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What Is Unique about Ultra ATA?

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  • Written By: Joseph S. Thomas
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2014
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Ultra Advanced Technology Attachment (Ultra ATA) is a legacy mass storage technology, which in 1997 doubled the Enhanced Integrated Device Electronics (EIDE) transfer limit of 16.6 megabytes per second (MBps) to 33 MBps. The uniqueness of Ultra ATA is seen in everyday computing, as it takes considerably less time to perform tedious tasks, such as copying files, making backups, and saving documents. Faster transfers reduce downtime, increase productivity, and enable advanced features within the operating system. Since more data can be read and written at one time, the computer operates faster than it would under a traditional ATA architecture.

Ultra ATA combines legacy ATA technology with the newer ATA Packet Interface (ATPAI), which combines traditional commands with innovative protocols. The ATA/ATAPI standard was published and adopted by ANSI in 1998. The technology also added several modes, utilized a high-speed IDE cable, and used advanced commands.

The ATAPI standard is one of the main reasons Ultra DMA and ATA is unique, compared to previous technologies. ATAPI support enables removable storage devices, such as CD-ROM drives, to boot using the host system’s ATA interface. In order for the system to natively boot an ATAPI device, the Basic Input Output Device (BIOS) must support the ARMD and ATAPI standards. The system’s BIOS facilitates the booting process, but users must set the order in which the ATA devices boot.

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In addition to providing increased transfer rates, the Ultra ATA also reformed data integrity efforts by implementing a sophisticated error detection algorithm called Cyclical Redundancy Checking (CRC). Manufacturers quickly adapted the model in the late 1990s and did not waste any time before implementing the new standard in their systems. Ultra ATA is an industry-adopted marketing term used in lieu of the official specification, “ATA-4 Ultra DMA Mode 2.”

While Ultra ATA is known for using Ultra DMA Mode 2, the standard supports mode 0 at 16.7 MBps and mode 1 at 25 MBps. Faster transfer rates required an advanced high-performance IDE cable, which has 80 conductors and eliminates noise interference when transferring at maximum speeds. The 16-bit CRC protocol identifies errors during data transmission from the motherboard to the mass storage device.

There are several revisions to the Ultra ATA standard, including ATA/ATAPI-5, ATA/ATAPI-6, and ATA/ATAPI-7. While many of the revisions added revolutionary features, the primary change between ATA models are their maximum transfer rates. The fifth revision to ATA increases the transfer speeds up to 66 MBps and adds a Compact Flash connector. The sixth revision of ATA/ATAPI-6 boosts the maximum throughput to 100 MBps, adds support for Device Configuration Overlay, and integrates Automatic Acoustic Management. The last and final revision of ATA/ATAPI-7 marks the transformation into a Serial ATA-based architecture, and increases the transfer speeds up to 133 MBps.

The Parallel and ATA standards were replaced by Serial ATA (SATA) interfaces in the early 2000s, as manufacturers began to adopt the faster, smaller, and more reliable devices. Data speeds for Ultra ATA peripherals were capped at 133 MBps per second, whereas SATA chipsets support transfers of up to 257 MBps. Additionally, the maximum drive capacity was increased from 128 gigabytes to more than 2 terabytes.

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