What are the ports on a SATA hard drive?

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) hard drives are a type of storage device commonly used in desktop computers, laptops, and servers. SATA hard drives connect to the computer’s motherboard via a SATA interface which provides a high-speed connection for transferring data.

SATA hard drives have several different ports used for power, data transfer, and other functions. The main ports found on a SATA hard drive include the power connector, data connector, hot swap connector, activity LED, jumper pins, USB connector, eSATA, and mSATA.

Understanding the various ports on a SATA hard drive helps with proper installation, troubleshooting, and taking advantage of the drive’s capabilities.

Power Connector

The power connector on a SATA hard drive is usually a 15-pin connector that provides power to the drive from the computer’s power supply. This allows the hard drive to spin up and operate. The 15 pins are arranged in three rows of 5 pins each. The plastic connector itself is typically black and is known as a SATA power connector. It connects to a SATA power cable that runs from the power supply to the drive.

There are two common types of 15-pin SATA power connectors. The standard SATA power connector has 15 pins, while the smaller SATA power connector has only 15 pins but is missing the middle row. Both connectors provide the same power capabilities and are interchangeable. The smaller connector saves space for compact computer cases.

The 15 pins deliver three power rails to the hard drive – 3.3V, 5V, and 12V. This provides the necessary power for the drive’s operation. The power rails are distributed over the 15 pins according to a standard pinout configuration. Proper connection of the SATA power connector is essential for delivering stable power and allowing the hard drive to function (Eaton, par. 5-7).

According to Serial ATA Bus Pin out [SATA], SATA Pinout … and Serial ATA (SATA, Serial Advanced Technology …, the data connector on a SATA hard drive is a narrow 7-pin connector that carries the actual data signals between the drive and motherboard. This connector is keyed to ensure proper orientation. The 7 pins are defined as follows:

Data Connector

The data connector on a SATA hard drive is a narrow 7-pin connector that carries the actual data signals between the drive and motherboard. This connector is keyed to ensure proper orientation. The 7 pins are:

  • Pin 1 – Transmit Positive (Tx+)
  • Pin 2 – Transmit Negative (Tx-)
  • Pin 3 – Receive Positive (Rx+)
  • Pin 4 – Receive Negative (Rx-)
  • Pin 5 – Ground
  • Pin 6 – Ground
  • Pin 7 – Ground

Hot Swap Connector

SATA hard drives include a special connector dedicated for hot swapping called the hot swap connector. This allows the drive to be removed and inserted while the system is running without damage or data loss.

The purpose of the hot swap connector is to safely make and break the electrical connection when inserting or removing the drive. It does this by warning the operating system before power is removed from the drive during removal. This gives the OS time to park the drive heads and flush any cached writes.

When inserting a new drive, the hot swap connector delays applying power until the drive is fully seated to avoid any electrical issues. Once connected, it signals the OS that a new drive is present and available.[1]

Overall, the SATA hot swap connector enables hot plugging support which is useful for replacing failed drives or adding new storage capacity without powering down the system. It helps prevent crashes, data corruption, or hardware damage.

Activity LED

The activity LED is a small light on the SATA hard drive that flashes when the drive is being accessed or written to [1]. This flashing light serves as a visual indicator that the drive is active and data is being read from or written to it [2]. The LED is typically located in a corner of the drive and flashes intermittently whenever the drive’s read/write heads are accessing data on the platters inside. Some drives may have LEDs that illuminate solidly during drive activity rather than flashing.

The activity LED connects to a pin on the SATA power connector that goes low whenever the drive’s controller chip signals that activity is occurring. This causes the LED to light up, providing a visual cue that the drive is working. The flashing LED does not indicate any specific kind of drive activity, just that the drive is being accessed in some way.

Jumper Pins

SATA hard drives contain jumper pins that allow you to configure certain drive settings. The jumper pins are located on the back of the drive and consist of a set of small metallic pins. On Seagate SATA drives there are typically four jumper pins, while Western Digital SATA drives usually have three pins.

