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Comparing SCSI and ATA drives

There's pretty much no difference in interfaces or bandwidth between any of the SCSI or ATA scenarios as both use DMA to transfer data to and from the CPU. Serial ATA is reaching the speeds of Ultra SCSI, and every format except the older parallel ATA are hot pluggable, with both serial ATA and SCSI supporting both internal and external formats.

Parallel ATAUSBFireWire 800IEEE 1394Serial ATASCSI
Connectivity MarketInternal storageExternal storageExternal storageInternal and External storageInternal and External storage
Cost comparisonBase> Parallel> Parallel= Parallel> Parallel
Speed10060100150160
Bootable (Win)YesNo No YesYes
Bootable (OS X)YesYes Yes YesYes
Hot PluggableNoYes Yes YesYes
Cable Lgth (m).456 (per link)4.5 (per link)112

SCSI and ATA comparisons
There is a significant difference in price and warranty between the two though. Let's look at the differences between an ATA and SCSI drive from the same manufacturer -- Maxtor.

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TypeCapacitySpeedPriceSMARTWarranty
DiamondMax ATA80.0 GB133 MBs88.24Yes1 year
Atlas 10K III SCSI73.4 GB160 MBs279.77Yes5 years

Individual drive comparison
Funny enough, the capacity is slightly smaller on the SCSI drive than the ATA drives (which is due to formatting differences between the two). The ATA drive is slightly slower than the SCSI drive. If the differences were only these two items, I'd say it was a wash. But, the real differences come in with the price and the warranty.

Any sane network administrator is going to have at least 1 spare drive for every 10 drives in use so that when one breaks, the spare can be grabbed from the shelf and immediately put into use while the original is being shipped back under warranty.

To even things out between the warranty differences of one and five years, we'll say that the administrator will have to replace each of the ATA drives 1.5 times over the five year period.

TypeOriginalsSparesReplacementsCost
SCSI10 drives1 spare0$3,077.47
ATA10 drives1 spare15$2,294.24

Price differentials
Even with the drive replacements, the costs of the ATA drive format are still less over a five-year period than the cost of the SCSI drives. And that's just for single-drive implementations. What about mirrored drives or RAID arrays? If we extend the argument above, this time adding the additional drives for mirroring or RAID 5, plus the hot spare for the RAID 5 system, we can still see that the ATA arrays are going to be less expensive (even allowing for failure) over the long run.

TypeOriginalsHot SpareAdd'l SparesReplacementsCost
Mirrored SCSI2 drives------$559.54
Mirrored ATA2 drives----3$441.20
RAID 5 SCSI5 drives1----$1,678.62
RAID 5 ATA5 drives1--9$1,411.84

RAID price differentials
So what's the real difference? You'll be replacing more drives more often. Which means that you'll want to know a lot more than you know now about SMART reporting (our next article) and drive management strategies.

For more information:

Back to part one, "Serial ATA vs. parallel ATA"

For additional information on serial ATA:

  • New serial ATA systems slide into secondary storage role

  • Serial ATA adoption ramping up

  • SATA drives take aim at SCSI

    About the author:
    Dorian Cougias is the founder and CEO of Network Frontiers, a company that focuses on disaster recovery, security, and IT infrastructure consulting, training, and books. Over the last twelve years, Dorian has overseen the launch, establishment, sale, and re-launch of Network Frontiers.

    While evangelizing The Backup Book: Disaster Recovery from Desktop to Data Center 3rd Ed., Dorian continues to consult to clients with significant data management requirements. He works extensively with application developers such as VERITAS, NetIQ, PowerQuest, and Symantec and with hardware vendors such as Dell, Quantum, and StorCase to insure that the IT community understands the benefit of their products and in turn that the vendors address the needs of the administrator.

    This was first published in November 2003

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