Drive vendors poised to back Ultra ATA/66

Posted on April 01, 1998

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Drive vendors poised to back Ultra ATA/66

Zachary Shess

With the promise of the 1394 desktop interface just around the millenium, Intel recently announced its support for Ultra ATA/66, an interim protocol developed by Quantum. Backers believe the new interface is an important stepping stone in providing higher I/O speeds without significant cost increases. Intel will support Ultra ATA/66 technology in upcoming chipsets.

The Ultra ATA/66 interface will enable PCs to send and retrieve data faster, removing potential bottlenecks. It doubles the bandwidth of the Ultra ATA/33 protocol from 33MBps to 66MBps by reducing setup and hold times, while improving data integrity with enhanced timing margins and cyclical redundancy check (CRC) verification. Ultra ATA/66 also promises backward compatibility with ATA/33.

The new protocol specification is gaining support among Quantum`s competitors. For example, disk drive manufacturers IBM and Western Digital have announced support for Ultra ATA/66 and expect to include it in their drives sometime in 1999. As of press time, Seagate had not stated its official position.

Drive manufacturers and industry analysts predict that 1394 will become a common desktop interface sometime around 2001. Meanwhile, most observers believe that Ultra ATA/66 is the most suitable option until 1394 becomes a viable interface.

Ultra ATA/66 is designed to eliminate bottlenecks as data rates increase due to increases in the linear density and rotational speeds of next-generation disk drives. "We`re trying to pave the highway long before we have the vehicles to put on it," says John Burger, vice president of marketing at Western Digital.

"Currently, the ATA/33 protocol is more than adequate. It`s a balance issue. You don`t need a faster interface until the disk transfer rate reaches about 80% of [the interface transfer rate]," says Burger. "We`re not there yet, but in about a year disk drive speeds will bump against that."

Kevin Reinis, director of performance storage products at IBM, agrees: "Right now the interface, even with ATA/33, is not a bottleneck to the system. The bottleneck is actually the sustained data throughput that you get off the drive."

Crawford Del Prete, vice president of storage research at International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA, sees the advancement from ATA/33 to ATA/66 to 1394 as a "typical progression from a period of evangelism to a period of acceptance." IDC recently modified its forecast of how many PCs will incorporate the 1394 interface. Once predicting between 11% to 13% market penetration by 2001, IDC now forecasts slightly less than 10%.

"It`s a natural progression, just as ATA/33 was," says IBM`s Reinis. "When you get into the desktop market, computational-intensive or digital content creation puts demands on the system where the drives need to feed those applications at a higher rate. Some of those are CAD/CAM, software engineering, digital photography, and digital video/audio editing," he adds.

Quantum officials expect Ultra ATA/66-based disk drives and PCs to reach end-users sometime next year.


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