The most common uses for the jumper pins are to configure the drive capacity, enable or disable the SATA native command queuing feature, and set the transfer mode speed. For example, placing a jumper shunt over two specific pins may limit the hard drive’s capacity in order to use it as a boot drive. The jumper settings are typically described in the hard drive’s manual. Western Digital provides a table of jumper settings for their SATA hard drives.

While jumper pins were very common on older PATA/IDE hard drives to set the master/slave configuration, they are not as widely used today. However, they still provide a way to configure settings on SATA hard drives.

USB Connector

Many external portable SATA hard drives come with a USB connector to allow easy connection to a computer’s USB port. This lets you plug the portable hard drive into the computer’s USB port directly, without needing to open up the computer case.

A common implementation is to use a USB 3.0 to 2.5″ SATA III Hard Drive Adapter Cable. This cable has a standard USB-A connector on one end that plugs into a computer’s USB port. On the other end, it has a SATA data connector and power connector that plug into the corresponding ports on a 2.5″ SATA hard drive (StarTech.com, 2022).

The USB interface provides power to the drive and allows fast data transfer speeds. USB 3.0 offers speeds up to 5 Gbps, while USB 2.0 is limited to 480 Mbps. The USB connector essentially bridges the SATA drive to the computer’s USB port, letting you access the drive externally without any additional power supply.


eSATA stands for external Serial ATA and is a variation of SATA designed for external connectivity of hard drives. Unlike regular SATA which is meant for internal storage devices, eSATA ports can be found on the exterior of a computer.

The main advantages of eSATA over regular USB connections are faster transfer speeds and increased power delivery. eSATA connectors provide transfer rates up to 6Gbps, compared to USB 3.0 speeds of up to 5Gbps. Additionally, eSATA supports hot-swapping so drives can be removed and inserted without restarting the system. The connector design is also more robust against device disconnects during data transfer.

However, eSATA has been declining in popularity in favor of USB connections. While eSATA speeds exceed USB 2.0, most computers now include USB 3.0 or USB-C ports that can match eSATA performance. Additionally, eSATA cables tend to be thicker and less convenient than USB cables for external portable drives. Very few external hard drives today are still manufactured with eSATA ports. (Computerworld)


mSATA, short for Mini-SATA, is a smaller physical variation of the SATA interface aimed at use in smaller devices such as laptops and tablets where internal space is at a premium.

mSATA drives are much smaller in physical size compared to standard 2.5″ SATA drives, closer in size to business cards. This allows them to fit into the tight confines of portable devices. However, the reduced size comes at a cost of lower storage capacity. mSATA drives typically top out at 1TB while 2.5″ SATA drives can store up to 4TB.

The mSATA connector itself is very similar to a standard SATA connector, but much smaller to accommodate the compact drives. mSATA drives are designed to be used in an mSATA slot on the motherboard, or through an adapter to connect to a standard SATA port. The performance of mSATA drives is comparable to standard SATA 3Gbps mechanical drives.[1]

While mSATA drives are not as common today due to the prevalence of M.2 SSDs, they served an important role in early SSD adoption by bringing flash storage to ultrathin laptops and tablets that could not accommodate larger drives.

[1] https://www.flexxon.com/sata-vs-msata-an-insight-to-size-and-capacity/


In summary, the ports on a SATA hard drive serve important functions in connecting the drive to the computer system and enabling communication and power transfer. The data connector allows high-speed serial data transfer to and from the drive, while the power connector provides power to operate the drive. The hot swap connector enables safely removing and inserting the drive while the system is running. The activity LED indicates when the drive is being accessed. Jumper pins allow configuring the drive’s performance. USB and eSATA provide alternate connectivity options, while mSATA enables a more compact form factor. Understanding the purpose of each SATA port is key for properly connecting and utilizing SATA hard drives.

The various ports on SATA drives provide critical connectivity for storage solutions. As serial ATA has become the dominant standard for internal hard drives, these ports allow fast and convenient data transfer along with hot-swapping capabilities. For anyone installing or managing storage, familiarity with SATA ports is essential to leveraging the benefits of the technology.