SATA (Serial ATA) and USB (Universal Serial Bus) are two common interfaces used for connecting storage devices like hard drives and solid-state drives to computers. SATA is designed for internal connections inside a computer while USB is made for external connections. Adapters allow you to connect SATA drives externally via USB ports, extending usefulness and accessibility of internal drives.
This guide will cover everything needed to use a SATA to USB adapter, from picking the right adapter to safely disconnecting the drive when finished. With a quality adapter, you can access extra storage space and data from a SATA drive through any USB port on your computer.
When to Use a SATA to USB Adapter
A SATA to USB adapter allows you to connect a SATA drive like a hard drive or SSD to your computer via USB, providing an easy way to access data on the drive. Some common scenarios where a SATA to USB adapter comes in handy include:
Accessing data from old SATA drives: If you have an old SATA hard drive or SSD from a previous computer that you want to access, a SATA to USB adapter allows you to hook it up without having to install it internally. This lets you retrieve files or migrate data over to a new drive.
Connecting extra storage: Adding external storage via USB is convenient, and a SATA to USB adapter allows you to use bare SATA drives for this purpose. You can use an adapter to add large capacity external storage at low cost.
Creating drive images: Making complete drive images is useful for backup/restore, upgrading drives, and other purposes. A SATA to USB adapter lets you connect a bare drive to create drive images externally.
Repairing drives: If a SATA drive is having problems, connecting it via a SATA to USB adapter can sometimes help diagnose and repair drive issues without having to install internally.
In summary, SATA to USB adapters provide a flexible way to access data on internal SATA drives from outside a computer.
Picking the Right SATA to USB Adapter
When selecting a SATA to USB adapter, one of the most important considerations is the USB version. There are significant performance differences between USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1, and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. The theoretical maximum speeds are as follows:
- USB 2.0 – 480 Mbps
- USB 3.0 – 5 Gbps
- USB 3.1 Gen 1 – 5 Gbps
- USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 – 20 Gbps
In practical usage, USB 2.0 adapters can achieve read/write speeds around 25-30 MB/s, while USB 3.0 adapters are capable of around 400 MB/s. For example, benchmarks show a SATA III SSD connected via USB 3.0 reaching read speeds over 300 MB/s versus just 30 MB/s on USB 2.0 (source). The difference is substantial.
Therefore, USB 3.0 or newer adapters are highly recommended, as USB 2.0 can bottleneck SATA III drives. USB 3.1 Gen 2 or USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 offers theoretical improvements but provides minimal real-world benefit for SATA drives. Overall, USB 3.0 delivers an excellent balance of speed and affordability.
Most modern operating systems like Windows 10 and macOS already include built-in drivers to support USB to SATA adapters, so additional driver installation is not required in many cases. However, some adapters, especially older models, may require installing drivers manually before the operating system can recognize the connected SATA drive.
On Windows, download the latest USB adapter drivers from the manufacturer’s website and run the installer. Restart the computer when prompted. Windows should now detect the adapter and connected SATA drive automatically. If the drive still does not appear, open Device Manager, locate the adapter, right click and select Update Driver. Point it to the folder where the drivers were installed .
For Mac, download and install the adapter drivers if available. Otherwise, the OS should automatically recognize most USB to SATA adapters. If the drive does not mount, open Disk Utility and see if the SATA drive appears under External Drives. If not, try disconnecting and reconnecting the adapter or using a different USB port .
Connecting the Adapter
Connecting your SATA drive to the USB adapter is a straightforward process once you have the proper cable. The adapter will typically come with a cable that has a SATA connector on one end and a USB connector on the other end. Here are the steps for connecting your SATA drive:
1. Make sure the power to the SATA drive is turned off before connecting it to the adapter.
2. Attach the SATA connector end of the cable to the SATA port on the drive. This is the same type of port used to connect SATA drives inside a desktop computer.
3. For a 2.5″ laptop hard drive, the drive will be powered through the USB connection once attached to your computer. For a 3.5″ desktop hard drive, you will need to connect a separate power cable from the adapter to the drive to provide adequate power.
4. Double check that the connections are snug and properly seated before attempting to access the drive. A loose connection can prevent the drive from being detected.
Refer to your adapter’s documentation for any specific instructions on properly attaching your drive. With the SATA drive solidly connected, you can now connect the USB end of the cable to your computer.
