Seperate vs. Onboard IDE/ATA Controllers?

I'm trying to decide what part to buy for my new computer this week. I was going to get the motherboard, but I read something recently that I wasn't expecting. I'm going to be using this computer for multitrack audio recording, in addition to all the normal computer stuff. I was planning on running a total of four IDE/ATA devices, like this:

Primary Master: 60GB 7200RPM HDD (Operating system and programs)

Primary Slave: Largest capacity I can afford, 5400RPM HDD (long term storage of mp3s and mpgs)

Secondary Master: CDRW drive (according to the manual, this is the only position the drive wants to be at, although it does have jumpers)

Secondary Slave: 20GB 7200RPM HDD (Audio recording)

But I recently finished reading the humungous hard drive guide over at, and it states that slaving a high speed HDD to an optical drive hurts the HDD's performance.

Is this true? I was planning on getting the motherboard this week, but if my planned setup is going to have poor performance, I might just get a new IDE/ATA controller card, and get that part over with. I've even heard that no matter what the setup, a dedicated IDE/ATA controller will always perform better than a motherboard's onboard controllers. Any opinions?

Last question. Can a PCI IDE/ATA controller be configered as the primary, rather than tertiary, IDE/ATA controller? In other words, can you boot from one? I ask because, if I get that this week, I was thinking that I might as well drop it into my current computer and start playing with it now. My motherboard's ATA/33 capability only works with ATA/33 drives. With my ATA/100 drive, I actually have to run in PIO mode, which has made my computer incredibly slow. Since I can't queue transfers in RAM, I have to wait for my hard drive to stop cranking before I can do anything else, whenever I move bigger files. It sucks!

Any opinions would be appreciated.
8 answers Last reply
More about seperate onboard controllers
  1. It's a toss up on booting with an addin card. The vast majority of bios nowadays will let you configure it to boot. I didn't see which mainboard you're going with, but you might post the specific one when you figure it out and see who else has one and what their bios options let them do. Most addon cards will load their own bios first (as an 'option' bios), which is due to the mainboard allowing it.

    I have an asus a7v133, and it will let you configure an addon controller as the boot device.
  2. Thanks for the reply.

    At the moment I'm using an EFA Discovery ZX motherboard, with an Award BIOS and the Intel 443ZX chipset. I've been thinking about the Biostar M6VCT as the new motherboard, but whether or not I can boot from a seperate IDE/ATA controller with the new board really isn't important - that's something I'd only do with my current motherboard. If I end up going with a seperate IDE/ATA controller card, a plus of getting it now would be the fact that I could use it right away and get out of using my hard drive in PIO.

    I guess I thought that seperate controllers would somehow modify or override your motherboard's BIOS code, allowing you to boot with it. But booting from an addon card is a function of your BIOS? Where would I check that? The Award BIOS lets you choose the boot order (A:, C:, SCSI), and that's pretty much all I see.

    Or does the BIOS recognize a PCI IDE/ATA controller card as a SCSI card?

    The determining factor, though, in whether or not I even get a IDE/ATA card is whether slaving my audio HDD to my CDRW drive will hurt the hard drive's performance. Something about mixing the ATAPI protocol with standard IDE/ATA? So I'm really curious about that, too. That would be my main reason for getting the Promise card. Being able to boot from it with my current computer would just be an added bonus.
  3. "get out of using my hard drive in PIO"

    Doesn't quite work like that. If the bios or the device don't support DMA, then using an addon card isn't going to let you do it either. I don't know about the 443zx (sounds like a laptop chipset?!?), but surely it supports DMA mode 1 or 2. Which means, most likely, you currently have a driver problem.

    I don't keep up with motherboards as well as I keep up with chipsets. What the chipset on that Biostar mainboard? And yeah, that 'SCSI' entry actually means to say 'addon controller card'. Fit *that* option in the 40 column display.

