4 Reasons Why Your Data Recovery Device Should Support SATA Native Functions

27 Jan 2012

Just because your device has a SATA interface, that doesn’t mean it provides native support for SATA. Yes, it’s convenient that you can connect a drive without an external adapter, but the device may be using a built-in SATA-IDE adapter or its software may not be providing native support for this interface.

Don’t be fooled – adapters could be implemented anywhere: in a motherboard, a dedicated host device, or even a SATA drive! In fact, all early SATA drives were IDE drives with built-in SATA-IDE adapters on their boards.

Without native support, you can’t take full advantage of the interface and its extra functionality and performance. So don’t make the mistake of choosing a data recovery device just because it has a corresponding interface. Instead, you should look for a tool that:

  • Uses all the functionality of the interface, such as PHY (Physical Layer) control
  • Increases the performance of the entire system by using the higher speeds provided by the interface

Here’s why.

1.  You can send more effective device resets to unstable drives.

Native SATA functions give you a regular COMRESET command, which is as effective as the IDE Reset signal.

You also get a more efficient Physical Layer (PHY) reset. (The SATA Physical Layer is responsible for detecting a SATA device on the cable, and for link initialization.) This reset mimics disconnecting the SATA cable from a drive and connecting it back without powering off the drive.

You would use the PHY Reset when a regular hardware reset is not efficient enough to force the drive to abort a currently executed operation and move on to the next command. The PHY Reset lets you avoid extra cycles of repowering the drive during imaging, which minimizes the risk of complete drive failure caused by unnecessary repowering procedures.

You can also reset the drive indirectly using a third method, by resetting the SATA controller, since the SATA physical link initialization involves reset and synchronization phases. This kind of reset isn’t possible in IDE because of the static level nature of its signals.

These two extra hard drive resets, PHY Reset and SATA Controller Reset, can help a lot when a regular COMRESET isn’t enough to force the drive to respond.

2.  The imaging process is more stable for certain drives.

SATA-IDE adapters cause a number of instability issues because of inefficiencies in processing the drive initialization. This instability happens whether the adapter is external or built-in.

The problem is that processing hardware and software resets depends very much on a SATA-IDE adapter. Some adapters simply freeze when executing a software reset on certain drives, meaning a drive becomes unresponsive until after a repowering cycle. In this situation, the drive looks like it stays busy, even though the problem is actually with the adapter.

SATA-IDE adapters may also experience incomplete or non-synchronous initialization during the power on.

When you use SATA native functions, you avoid all of these drive initialization issues.

3.  You get higher interface transfer speeds.

Modern drive capacity is measured in terabytes nowadays, which means that even copying data from good areas of the drive takes many hours.

SATA-IDE adapters slow down the imaging process for two reasons:

  • The highest PATA UDMA transfer mode is slower than SATA transfer speed
  • Some SATA-IDE adapters don’t support UDMA modes higher than 4, which is 60MB/s, while the data access speed of modern drives is over 100MB/s.

Note that the speed we mention relates the imaging speed of good areas of the drive, while the imaging speed of unstable drives with many bad sectors depends much more on the ability of the data recovery imaging product to handle bad areas than on the data transfer speed of the interface. Processing bad areas of some drives may take days or even weeks compared to a few hours spent on imaging good areas.

4.  You get diagnostics functions via SATA PHY link.

SATA interface allows you to identify a failed board, issues with the SATA interface, and in some cases, corrupted firmware in ROM.

Here is the list of SATA PHY states and potential issues associated with each of those states:

  1. “No device detected” (PHY State 0). The drive’s board is dead. Usually this means a failure of the power circuitries, such as a burned fuse, or a failure of the power converter chip or its components.
  2. “Device detected but PHY link is not established” (PHY State 1). Some SATA pins are not properly connected due to bad/noisy SATA cabling or an issue with the SATA connector or interface wiring on the drive’s PCB.
  3. “Device detected and PHY link established” (PHY State 3). If the drive’s ATA Status registers are not accessible in this PHY state (that is, no BSY or DRDY state is detected), the drive usually has firmware problems, such as corrupted ROM, or a failed microcontroller unit.
This extra diagnostics functionality available with native SATA support (that is, PHY link status control) is especially useful in identifying electronic failures of the drive’s PCB.

In short, you want a device that supports SATA native functions.

To check whether your imaging tool has native support of the SATA interface, verify whether it has control of SATA native functions. For example, you should be able to see a SATA drive’s PHY status and select the type of SATA hardware reset to use when imaging the drive.

No need to check up on DeepSpar Disk Imager 4: the newest release introduces support for SATA native functions. All of the control, reset, and diagnostics functionality that comes with native SATA support will help you image SATA drives that have various kinds of read instability issues with better speed and reliability.