Being perhaps the primary interface for connecting hard drives, it is hard to miss out on SATA ports on a motherboard. A SATA port is basically a small port measuring about 1.5 cm x 0.4 cm in dimensions with very specific notches and a highly recognizable L-shaped seven pin connector.
The notches, edges and the shape of the SATA port are specifically designed in a way to best secure the SATA cable that plugs in so that they do not slip out easily.
Most of the time on a motherboard you will find all of the SATA ports in an array next to each other and they would all have uniform color. On some motherboards, however, you may find SATA ports with different colors indicating different SATA generation – this is a very important point to factor in when connecting your drive.
Also, there are essentially two ports that the SATA interface uses. One is the DATA port found on the motherboard and the other is the POWER port, which originates from the Power Supply Unit.
In the following text we will discuss in depth what does a SATA port look like. We will touch base on both SATA Data and Power ports.
So What is the SATA Interface and What is the Use of SATA Ports?
Essentially, SATA is the primary interface in most computers for connecting storage drives such as spinning hard disk drives, CD/DVD ROM optical drives and SATA SSD drives.
There are different versions of the SATA interface with the latest one being SATA 3. Every newer version doubles the transfer speed compared to the previous version. Hence:
- SATA 1 has a supported throughput rate of 1.5 Gbps or 187.5 MB/s
- SATA 2 has a supported throughput rate of 3.0 Gbps or 375 MB/s
- SATA 3 has a supported throughput rate of 6.0 Gbps or 750 MB/s
Most hard disk drives have a mechanical capability of only reaching speeds of about 200 MB/s. So in the case of an average hard disk drive, SATA 2 and SATA 3 are sufficient to cater to such speeds.
For a SATA SSD, however, you need the best port available. More resources on this topic below:
Drive SATA Port Requirement
Every SATA drive requires a SATA data cable and a SATA power cable. The SATA Data cable has one end connected to the motherboard and the other to the drive.
The SATA Power cable comes from the Power Supply Unit.
Also Read: How Many SATA Cables Do I Need?
What Does a SATA Port Look Like?
On any typical motherboard, you will find any array of SATA ports clustered together in one corner. As mentioned earlier, these are small ports measuring about 1.5 x 4 cm in dimension, have a peculiar shape with edges, and have a recognizable L shaped connected in the middle.
The odd shaped port is designed to securely hold the SATA data cables in place.
Also Read: What Are SATA Ports Used For?
SATA Versions and the Color Coding of the Ports
Generally, all SATA ports share the same color on any motherboard. In case if the SATA ports conform to different version, then they may be color coded. So for instance, in the motherboard above, the white ports conform to the newer SATA 3 interface while the blue ports conform to the older SATA 2.
Your primary drive, or if you have a SATA SSD, would go in to the SATA 3 ports ideally.
If a motherboard has a single SATA version across the board, then there may not be any color code to worry about.
SATA Ports Replaced the Legacy Parallel ATA
The SATA interface, and the port, had essentially replaced the Parallel ATA (PATA) interface. If you have a very old computer i.e a computer made prior to 2003, then you may have have seen wide and long IDE cables connecting to the 40 pin PATA connectors on the motherboard.
Despite being wide and bulkier, the PATA interface at its peak only delivered a throughput of 133 MB/s max.
How Many SATA Ports Do PCs Have Typically?
Typically a motherboard can have anywhere between 4-6 SATA ports. This generally depends upon the chipset of the motherboard as well as its size.
For instance, the smaller mini ITX motherboards generally offer a lower amount of SATA ports compared to the larger ATX motherboards – there are exceptions of course.
But the point to note is that the number of SATA port varies from motherboard to motherboard. You may even find motherboards featuring 8 SATA ports.
The more SATA ports you have the more drives you can connect. For an average user, you do not need more than 2 or 3 SATA ports. However, for professionals and for NAS building, a higher number of SATA ports may be required.
Labeling and Numbering of SATA Ports
It’s not uncommon to find SATA ports with labeled on the motherboard around them to specify their SATA version or speed. SATA 3 connectors may be labeled as SATA3 or SATA 6Gb/s for the speed they support. SATA 2 connectors may have a label of SATA2 or SATA 3Gb/s.
Essentially, labeling helps in easy identification of the ports to connect your drives to.
It’s also usual to find that SATA ports numbered on the motherboard. In a motherboard with 5 SATA ports, you may have ports numbered as 0-4 and 0-5 if you have 6 SATA ports.
Some manufacturers recommend connecting your bootable drive to port 0 and your secondary drive (if you have it) to port 1. This may not be necessary, and you can use your drive to any port of the same SATA generation technically.
In the motherboard above, you can see each SATA port identified with its number in the system as well as its version i.e port labelled as SATA3_0 has SATA 3 version and 0 is its identification number in the BIOS. Similarly, SATA2_4 port conforms to SATA 2 version and has the identification of number 4 in BIOS.
SATA Power Port Connector – What Does that Look Like?
As mentioned earlier a SATA drive requires both a SATA DATA cable coming from the port on your motherboard as well as a distinct SATA power cable.
The SATA power cable originates from the Power Supply Unit and has a 15 pin connector that connectors to another longer L shaped slot on the drive.
eSATA Not to Be Confused with SATA
eSATA is a very old connector which surfaced during the time when USB 2.0 was a very popular interface for connecting external devices.
While it had much faster speeds (speeds of the SATA interface itself) compared to the 60 MB/s transfer speed of USB 2.0, it lost its popularity to the newer USB 3.0.
Therefore, while SATA interface is still extensively used for INTERNAL hard drives, the eSATA port intended for EXTERNAL peripherals is rarely used today.
A SATA port is hard to miss and if you are someone who is new to installing PC hardware, then asking what does a SATA port look like is a completely viable question.
Being one of the most important ports and interfaces in a PC. It is very important that you not just understand how it looks like, but also how it works and also how it differentiates itself from the PCIe interface.
The primary purpose of the SATA interface today is to add hard drives to your PC, however, with the much faster PCIe based NVMe SSDs getting cheaper and common, the use of SATA ports in the future for average users may lose interest.