    The whole deal with mixing DMA/Pio ide stuff is timing. Udma will crank info across the IDE channel, letting some other device get to use it faster. If you are streaming a cd image from a Pio4 device (or pio1, for extremes), that UDMA mode6 device only gets a few burts in there. Although those bursts are *REALLY* fast, that pio device is still chewing up it's share of the IDE channel. Put another way, your cdrom-pio4/burner-udma3 will struggle (but not impossibly) to do a direct copy on the same channel at 2400k/s without nailing burnproof.
  4. but if the drive supports it, and the motherboard definately doesnt, then a controller card will allow him to do it. i had a udma66 hard drive, and a motherboard that didnt support udma66, so i put a udma66 controller card in there, and it was faster...and was running at udma66...
    but at least the drive has to support it for a controller card to allow you to run it at that spec...
    but if your motherboard is supposed to support that spec, then check and make sure that the drivers are installed correctly, and that there is not a bios that allows you to use that spec...because later on, that motherboard i had was able to support udma66 with the onboard, with a bios flash. and i would rather use the onboard than the controller card...


    -Live, Learn, then build your own computer!-
  5. Sorry, I'm not sure if I really did a good job of explaining my specific situation...

    First of all, the 443ZX chipset is an older socket 370 chipset. It can support Celerons up to the point where Intel started making "flip chip" CPUs. It's a pretty nice motherboard, actually - I bought it because, at the time, all of my components (except the video card and NIC) were ISA, and I had an AT case/PSU. I wanted to upgrade cheaply, and that way I only had to buy a new motherboard, CPU, and RAM, and I was set. It even can do a little overclocking. I've been able to run my Celeron 466 at 583 (or somewhere in that range) and 525MHz. I don't normally overclock, though. There were too many heat issues with the other components running out of spec.

    Anyway, when things started to feel too slow to me, I began to think about an upgrade. My original plan was to try buying a new BIOS and using a 100MHz FSB Pentium III, but I decided that considering the cost, I might as well just build a new computer. So I've been buying it piece by piece, every week.

    I'm to the point now where I'm running all brand new components, except for the CPU/motherboard/RAM. That's why I'm running into IDE/ATA issues, and this should clarify what I'm asking...

    I already have the CDRW drive that I intend to use (TDK VeloCD 24/10/40), and the hard drive that I plan to use as my audio drive (It's a WD 200BB, 7200RPM/ATA100). Both support DMA, and so does my motherboard. The motherboard has no trouble detecting them, and running them both at ATA33 (or whatever the ATAPI equivalent is, for the CDRW).

    So, to clarify my question about slaving a fast hard drive to an optical drive, both devices DO support DMA. Certainly, if the CDRW ran in a PIO mode, I'd have problems - but it doesn't. So my question just concerns whether running an ATAPI device on the same channel as an ATA100 device will hurt the performance of the ATA100 HDD.

    Now, going back to my current HDD woes... When I first bought my hard drive, I had loads of problems beginning about a week after I got it. It started randomly locking up during use, sometimes making a noise that sounded like a head park. It got to the point where sometimes it wouldn't even boot, and eventually I just took it out and went back to using my old HDD for a while.

    I eventually checked the WD support website, and found out that some older Award BIOS chips will incorrectly attempt to run ATA100-capable hard drives at ATA100, even though the motherboard can only support ATA33. The only way to get around this is to flash the BIOS, which I can't do because the motherboard manufacurer went out of business without ever providing an upgrade (darn), buy a new BIOS, which would cost roughly as much as a new motherboard I imagine, or just disable DMA and run the HDD in PIO. So that's what I've been doing. The HDD has been working perfectly fine in PIO - it's just slow, is all.

    So my primary concern is the new system. It's possible that what I read about mixing ATAPI and ATA devices was outdated and no longer accurate - and if my audio HDD will run fast when slaved to the CDRW (I wouldn't use them at the same time, obviously), then I won't bother with a new controller card. If putting the two devices together would cause performance issues, though, then I thought that getting the new controller card now would help me in the short term AND in the long term, since I would hopefully be able to start using it right away. And it's sounding like that would work. Right?

