in your motherboard. So the question arises: can you add more SATA ports to your motherboard?
Yes, you can do that using a SATA expansion card. The most recommended one is a device that connects to the motherboard via the PCIe interface. It can expand the number of SATA ports for your PC but, there will be some compromises in bandwidth.
Well, it’s not an easy answer, it all depends on your requirements and your budget. Most casual users will only need a couple of ports: one for their HDD and another for their SSD. This is what I’d recommend for most general builds. Nobody uses DVDs anymore (I sure don’t, and I hope nobody else does too).
Most motherboards and PSUs will easily allow you to fit in at least 4 SATA devices therefore, it won’t be much of an issue for the average user.
But, if you have a specific scenario where you need to use more drives, then I recommend you take a look at your motherboard first, figure out the different interfaces that you can connect storage devices to and move on from there.
Figuring out how many SATA cables you need for your system is not that much of an issue for a generic PC. As a rule of thumb you need to get SATA cables to match the number of 2.5” SSDs or HDDs that you intend to use for your system. Always check the motherboard specs and try to use storage devices that would work best with your motherboard and PSU.
Now the next thing that you might want to figure out is how many PCI-E cables you need.
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