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The most popular interface used in modern hard disks is the one most commonly known as IDE, a standard which controls the flow of data between the processor and the hard disk. This concept was proposed by the Western Digital and Compaq in 1986. The "proper" name for the IDE interface is AT Attachment, or ATA. It created a universal standard for communication between the drive and the PC. The mass acceptance of the IDE standard hinged on its ability to serve the needs of the markets in terms of two important criteria: Cost and Compatibility.


Most of the advances in newer IDE/ATA standards are oriented around creating faster ways of moving data between the hard disk and the PC system. The main protocols used are as follows:

Programmed I/O (PIO) Modes. Direct Memory Access (DMA) Modes and Bus Mastering DMA. Ultra DMA (UDMA) Modes.

Programmed I/O (PIO) Modes:

The oldest method of transferring data over the IDE/ATA interface is through the use of programmed I/O. In this, technique the system CPU and support hardware directly control the transfer of data between the system and the hard disk. There are several different speeds of programmed I/O, which are of course called programmed I/O modes, or more commonly, PIO modes.


Direct memory access or DMA is the generic term used to refer to a transfer protocol where a peripheral device transfers information directly to or from memory, without the system processor being required to perform the transaction. Several different DMA modes have been defined for the IDE/ATA interface. They are grouped into two categories:

Single Word DMA Modes. Multi Word DMA Modes.

Single Word DMA Modes. When these modes are used, each transfer moves just a single word of data (a word is the techie term for two bytes, and recall that the IDE/ATA interface is 16 bits wide). There are three single word DMA modes, all defined in the original ATA standard:

MULTI WORD DMA MODES In these modes a "burst" of transfers occurs in rapid succession, one word after the other, saving the overhead of setting up a separate transfer for each word. Here are the multiword DMA transfer modes:

ULTRA DMA (UDMA) MODES The key technological advance introduced to IDE/ATA in Ultra DMA was double transition clocking. Before Ultra DMA, one transfer of data occurred on each clock cycle, triggered by the rising edge of the interface clock (or "strobe"). With Ultra DMA, data is transferred on both the rising and falling edges of the clock. Double transition clocking, along with some other minor changes made to the signaling technique to improve efficiency, allowed the data throughput of the interface to be doubled for any given clock speed.

OFFICIAL IDE/ATA STANDARDS AND FEATURE SETS ATA (ATA-1) ATA-2 ATA-3 ATA/ATAPI-4 ATA/ATAPI-5 ATA (ATA-1) : The original IDE/ATA standard defines the following features and transfer modes: Two Hard Disks: The specification calls for a single channel in a PC, shared by two devices that are configured as master and slave. PIO Modes: ATA includes support for PIO modes 0, 1 and 2. DMA Modes: ATA includes support for Single Word DMA Modes 0, 1 and 2, and Multi Word DMA mode 0.

ATA-2 : The original ATA standard defined features that were appropriate for early IDE/ATA hard disks. However, it was not well-suited to support the growing size and performance needs of a newer breed of hard disks. These disks required faster transfer rates and support for enhanced features. ATA-2 was a significant enhancement of the original ATA standard. It defines the following improvements over the base ATA standard. o Faster PIO Modes: ATA-2 adds the faster PIO modes 3 and 4 to those supported by ATA. o Faster DMA Modes: ATA-2 adds multiword DMA modes 1 and 2 to the ATA modes.

ATA-3 :
The ATA-3 standard is a minor revision of ATA-2, which was published in 1997 as ANSI standard X3.2981997, AT Attachment 3 Interface. It defines the following improvements compared to ATA-2. Improved Reliability: ATA-3 improves the reliability of the higher-speed transfer modes, which can be an issue due to the low performance standard cable used up to that point in IDE/ATA. Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART):With the addition of SMART, IDE drives were made more reliable. ATA-3 also adds password protection to access drives, providing a valuable security feature.

ATA/ATAPI-4 : The next significant enhancement to the ATA standard after ATA-2 saw the ATA Packet Interface (ATAPI) feature set merged with the conventional ATA command set and protocols to create ATA/ATAPI-4. Aside from combining ATA and ATAPI, this standard defined several other significant enhancements and changes: Ultra DMA Modes: High-speed Ultra DMA Modes0, 1 and 2, defining transfer rates of 16.7, 25 and 33.3 MB/s were created. High-Performance IDE Cable: An improved, 80-conductor IDE cable was first defined in this standard. It was thought that the higher-speed Ultra DMA modes would require the use of this cable in order to eliminate interference caused by their higher speed. Cyclical Redundancy Checking (CRC): This feature was added to ensure the integrity of data sent using the faster Ultra DMA modes. ATA/ATAPI-5 : New Ultra DMA Modes: Higher-speed Ultra DMA Modes 3 and 4, defining transfer rates of 44.4 and 66.7 MB/s were specified. Mandatory 80-Conductor IDE Cable Use: The improved 80-conductor IDE cable first defined in ATA/ATAPI-4 for optional use, is made mandatory for UDMA modes 3 and 4. ATA/ATAPI-5 also defines a method by which a host system can detect if an 80-conductor cable is in use, so it can determine whether or not to enable the higher speed transfer modes.

