Can I use ATA cable for SSD?

Solid state drives (SSDs) have become increasingly popular in recent years as a replacement for traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) due to their faster speeds, lower power consumption, and lack of moving parts. However, SSDs and HDDs have historically used different cabling standards, which raises the question – can you use an old ATA cable designed for an HDD with a new SSD?

What is an ATA cable?

ATA stands for Advanced Technology Attachment and refers to a standard for connecting storage devices like hard drives and optical drives to a computer’s motherboard. ATA cables have a flat 40-pin or 80-pin connector on each end and are used to transmit data and power between the drive and motherboard.

The original ATA standard was introduced in the 1980s and supported drive capacities up to 504 megabytes. Over the years, the standard evolved to support higher data transfer speeds and larger drive capacities:

  • ATA-1 – 16-bit, up to 16MBps transfer speed
  • ATA-2 – 16-bit, up to 33MBps transfer speed
  • ATA-3 – 16-bit, up to 66MBps transfer speed
  • ATA/33 – 16-bit, up to 33MBps transfer speed
  • ATA/66 – 16-bit, up to 66MBps transfer speed
  • ATA/100 – 16-bit, up to 100MBps transfer speed
  • ATA/133 – 16-bit, up to 133MBps transfer speed

The most common ATA cable types you’ll see are ATA-133 and ATA/100 supporting up to 133MBps and 100MBps transfer speeds respectively. Most modern motherboards include at least one or two ATA connectors to support attaching optical drives and older HDDs.

Differences Between ATA and SATA

Around 2003, a new standard called Serial ATA (SATA) began replacing Parallel ATA (PATA), the official name for ATA. Here are some key differences between ATA and SATA:

  • Data Transfer: ATA uses parallel data transfer while SATA uses serial data transfer. Parallel transfers multiple bits simultaneously over multiple wires while serial sends one bit at a time over a single wire.
  • Cables: ATA cables are flat and wide with large connectors while SATA cables are thin and have smaller connectors. This improves airflow and reduces clutter in the computer case.
  • Speed: Original SATA standards provided faster maximum data transfer speeds than ATA, starting at 150MB/s (SATA 1.0) up to 600MB/s (SATA 3.0). The latest ATA spec (ATA/133) only supported up to 133MB/s.
  • Devices Supported: ATA cables only support connecting HDDs and optical drives. SATA can connect HDDs, SSDs, optical drives, and other devices.

The faster transfer speeds and smaller form factor of SATA make it better suited for connecting high performance storage devices like SSDs.

SSD Connector Types

Solid state drives are available with different connector types depending on the age of the drive and intended use case:

  • SATA: The SATA data and power connectors on SSDs are identical to those used on HDDs and optical drives. This allows compatibility with most modern motherboards and power supplies.
  • PCIe: PCI Express (PCIe) SSDs are mounted directly onto the motherboard or a PCIe expansion card. They offer higher performance but require a PCIe slot and are more expensive.
  • mSATA: mSATA SSDs have a form factor designed for small devices like laptops and tablets. The connector is a Mini-SATA variant.
  • M.2: The M.2 form factor is a small rectangular card that connects directly to the motherboard. Both SATA and PCIe SSDs come in M.2 versions.

The SSD connector type needs to match the corresponding connector on the computer’s motherboard. Most desktop PCs and many laptops are equipped with standard SATA ports making SATA SSDs the most universally compatible option.

Can You Use an ATA Cable for an SSD?

Now that we’ve compared the ATA and SATA standards and looked at SSD connector types, we can answer the original question – can you use an old ATA cable with a new SATA SSD?

The short answer is no, ATA cables are not compatible with SATA SSDs. The physical connectors are different and not designed to plug into each other.

Even if you could adapt an ATA cable to plug into a SATA SSD with some type of converter, the SSD would not function properly. ATA lacks the faster data transfer speeds and communication protocols that SATA SSDs require.

Some key points:

  • ATA cables have a 40-pin or 80-pin connector while SATA uses much smaller 7-pin connectors.
  • Maximum ATA speeds top out at 133MB/s while even older SATA 1.0 operates at 150MB/s.
  • The signaling and command protocols are incompatible between ATA and SATA.
  • Only HDDs and optical drives can use ATA. SSDs require a SATA connection.

In summary, ATA and SATA have very different physical and logical interfaces making them completely incompatible with each other.

Steps to Connect an SSD

Follow these steps to properly connect your SATA SSD:

  1. Make sure your computer’s motherboard has an available SATA port. The motherboard manual should document all SATA connectors.
  2. Attach one end of a SATA data cable to the motherboard’s SATA port.
  3. Connect the other end of the SATA cable to the SSD’s SATA data connector.
  4. Attach a SATA power cable from the power supply to the SSD.
  5. Mount the SSD with screws in a 3.5″ drive bay or 2.5″ drive bracket.
  6. Boot into the system BIOS and make sure SATA ports are enabled.
  7. Once finished, you can install the operating system and applications on the SSD.

Using the proper SATA data and power cables, the SSD will interface correctly with the computer and operate at full speed.

Can You Convert an ATA Cable to Work with SATA?

Since the ATA and SATA interfaces are completely incompatible at both the physical and protocol level, there is no simple way to adapt an ATA cable to work with a SATA SSD.

However, there are some converter solutions that allow connecting a SATA drive to an ATA controller port. These work by converting the SATA signals to emulate an ATA drive:

  • SATA to PATA Adapter: This passive adapter will connect to a motherboard’s 40-pin or 80-pin ATA header and provide a 7-pin SATA data connector for a 2.5″ SSD drive. The SSD appears to the system as a standard ATA drive connected to that port.
  • PCIe SATA Card: A PCI Express add-in card can add SATA ports to a system that only has ATA built-in. This allows connecting SATA SSD drives but occupies a PCIe expansion slot.

The downside to these converters is the SSD SATA performance will be reduced to the slower maximum ATA bandwidth of 133MB/s. Still, it provides a way to utilize newer SSD technology in older systems limited to the legacy ATA interface.


ATA cables and connectors are designed for older HDDs and optical drives and cannot be used natively with newer SATA SSDs. The physical interfaces are incompatible and SATA communication protocols would not function over an ATA cable.

To properly connect and take advantage of the speed of an SSD, you need SATA data and power cables designed specifically for the purpose. Alternatively, a converter can adapt the SATA SSD to work with an ATA port but with reduced bandwidth.

When working with computer storage devices, it’s important to understand the generational differences between legacy technologies like ATA/IDE and the newer SATA standard. Matching the proper cabling to the SSD or HDD interface will ensure system compatibility and optimal performance.