What Are SATA Cables Used For?

SATA cables, as the name suggests, are used to connect SATA hard drives to your motherboard. 

SATA is one of the two primary interfaces, the other one being PCIe, for adding storage drives to your PC. SATA is the more popular and commonly used interface of the two for adding storage drives.

On a desktop, the SATA hard drives are connected to dedicated SATA ports on the motherboard using SATA cables.

Hence, understanding what SATA interface is and what are SATA cables used for is critical if you want to build your PC or if you want add a new hard drive to your PC.

In the following text I will talk in detail about SATA interface, SATA hard drives and how the SATA cables fit into the picture.

But basically, there are three elements you need to understand before you get comfortable with the SATA interface as a whole and with the SATA cable in particular.

  1. SATA Interface and Ports
  2. SATA Hard Drives
  3. SATA Cables

So What Are SATA Cables Used For?

SATA cables are basically used to connect the SATA hard drives to your PC’s motherboard.

There are two types of SATA cables:

  1. SATA DATA cable 
  2. SATA Power Cable

When we talk about SATA cables, it generally implies SATA DATA cables.

SATA SSD Connectors power data
2.5″ SATA SSD

1. SATA DATA Cable

sata data cable
SATA Cable with one end connected to a port on the motherboard

SATA data cables have 7 pin connectors on both ends. These connect to the SATA hard drive on one end and to the motherboard’s SATA port on the other.

Each SATA hard drive requires a separate SATA data cable and a separate SATA port on the motherboard. In other words, a SATA cable cannot be split.

Also Read: Does SATA Cable Provide Power?

2. SATA Power Cable

Sata Power Cables
SATA Power Cable

SATA power cables have a 15 pin connector that delivers power to the SATA drives. SATA power cables come from the Power Supply Unit. 

Both the SATA DATA and SATA Power cables need to be connected to the SATA hard drive in order for it to work.

SATA Interface and Ports

Knowing what SATA interface and ports are will help you better understand the need of the SATA cables.

As stated earlier, SATA is an interface that is used to connect storage drives to your motherboard.

SATA ports can be distinctively identified on a motherboard with there rectangular-like shape with an L-key notch in the center.

motherboard sata ports 2
SATA Ports on a Motherboard. White ports conform to SATA 3.0, Blue ports conform to SATA 2.0.

You should take note that SATA interface has different versions. The most current version is SATA 3.

If you have bought your motherboard in the last decade or so, then there are high chances that your motherboard will have all of its SATA ports conforming to SATA 3.

If you have an older motherboard, then there is a possibility that it may conform to SATA 2 or may have a combination of SATA 2 or SATA 3 ports like on the motherboard in the image above.

Now there is a drastic difference between the transfer speeds of different SATA port version such that:

  • SATA 1 has transfer speed of 1.5 Gbps or 187.5 MB/s
  • SATA 2 has transfer speed of 3.0 Gbps or 375 MB/s
  • SATA 3 has transfer speed of 6.0 Gbps or 750 MB/s

For the purpose of this article, suffice it to know that SATA is an interface used for connecting storage drives to your motherboard via the SATA ports.

Read in Detail:

SATA Hard Drives

SATA Hard Drives are basically storage drives that we are all familiar with.

There are five common SATA drives that you can find in a typical PC:

  1. 3.5″ SATA Hard Disk Drives (HDD)
  2. 2.5″ SATA HDD
  3. 2.5″ SATA Solid State Drive (SSD)
  4. M.2 SATA SSD
  5. 3.5″ Optical Drive (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Drives)

All of the aforementioned drives connect to a SATA port on your motherboard.

3.5″ SATA HDDs – Desktop HDDs

Can You Use a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop hard disk
A 3.5″ SATA Hard Disk Drive. AKA Desktop HDD.

3.5″ SATA HDD are also known as desktop HDD. They are most often found on desktop PCs and they have large form factor. 

Hard disk drives basically use the spinning platter disk for storage and are generally slow with the best one reaching 150-200 MB/s transfer speeds.

These are connected to your motherboard via SATA cables.

2.5″ SATA HDD – Laptop Hard Drive

What Are SATA Cables Used For
2.5″ Laptop HDD. Source: Wikimedia

These hard disk drives are smaller and more compact in form factor compared to the 3.5″ drives. They are generally found on laptops.

On laptop, they plug into a 2.5″ drive bay that has the connectors SATA connectors. However,  when connecting to a desktop motherboard, these are connected via SATA cables.

2.5″ SATA Solid State Drive (SSD)

SATA SSD
2.5″ SATA SSD

They have the same form factor as the 2.5″ laptop HDDs, but the 2.5″ SSDs are much faster since they have no mechanical parts. 

They can reach speeds of upto 550 MB/s if connected to a SATA 3 port.

These are connected to your motherboard via SATA cables.

Read in detail: What is SATA 2.5?

M.2 SATA SSD

Samsung Evo 860 SATA SSD m.2
Samsung Evo 860 SATA SSD with M.2 form factor

These are a special kind of SSDs. While they use the SATA interface, they are connected to a special M.2 slot on your motherboard.

These DO NOT require SATA cables.

3.5″ Optical Drive (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Drives)

cd drive
Optical Drive. Image Source: Wikipedia

Almost non-existent on modern laptops and desktops, 3.5″ optical drives such as the CD, DVD or Blu-ray drives also use the SATA interface.

These are connected to your motherboard via SATA cables.

FAQ

Are SATA Cables Necessary?

They are necessary if you want to connect a SATA 3.5″ HDD, SATA 2.5″ HDD, SATA 2.5″ SSD or an Optical Drive to your desktop PC.

On laptops, you do not need SATA cables. The drives bays on laptops have the SATA data and SATA power connectors built-in.

Do You Need a SATA Cable for SSD?

That depends upon what SSD you have and whether you are plugging into a laptop or a desktop.

If you have a 2.5″ SATA SSD that you wish to connect to your DESKTOP, then yes you need both SATA DATA and SATA Power cables.

If you have a 2.5″ SATA SSD that you wish to install on your LAPTOP, then you DO NOT need any SATA cables.

If you have an M.2 SATA SSD or an M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, then no, you do need SATA cables at all for either desktop or laptop. They connect to dedicated M.2 slots.

Where Do SATA Cables Plug Into?

2.5 hard drive labelled
2.5″ SATA HDD Ports labelled 

SATA DATA Cables have to identical ends. One end plugs into the small 7 pin connector on the SATA hard drive, the other end connects to the SATA port on your motherboard.

SATA Power Cables come from the PSU and connect to the 15 pin connector on the SATA hard drive.

Final Words

So the simple answer to the question “what are SATA cables used for?” is for connecting the SATA hard drives to your PC.

You do, however, need to understand that there are two types of SATA cables i.e SATA DATA and SATA Power cables and hard drives need both.

You also need to be familiar with the different SATA version PARTICULARLY if you are installing a SATA 2.5″ SSD.

That is because, installing a SATA 2.5″ SSD designed for SATA 3 into a SATA 2 port will reduce it max transfer speed by half!

Also Read: Is SATA 3 Drive Compatible with SATA 2 Ports?

Photo of author

Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

Leave a Comment