When you are shopping for a new hard drive, it can sometimes be a bit confusing when similar, or not so similar terminology is all mixed together in the product’s description. With that in mind, today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

Photo courtesy of William Warby (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader learnprogramming wants to know if ATA is the same as IDE/PATA or SATA:

I was taking a look at an HDD and I found a document from Toshiba (link: 2.5-Inch SATA HDD – PDF) that says:

  • Drive interface: Serial ATA, Revision 2.6 / ATA-8

I know that SATA uses a SATA interface and ATA uses an IDE interface, but why is it using different “terms” in the same sentence? An HDD has either a SATA interface or an IDE interface, but not both at the same time.

Is ATA the same as IDE/PATA or SATA?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor Mokubai has the answer for us:

Serial ATA is the connection/connector interface while ATA-8 is the protocol for that interface. IDE was the interface and it also used an ATA protocol for communication. IDE and ATA are not the same thing, just as SATA and ATA are not the same either.

To be clear, IDE defined that a hard drive should have Integrated Device Electronics (I.e. a controller) onboard and communication with the host should be done according to the ATA specifications. While IDE and ATA are very closely related, they are not the same thing.

IDE has been reverse-acronymed as PATA since the interface was a parallel connection using the ATA standard. SATA is a Serial ATA connection.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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