Media Recognition – Hard Disk Drive part 3

Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) Interface


Magnetic storage media




Yes [2010]



Varies, but majority do not exceed 300GB


Compatible with all operating systems, though drives with a capacity of 137GB or more are only compatible with Windows 98 onwards and Mac OS 10.2 onwards. Not found on 8” or 5.25” drives.


Servers and high-end computers

File Systems:

FAT, NTFS, HFS/+, ext

Common manufacturers:

Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, Hitachi, Samsung


SAS was born out of SCSI developments and entered the market in 2004. One feature making it preferable to SCSI is its higher transfer rate. Its fast speeds and high level performance make it suitable for high-end personal computer hard drives and servers. The first version was slower than the latest version of SCSI having a data transfer rate of 300 MB/s. However, in 2009 this rate increased to 600 MB/s and it is expected to reach 1200 MB/s by 2012. SAS uses point-to-point topology to connect the interface and can support multiple devices (up to 200), making it popular with servers. For the same reasons SAS hard disk drives are relatively expensive therefore they are not as common on standard personal computers as the more general purpose SATA interface.

The SAS connector is a 29-position connector. It is much smaller than its predecessor, SCSI, so as to be used on 2.5” drives. SAS connectors look similar to SATA connectors. The difference is that with the SATA interface the data and power connectors lie next to each other, but are separate, whereas with SAS the two form one connector, with a piece of plastic used to keep them distinct. This similarity is deliberate so that SAS connectors are compatible with SATA drives, but not the other way around.


External Hard Disk Drives


Early Apple Macintosh computers used external SCSI hard disk drives, despite internal hard disk drives being the standard for other PCs. More recently external hard drives are primarily used as additional storage devices.

Although the early Apple external drives were only compatible with Mac OS, later drives have been manufactured to support all modern operating systems. However, they cannot support any Windows OS preceding Windows 2000, Mac OS before version 8.5.1 or the Linux OS with a kernel earlier than version 2.4 unless updates are installed.

The hard disk in an external hard disk drive is no different to that in an internal drive, though an external drive is encased in plastic and the only visible part is the connector. This can either be a SCSI, eSATA, USB or FireWire connector.

FireWire (IEEE 1394): First released in 1995 this was originally developed as a replacement for the SCSI connector and many computers since 2003 have a built-in FireWire port, particularly Apple machines. FireWire has a higher transfer rate than USB and the latest version, FireWire 3200 has a rate of 393 MB/s, which also exceeds that of eSATA, although this rate varies with Windows OS. However it is more expensive than USB, hence it has never superseded USB’s popularity. It is compatible with Windows OS from Windows XP onwards, though issues with Vista have been raised. It is also compatible with Linux OS and Mac OS from version 8.6 onwards. The FireWire cables carry power and data on a single cable, therefore only one is needed for a device.

There have been several versions of FireWire each using different connectors. Here is a brief table setting this out:

Version Cable Used Date Introduced

FireWire 400 (IEEE 1394)



FireWire 400 (IEEE 1394a)



FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394b)



FireWire S3200



It is most common to find 6-cicuit connectors on desktop computers and 4-cicuit connectors on laptops. However, in 2000 amendments were made and the 4-cicuit connector was standardised resulting in more of these connectors being found on desktop computers.

FireWire 800 and 3200 are backwards compatible with these ports, but are manufactured with a 9-cicuit connector. Adaptors are available so that 9-circuit cables can be used with 4- and 6-circuit connectors on computers.

USB (Universal Serial Bus): USB was introduced in 1996 and has since become the dominant means to connect computer peripherals to the host controller. The original USB 1.0 has a transfer rate of 12 Mbits/s, which was increased to 60 MB/s (480 Mbits/s) by USB 2.0. This was released in 2000 and standardised in 2001. Like FireWire, USB connectors carry power as well as data, therefore do not require additional power cables.

There are several different USB cables available for different uses. The most common type found on computers is the A plug and port. A second type is similar in size and is usually found on extension cables. Mini plugs are also available for use with small devices such as cameras. The other sort is squarer and about half the width of the A plug. This is known as a B plug and is used on devices that use removable cables such as printers. Having two types of connector (A and B) prevents users accidentally creating an electrical loop.

eSATA: This is SATA’s own external connector introduced in 2004 with a transfer rate of 131 MB/s. Despite having a much larger data transfer rate, few computers have eSATA ports, favouring instead USB and FireWire.

-Victoria Sloyan

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