Serial ATA, or SATA, is fast becoming the standard for high-speed hard drive interfaces in PCs. It’s faster and uses simpler cabling than its older, parallel ATA counterpart. However, until now, virtually all SATA drives have had to be internal ones, running from a SATA controller on the system board.
What LaCie has done with the d2 Hard Drive (only one of a range of d2 products) is to offer an external SATA drive. The solid, metal-cased drive, with its large, embossed LaCie logo and cool blue power button and indicator light, can sit flat on your desktop or be set vertically, using the slide-on metal stand.
Running SATA externally isn’t the simplest way of adding an external hard drive to your PC, but it should be one of the fastest. Rather than running from a Firewire or USB 2 port, it connects to its own SATA controller card, which you have to plug into an available PCI slot inside your computer. You then have to supply the drive with a source of power, either from the black block power supply included with the d2 or by using a power extension lead, also included, to connect into your PC’s internal power harness.
The reason for using SATA is to achieve the speed the d2 drive offers. A USB 2 connection has a maximum transfer rate of 480Mb/s, with Firewire coming in under that at 400Mb/s. Even Firewire 2, still a rare commodity in a PC, can’t run faster than 800Mb/s. SATA, from the card bundled with the d2, clocks in at 1,200Mb/s, a full 50 percent faster than Firewire 2.
Once you have made the physical connections, you need to install drivers for the SATA controller card. LaCie currently includes the card in the box, but this appears to be a limited extra, until more PCs are available with external SATA connectors on their cases. After installation, you need to use Windows Disk Management to format and partition the drive. The nominal 250GB drive with 8MB buffer provides 233.7GB of storage, once formatted.
The drive is certainly quick. It’s based on a 7,200rpm mechanism and, under test, copied a 5GB basket of mixed files from one folder to another in just 3 minutes 22 seconds. A copy within one drive, of course, represents both a read and a write operation on each file, so it compares very well with a copy from an older 5,200rpm parallel interface drive, which took 4 minutes 41 seconds.
The d2 comes with useful back-up and RAID software and the controller can take two external drives, so you could set up a convenient RAID system on your desktop, without fiddling around slotting drives into bays inside your PC.
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