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PATA, SATA and SCSI Disk Drive Performance

Tom Fisher (

Summary: The optimum disk drive depends on the intended usage. SAS 15K offers substantial measured performance
enhancements for highly-random or high-throughput access requirements. SAS 10K out perform SATA disks on highly random
small data transfers, and perform almost identically to SATA 10K disks on larger, mostly sequential accesses. All three significantly
outperform SATA 7200 rpm in benchmarks; however, the 10K drives offer the best price/performance for many workstation
Background: Major factors of drive performance are rotational speed, interface type, physical construction of the drive, and
firmware algorithms. Each interface type supports various levels of RAID enhancing performance, reliability, or both.
SAS SAS is Serial Attached SCSI technology. It is a point-to-point architecture in which all devices connect directly to the storage
controller. SAS was developed to solve the technological limitations of the parallel bus architecture. Costly design and
implementation choices would be required to overcome the problems of clock skew and signal degradation that would come with
higher signaling rates required to increase performance. The new point-to-point architecture delivers the full bandwidth of the bus to
each device instead of sharing it between all the devices attached to the bus. Historically SCSI drives have been designed to give
maximum performance in both access time and data throughput. Overall capacity is traded somewhat for raw speed and highest
reliability. SCSI achieves its performance through a 3Gb/s peak interface transfer rate, and typically has the fastest seek times and
highest rotational speeds. Throughput generally scales with the rotational speed. Internal firmware is generally tuned for fastest
random access and overall throughput.

SATA drives are usually PATA physical drives with a 3Gb/s serial interface, although some new models are designed to compete
directly with SCSI in limited applications. Firmware is tuned for the higher peak data rate. SATA 10K can outperform SATA 7200 by
20%-30% on benchmarks with typical desktop access patterns (cache intensive, low queue depth). Overall application performance
improvement will be some fraction of that, of course.

Native Command Queuing (NCQ) drives have algorithms in firmware to optimize the disk access, based on the current disk platter
and head position, and the list of access requests in the disk queue. We compare NCQ vs. non-NCQ in the second chart below. For
this benchmark, the benefits of NCQ approach 7% - 8% when there are many outstanding I/O operations.

Benchmarks: The charts below compare the performance of SCSI and SATA drives to a baseline SATA 7200 RPM drive using two
• IOmeter File Server workload– Intel® defined playback of disk access patterns; 80% read, 100% random.
• IOmeter Workstation workload – similar to File Server Drive Mark, but uses only small data transfers.
The first chart shows measured I/O Performance for 2 different workloads The second chart shows the advantage of using an NCQ
capable SATA drive.
3.5 1.8
File Server Workload 10K SATA no NCQ
Workstation Workload 1.6 10K SATA NCQ
Relative Performance

Relative Performance

2.0 1

1.5 0.8


0.0 0
SATA 7200 SATA 10K SATA 10K SAS 10K SAS 15K 1 2 4 8 16 32
NCQ NCQ Outstanding I/Os

Results: As shown in the left chart, the SCSI 15K drive has a clear performance advantage – over 3x as fast as the 7200 rpm
drive, 2.5x the performance of the 10K SATA drive, and about 70% faster than the 10K SAS drive. For those that need the best
performance, regardless of cost, SASI 15K is a great choice. The 10K SATA Drives are also relatively fast, and represent an
excellent price/performance tradeoff, as the SAS drives are typically relatively expensive.

Conclusion: There are significant performance differences between various disk technologies, when measured by industry
standard benchmarks. A customer’s choice usually involves a tradeoff between cost and performance.
HP Workstation xw4300 Storage Options:
HP Workstation xw6200 Storage Options:
HP Workstation xw8200 Storage Options:
HP Workstation xw9300 Storage Options:
© 2004 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. HP shall not be liable for technical or editorial
errors or omissions contained herein. Printed in USA, 2004