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Linux in, Redmond out of Serial ATA party

Spec 1.0 finished, public by year-end?

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The Serial ATA working group, charged with replacing clumsy parallel ribbons as the mass storage interface inside PCs, says it has completed version 1.0 of the specification. Publication had been mooted for 10 October, but the public version now ought to be available for comment by the end of the year.

Members include APT, which provides intellectual property for storage interfaces, hard disk manufacturers Maxtor, IBM, Seagate and Quantum, and Dell and Intel. The only OS with representation on the group is Linux, and Redmond is a notable absentee - although sources say that it's now very keen to join. When it does, it won't have input to the first specification.

But maybe that isn't such a big deal, as one of the promises of Serial ATA is that it presents the same view to the OS as a parallel ATA drive, and doesn't require special device drivers.

Intel's Jeff Ravencraft, Serial ATA committee chair, told us that any additional effort to tweak the parallel ATA interface beyond the current ATA-100 spec wouldn't be worth the trouble.

"We're not sure if it's doable, and even it was, it would be a very fragile innovation," he said. APT's business development manager Robert Streeby added that there would be reliability benefits for other PC components - particularly CPUs - once the requirement to support 5V I/O was removed.

But the most obvious benefit is that PCs should finally get smaller - or at least in theory. "There's 72 square inches of cabling inside a PC. A thin replacement makes way for better ventilation, and smaller cases."

The first private draft spec is intended to reach 1.5Gbps throughput speeds, although real transfer rates will max at 150Mbps. Further revisions are pegged to raise this to 300 and 600Mbps.

The first spec will support a simple 1 to 1 connections, sources tell us, with one drive to one interface. It's hoped the 1.0 draft will be ratified and made public by the end of the year. Streeby sees devices coming on stream towards the end of next year, which is rather more aggressive a schedule than other will admit to. But with no modifications needed to the software stack, it's down to motherboard support, so it could conceivably squeak in.

And with Apple removing the internal 1394 connectors from its latest G4 towers, Serial ATA should have the volume business to itself. ®

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