Bogus Branding - "SATA III" Cables vs. "SATA II" Cables

By Published March 25, 2015 at 11:38 am
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About a year ago, we published a piece notifying our readers of hoax HDMI-to-VGA passive cables proclaiming that they did absolutely nothing for the buyer; we called them “fake,” indicating that a passive cable is electrically incapable of transforming a signal, and therefore could not serve as a digital-to-analog adapter without some sort of active conversion taking place. There are a few hardware-side exceptions, but they are rare.

It was in this same content that we mentioned “SATA III cables” vs. “SATA II cables,” noting that the two cables were functionally identical; the transfer rates are the same between a “SATA III” cable and a “SATA II” cable. The difference, as defined by the official SATA specification, is a lock-in clip to ensure unshaken contact. Upon being taken viral by LifeHacker, statement of this simple fact was met with a somewhat disheartening amount of resistance from an audience we don't usually cater toward. Today, we had enough spare time to reinforce our statements with objective benchmarking.

This quick benchmark sets forth to prove that SATA III and SATA II cables have no impact on data throughput. Note well that we are strictly talking about cables. The interface itself, obviously, has profound impact on performance – SATA II performs at 3 gigabits per second (375MB/s) and SATA III performs at 6Gbps (750MB/s). There is substantial overhead on the interface, so the actual operating limitation is closer to 550MB/s for high-end SSDs.

Test Methodology

This test is fairly trivial compared to our other in-house SSD testing. We took the fastest SATA drive available on our bench, Samsung's 850 Pro, and connected it to a variety of SATA cables from several generations of hardware. Anvil's SSD benchmark was deployed for rapid throughput measurement with each of the cables, then logged for comparison. The expected result is that all cables offer effectively identical performance, within a 5% margin of error.

The cables tested include Serial ATA cables that shipped with motherboards deployed with the very first version of the interface, scaling up through cables shipped with SATA II and SATA III equipped motherboards. The cables are of varying lengths – one is even significantly thinner than its counterparts – and shipped with different SATA version branding. If the branding is to be believed, a newer “SATA III 6Gbps cable” would be faster than our red “Serial ATA I” cables.

Cable Notes Branded As Part Number
Foxconn SI Long cable (~24").
Unknown origins.
26AWG
SATA I 1.5Gbps Unspecified
Foxconn SII Very short (~10") cable.
Shipped with a P58 motherboard.
~26AWG (?)
SATA II 3Gbps E156437
Nippon Labs "Premium" Cable SII Purchased for $5 via Newegg. SATA I 1.5Gbps &
SATA II 3Gbps
SATA-0.5MR
Monoprice Serial ATA Cable SI Purchased for $0.57 via Monoprice.
18"
SATA I 1.5Gbps
"Certified for 1.5Gbps
speeds."
8775
HONGJIXIN SIII A
Long (>24").
Unknown origins.
26AWG
SATA III 6Gbps E320444
COBOC $0.53 Cable SIII Purchased for $0.53 via Newegg. SATA III 6Gbps SC-SATA3-10-LL-BL
Unbranded Cable A Absolutely no markings on the cable.
Unknown origins.
No Markings No Markings
HONGJIXIN SIII B
Modern black/white cable incl. with
many motherboards, including our
Z97 board.
SATA III 6Gbps E320444
CABLEPLUS SII Long (>24").
Purchased with a P58 motherboard.
SATA II 3Gbps ?

Some of the cables we purchased or acquired were branded as "premium" cables, with specific, clear branding as offering SATA I & SATA II compatibility (no mention of SATA III). Other, more modern cables were listed as "SATA III with backwards compatibility for 3Gbps and 1.5Gbps." A cable we purchased from Monoprice was explicitly branded as a SATA I cable, stating that it was "certified for 1.5Gbps speeds."

Let's get on with this:

SATA I vs. SATA II vs. SATA III Cables - Is there a Speed Difference? (No!)

sata-cables-test1 sata-cables-test2

sata-cables-test3 sata-cables-test4

sata-cables-test5

The results are effectively identical. There is no measurable difference between differently-branded SATA cables as we tested. In doing further research, we found that Maximum PC was able to trigger poor cable performance by chaining ten feet of cabling together – not exactly an intended use case. The crazy part is that some of the cables we tested are $12, yet perform identically to a $0.57 cable. There is no performance difference. There may be a slight build quality difference in connection cycle endurance, but the speeds are the same, and no $12 cable will be noticeably better than, say, a $5 cable. StarTech is one of the companies selling $12 cables.

It's worth stating again that we are not testing the SATA interface's speed variation, as there's effectively a 2x difference between SATA II and SATA III as an interface. This is strictly looking at cables, like these.

There is exactly one reason that manufacturers sell SATA cables with “6Gbps” and “SATA III” branding in the product name: Buyers don't know there's no performance difference and think it is a requirement to use the SATA III interface.

You could buy a SATA cable for $0.53 and it would perform effectively identically to an expensive “SATA III cable.” Now, it might not hold-up as long or survive as many connection cycles, but the performance will be effectively identical.

- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.

Last modified on March 25, 2015 at 11:38 am
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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