Serial ATA Controller Untamed: The Silicon Image 3112

Blast-Off: The Silicon Image 3112 Shows A Clean Pair Of Heels

Serial ATA can quickly become a heated topic of conversation among PC users. "There's no benefit," is one view; "It's the future," is another. Here at Tom's Hardware, we favor the middle ground. At the moment, Serial ATA has little more to offer than convenience, because the controllers we have tested so far have delivered fairly lackluster performance. Now, Silicon Image shows that Serial ATA has more to offer. The performance of its Sil3112 is simply head and shoulders above what has gone before.

The Seagate Barracuda ATA V was the first hard disk available with the Serial ATA interface. When we tested this drive, we noticed considerable performance differences between the controllers on the Intel and VIA platforms, which is why we decided to include five of the latest controller cards in that particular review. The result was sobering. They all suffered from the same problem: their designs were based on parallel UltraATA/ 100 or 133 controllers equipped with 'bridges' (serial to parallel converters) to provide Serial ATA capability. Unfortunately, the loss of performance caused by these bridges was considerable.

The recommendation to use the latest Silicon Image controller came from Seagate. Although this is not a new product, it has been difficult to obtain as a separate PCI expansion card, even though many motherboard manufacturers are already using the chip to provide Serial ATA capability for their newest boards.

Silicon Image was kind enough to send us a PCI expansion card, which we installed in our 845 chipset test system to see how it compared with the models we had previously reviewed.

Serial ATA: New Products From Maxtor And Western Digital

In the next few months, you will see an increasing number of Serial ATA products in the stores. Seagate's Barracuda ATA V is now becoming widely available, and both Maxtor and Western Digital have irons in the fire.

Maxtor has just launched the MaXLine II Series running at 7,200 rpm, with up to 250 GB capacity and Serial ATA. Western Digital also recently announced a new family of hard disks under the name Raptor. These hard disks are designed for continuous operation in performance-critical environments. The five-year warranty and MTBF (Meantime Between Failure) specification of 1.2 million hours speak for themselves. Not only that, but the Raptor is the first ATA hard disk to run at 10,000 rpm - which makes us decidedly curious about how this drive will perform.