    Finally, I'm curious about whether there are any speed differences in using an add-on ATA100 solution vs. using the motherboard's onboard controllers. Promise claims that their card is faster, but Promise claims a lot of things that aren't true. Is there any real-world proof, either way? I've been looking for reviews and benchmarks, but I haven't found any.

    Oh yeah, and that Biostar motherboard - it's the VIA Apollo Pro 133A chipset. Here's where I found it:

    It's just $48, plus $7 shipping. I wanted to get a motherboard with Tualatin support, an ISA slot (for my modem), the ability to address a lot of RAM, and ATA100, and this board has everything. I don't like the onboard audio, but hopefully I'll be able to just disable it without any problems. The price is extremely low... but so far I haven't been able to find anything about Biostar not making a good motherboard. The word on the street seems to be that they sacrifice a little bit of performance for high stability, and that's fine by me.

    So, do my questions make more sense now?
  6. i can tell you from experience. if you have a mobo that has onboard ide controllers that support ata100 and an addon ata100 card, you will see the same speeds. but if your mobo only supports ata33 and you have an ata100 card, you will definitely see increase in speeds. the onboard ata33 controller is limited to 33mb/s. while using an ata100 addon card you're running it through the pci bus, which gives you a max of 133mb/s. as far as slaving a cdr/cd to your hdd, the answer is yes and no. no it will not slow down your hdd as long as you're working with the hdd. yes it will slow the hdd down if you try to copy files to/from the cdr/cd. but either way the data is only going to be transfered as fast as the slowest drive can support, whether it's on a different ide controller or not. for an example, copy files to/from a floppy to the hdd. each are on a different channel, then why does it still go so slow? also i don't quite understand what you mean by "buying a new bios". are you talking about a chip? i don't think getting ahold of one or the price would be the issue. the issue is, the bios chip isn't something you pop out like ram or a cpu. it's hardwired in there, so unless you have an uncanny ability with a soldering gun or a close friend that will do it for free, it's going to cost you. and it will be cheaper and less hassle to just go by a new board.

    [insert philosophical statement here]
  7. Thanks a lot. That definitely answers my questions. I think I'll hold off on the card, then, unless I end up needing more than four IDE/ATA devices.

    As for the BIOS upgrade, yes - I do mean actually getting a new chip, from Award.

    The chip isn't hard wired - mine isn't, at least. It's in a socket. I would just need a chip puller, which comes with the upgrade. Problem is, I couldn't get a price quite from Unicore.

    In fact, the whole experience really left me scratching my head. I filled out a form with every little detail about my motherboard and BIOS. Then I got an email from a salesman, saying something like "I have just a couple of questions about your motherboard, why don't you give me a call?" Well, I work when Unicore is open, and I don't have time to make phone calls to salespeople. So I wrote back, saying basically "let me know what you need." My reply was a form letter, from a different salesman. I didn't know it was a form, though - so I wrote again, saying that I'd already heard from someone else, I didn't have time to make the phone call, and I'd just like to know what other information he needed so I could get a quote. I received that exact same form letter in response, not once, but three times - once every day. I finally wrote again saying (paraphrased) "Look, either have an actual human write me an email, or don't contact me again." I wasn't contacted again. That definitely left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

    I've heard guesses that a BIOS upgrade for my motherboard would cost anywhere from $30-80. When the motherboard I'm looking at costs under $50, and upgrading my BIOS would still leave me with a lot of outdated technology (a 100 MHz FSB limitation and an AGP slot that can't support any recent video cards, for instance), it just didn't make sense.

    Anyway... unless anyone else has had a different experience with add-on IDE/ATA solutions, it looks like I've found my answer. :)
  8. thank you for correcting me. i personally never knew about a bios chip that wasn't wired into the board. but ya, i would get a new mobo if it's going to be around the same price or maybe even cheaper. that way you know for sure components will work at the speeds they are supposed to. good luck!

    [insert philosophical statement here]
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