While most of them are obsolete and unusable, IDE hard drives were the in-thing decades ago. They were the standard data storage solution for desktop PCs. In this guide, you will learn the history, identification, and configuration of IDE drives.
A Brief History of IDE Drives
It all started in the early 1980s when PCs were new to the market. In 1981, IBM released their first PC, and it came with a 5.25″ drive for storage purposes. However, this had many problems due to its high rotational speeds and poor data transfer rates. It wasn’t until 1983 when Seagate Technology released the ST-412, their first hard drive for PC. It had a capacity of only 5MB.
The first IDE drives were used primarily in IBM PCs because they were installed in them by default. However, there were some third-party companies that also made the early IDE drives, such as Western Digital and Maxtor. In 1986, IBM released their second PC, which was compatible with Seagate’s ST-412 35MB IDE drive.
In 1987, Toshiba launched a 21MB version of their MFM hard drive for PCs. This had a data transfer rate of 10MBs per second. However, it didn’t gain much popularity.
In the early 1990s, IBM launched their PS/2 line of PCs, which came with what we now call “the baby AT” motherboard. This was entirely made of plastic, and it had a different kind of IDE port which was much smaller than the previous type. It required other cables to be appropriately connected and was later replaced by ATA ports in 1998 when the AT motherboard was discontinued.
Nowadays, IDE drives are obsolete since they have been replaced with SATA drives. These offer much better data transfer speeds, durability, and storage capacity. However, there is something special about these old IDE drives, and your retro PC won’t be complete without one of them.
IDE vs. SATA
Most people are confused about the differences between IDE drives and SATA drives, but it’s evident that SATA technology is superior. The only thing you have to consider when choosing between these two standards is if your old motherboard can support the speed of a modern SATA hard drive. For example, if your computer has an older version of the AT or Baby AT motherboard, you can use IDE and SATA drives. However, if your motherboard is an ATX or later version, only SATA drives are compatible with this type of board.
How to Identify an IDE Hard Drive
The most common IDE drive will be the ST-412, with a capacity of 5MBs. If you see one, consider yourself lucky because they are scarce. Jamie from Tekeurope, a UK PC parts and spares specialist comments “If you are trying to build a retro PC you will find it difficult to source IDE or MFM drives made by any manufacturer. We do stock them when we find them, but they do sell out quickly to retro PC enthusiasts”.
How to Install an IDE Drive
IDE hard drives are usually very easy to install ands set up because all you have to do is power it up and connect it using the HDD-to-Molex connector. However, you will need to check if any special software or drivers are required for it to function correctly. For example, the Maxtor IDE drives require special drivers that are bundled with their installation media.
You may also need to change your BIOS settings so that they can be used as primary storage devices. This means that you will have to set up these drives in the BIOS before booting your PC. If you mix this up, you will end up with the dreaded ‘Bootmgr is Missing’ error.
IDE hard drives are now obsolete but are still sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. They may appear inferior compared to modern SATA drives, but if you want to build a retro PC it’s one of the key components you will need.