Seagate Technology's first hard drives using the new, faster Serial ATA interface are finally making their way into brick-and-mortar stores, making it easier for the average PC performance aficionado to find them. However, while the move to real-world retail is significant, it doesn't necessarily signal the technology's move into the mainstream - yet, according to one industry analyst.
Seagate's Barracuda SATA V drives in 80GB and 120GB capacities are available at suggested retail prices of $US159 and $US199.
US retailer Best Buy had the drives now and additional stores would offer them soon, a Seagate spokesperson, John Paulsen, said.
Seagate first began shipping the 7200 rpm Barracuda SATA V drives in November 2002, but previously they were available only through Web retailers.
The move to brick and mortar stores made it that much easier for early adopters to move to the new standard, Paulsen said.
"This is the year that we expect to see volume ramping up," he said. "It's important that people building systems can future-proof their systems now."
The drives carried a small premium over Seagate's parallel ATA versions of the same drives, he said.
The 80GB parallel drive version sells for $US140; the 120GB sells for $US190. Most users will need to purchase a PCI-based SATA card for about $US50.
Seagate is one of the first vendors to offer SATA drives for desktop PCs. Another major vendor, Maxtor, began shipping its 7200 rpm DiamondMax Plus 9 drives for desktops to online retailers in December, and planned to make them available in retail stores soon, a spokesperson said.
Another major player, Western Digital, had largely geared its early development toward enterprise products, research manager of hard disk drives and components at IDC, Dave Reinsel, said.
Seagate's move into brick and mortar stores with its Barracuda line should help begin the long process of educating consumers about the advantages of SATA, Reinsel said.
From better transfer rates to smaller cables to hot-plug capabilities, the standard's capabilities and future weren't in question, he said. It was just a matter of time before it replaced the aging parallel ATA interface.
"This isn't dipping our toes in the water - it has to happen," he said.
As hard drive technology continues to improve, the parallel interface will become a bottleneck to performance, he says. Right now few drives can actually fill the 100MB per second interface of standard parallel ATA (Maxtor also supports a 133 MBps standard).
But as drive densities continue to increase, it would become a problem, Reinsel said.
Hard drive densities have grown by as much as 100 per cent over the last few years. In 2001, the major vendors could put 40GB on a single platter; by the end of 2002, they were squeezing 80GB.
That was going to slow down a bit, he said, but by the end of this year a single platter would hold up to 120GB of data.
"When you put more storage on one [hard drive] platter the bits fly across faster and faster because they're more densely packed," he said. "Internal data rates are starting to push the external data rate. There is no longer a nice cushion, and sometime next year it will become the bottleneck."
The first people to buy SATA drives will be the PC owners comfortable upgrading their systems. That means replacing their current hard drive and adding a PCI-based SATA card, which should cost about $US50.
"High-end buyers are the ones that get these," he said. "It's very rare that mainstream buyers even purchase hard drives, so you're really talking about the techno-savvy person that knows what they want."
It wouldn't be until major PC vendors like Dell and HP start offering the standard on their high-end systems that SATA would take hold, he said. For them to do this, chip set makers such as Intel needed to integrate the standard into their products.
Intel planned to do this by mid-year, he said.
By the end of 2003, the souped-up mainstream PCs from the likes of Dell and HP would begin to appear offering the drives, Reinsel said. And by next year the technology would begin to filter down into more price points.
In the meantime, he didn't expect Seagate's first SATA drives to fly off the shelves. But they would pique people's interest.
"This is starting to fan the flames and getting a bit of momentum," he said.