Accessing the SATA Drive
Once the SATA drive is connected via the USB adapter, you will need to access it on your computer to view files and transfer data. Here are the steps for finding the drive in File Explorer on Windows or Finder on Mac:
On Windows 10:
- Open File Explorer (Win + E keyboard shortcut)
- Look for the SATA drive under “Devices and drives”
- It may also appear under “This PC”
- If it doesn’t show up, click “View” and check “Show hidden devices”
- The drive should now be visible and accessible
- Open Finder (click the desktop or Cmd + Spacebar)
- Look for the SATA drive under “Devices” on the left sidebar
- If it’s not there, click Finder > Preferences > Sidebar and make sure “External disks” is checked
- You can now access the files on the SATA drive through Finder
Once located in File Explorer or Finder, you can open the drive and view/transfer files just like any other external drive.
Once the SATA drive is connected via the USB adapter, you can begin transferring files between the drive and your computer. The speed at which files can be transferred depends on several factors:
The USB standard – USB 2.0 has a maximum transfer speed of 60MB/s, while USB 3.0 is much faster at 625MB/s. Using a USB 3.0 connection and adapter will provide faster file transfers.
The SATA version – SATA III supports 6Gb/s or 750MB/s. Connecting a SATA III drive will allow faster transfers than an older SATA I or SATA II drive.
The drive type – Solid state drives (SSDs) can achieve faster read/write speeds than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). SSDs connected via SATA III and USB 3.0 will allow the fastest file transfers.
To copy files from the SATA drive to your computer, simply access the drive in File Explorer like you would any other external drive. You can then drag and drop or copy and paste files to transfer them. Expect USB 2.0 transfer speeds around 30-40MB/s for large files, while USB 3.0 can reach 200MB/s or higher depending on the drive. Using a high speed SATA III SSD will allow you to achieve the fastest possible file transfer speeds over the SATA to USB connection.
Safely Disconnecting the Drive
It’s important to safely disconnect your SATA drive once you’ve finished transferring files. Simply unplugging the USB cable could lead to data corruption or loss. Here are the proper steps to safely disconnect your drive on Windows:
- Open the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon in the Windows taskbar notification area.
- Click on the connected SATA drive.
- Windows will prompt you that it’s now safe to remove the device.
- Unplug the USB cable connecting the SATA drive.
Following this process ensures any remaining writes are flushed and the drive is properly unmounted before disconnecting. Safely removing hardware prevents errors like the “USB Device Not Recognized” issue when replugging the drive.
On macOS, you can eject external drives by right-clicking on the drive icon on the desktop and selecting “Eject”. Or by dragging the icon to the Trash in the Dock. 
Never unplug the USB cable when the drive is still in use. Wait for any file transfers to complete. Forcing disconnection risks corrupting data. 
One of the most common issues with connecting a SATA drive to a computer via USB is having connection problems. Here are some troubleshooting tips:
- Make sure the SATA to USB adapter is properly connected at both ends – to the drive and to a USB port on your computer. Check that the connectors are fully plugged in. Some adapters have loose connectors that can result in intermittent connections.
- Try connecting the adapter and SATA drive to a different USB port on your computer. Some USB ports may not provide enough power to run the drive.
- If the drive is not being detected at all, try a different SATA to USB adapter if you have one available. Adapters can fail over time.
- Update the drivers for the adapter. Outdated drivers can prevent proper communication between the drive and computer.
- Try connecting the SATA drive directly to a computer’s motherboard SATA port to rule out any issues with the drive itself.
- If using an externally powered SATA to USB adapter, make sure the power supply is plugged in and working properly.
- Restart your computer and reconnect the adapter and drive. This simple step can resolve intermittent connection issues.
- If the drive connects but doesn’t appear in File Explorer, try using disk management to locate and mount the disk.
- As a last resort, reformat the SATA drive to see if that resolves any file system errors preventing access.
With some troubleshooting and testing different components, you should be able to resolve any connection issues with your SATA to USB adapter.
In summary, connecting a SATA hard drive to a computer via USB is straightforward with the right adapter. Choosing a compatible adapter and installing any required drivers are the most important steps. Once connected properly, the SATA drive will appear as an external USB drive, allowing you to access and transfer files just like any other external drive.
For safe removal, always eject the SATA drive properly before unplugging the USB cable. Potential issues like drive not detected or slow transfer speeds can often be resolved by trying a different USB port, checking cable connections, updating drivers, or reformatting the drive. With a quality SATA to USB adapter, transferring files between a SATA drive and your computer’s USB port is a simple process.
In conclusion, SATA to USB adapters provide an easy way to connect a SATA drive externally for data access or retrieval. Following proper connection and disconnection procedures will ensure the drive is accessed reliably.