Miscellaneous Command Changes: A few interface commands were changed, and some old ones deleted

Summary of IDE/ATA Standards

IDE/ATA CONFIGURATION AND CABLING In most respects, IDE/ATA devices are relatively easy to install and configure. This section discusses issues relating to how IDE/ATA devices are set up and configured. This includes a complete look at how IDE/ATA hard disks are set up and configured:

IDE/ATA Controllers Master and Slave Drives and jumper ring Configuration Using Cable Select IDE/ATA Connectors and Signals Standard (40-Conductor) IDE/ATA Cables Ultra DMA (80-Conductor) IDE/ATA Cables

IDE/ATA CONTROLLERS Every PC system that uses the IDE/ATA interface has at least one IDE/ATA controller. The IDE Controller is the circuit which allows the CPU to communicate with a hard disk. They were typically implemented on a separate controller card. The distance between the controller and the hard drive could result in poor signal quality and affect performance. The basic concept of IDE is that the drive controller is integrated onto the device itself rather than having a separate controller. This reduces cost also.

MASTER AND SLAVE DRIVES AND JUMPERING IDE uses a special configuration called master and slave. This configuration allows one drive's controller to tell the other drive when it can transfer data to or from the computer. What happens is the slave drive makes a request to the master drive, which checks to see if it is currently communicating with the computer. If the master drive is idle, it tells the slave drive to go ahead. If the master drive is communicating with the computer, it tells the slave drive to wait and then informs it when it can go ahead. The computer determines if there is a second (slave) drive attached through the use of Pin 39 on the connector. Pin 39 carries a special signal, called Drive Active/Slave Present (DASP), that checks to see if a slave drive is present. Although it will work in either position, it is recommended that the master drive is attached to the connector at the very end of the IDE ribbon cable. Then, a jumper on the back of the drive next to the IDE connector must be set in the correct position to identify the drive as the master drive. The slave drive must have either the master jumper removed or a special slave jumper set, depending on the drive. Also, the slave drive is attached to the connector near the middle of the IDE ribbon cable. Each drive's controller board looks at the jumper setting to determine whether it is a slave or a master. This tells them how to perform. Every drive is capable of being either slave or master when you receive it from the manufacturer. If only one drive is installed, it should always be the master drive.


The goal of cable select is to eliminate having to set master and slave jumpers, allowing simpler configuration. To use cable select, both devices on the channel are set to the "cable select" (CS) setting, usually by a special jumper. When both drives on the channel are set cable select, here's what happens:

Master: The device that is attached to the "master connector" sees the CSEL signal as grounded, because its connector has pin #28 attached to the cable, and the host's connector has that signal grounded. Seeing the "zero value" (grounded), the device sets itself to operate as master (device 0). Slave: The drive that is attached to the "slave connector" does not see the CSEL signal as grounded, because its connector is not attached to the CSEL signal on the cable. Seeing this "no connection", the device configures itself as a slave (device 1).



Each IDE/ATA channel uses one IDE/ATA cable. A standard IDE cable is a rather simple affair: a flat ribbon cable, normally gray in color, with a (usually red) stripe running down the edge. The cable has 40 wire connectors in it, and usually has three identical female connectors: one is intended for the IDE controller (or motherboard header for PCs with built in PCI ATA controllers) and the other two are for the master and slave devices on the interface. The stripe is used to line up pin 1 on the controller (or motherboard) with pin 1 on the devices being connected, since the techniques used for keying the cables are not standardized

ULTRA DMA (80-CONDUCTOR) IDE/ATA CABLES There are a lot of issues and problems associated with the original 40 conductor IDE cable, due to its very old and not very robust design, as the speed of the interface continued to increase, the limitations of the cable were finally too great to be ignored. In the ATA Standard that introduced the Ultra DMA mode set, a new cable was introduced to replace the old cable known as 80-conductor IDE/ATA cable. The new cable has 80 conductors (wires) but it does not have 80 pins on each connector, though, just 40. This means that the new cable is pin-compatible with the old drive. No change has been made to the IDE/ATA connectors, aside from the color-coding issue