How many SATA cables do I use?

If you are building a new computer or adding storage drives to an existing system, one of the cables you will need is SATA (Serial ATA). SATA cables connect storage drives like hard drives, solid state drives, and optical drives to the motherboard. But how many SATA cables do you need? Here is a quick overview of how to determine the number of SATA cables for your build.

How Many SATA Ports Are on Your Motherboard?

The first thing you need to know is how many SATA ports are built into your motherboard. Higher-end motherboards may have 6-10 SATA ports, while budget boards may only have 2-4. Consult your motherboard manual to find the exact number of native SATA ports.

Each SATA port on the motherboard can support one SATA device. So if your motherboard has 6 SATA ports, that means you can connect up to 6 SATA drives without needing additional expansion cards.

How Many SATA Devices Are You Installing?

Next, take an inventory of how many SATA devices you need to install in your PC. This includes:

  • Hard disk drives (HDDs)
  • Solid state drives (SSDs)
  • Optical drives like DVD or Blu-Ray drives

Count up how many total drives you plan to install that utilize a SATA connection. This will determine how many SATA cables and ports you need.

Consider Your Storage Configuration

When determining the number of SATA cables, also think about how you plan to configure your storage drives. Here are some examples:

  • Single drive: If you are only running a single HDD or SSD, you just need one SATA cable.
  • Separate drives: If you want to install two separate drives with different OS or data on each, you need two SATA cables.
  • RAID 0: RAID 0 or disk striping requires at least two drives and two cables.
  • RAID 1: RAID 1 or disk mirroring requires two drives and two cables.
  • RAID 5: RAID 5 requires a minimum of three drives and cables.

Factor in your planned drive configuration when purchasing the necessary number of SATA cables.

Allow for Future Expansion

Even if you only need to hook up one or two SATA drives right now, it is wise to have extra SATA cables on hand for future expansion. Storage needs tend to grow over time, and you may end up adding another drive down the road.

Having 1-2 extra SATA data cables allows you to easily add drives without having to purchase more cables later. So when in doubt, it is better to get a few more cables than you strictly need currently.

SATA Power Cables

In addition to SATA data cables, you also need SATA power cables that connect storage drives to the power supply. Most power supplies come with 2-4 SATA power connectors, but you may need SATA power splitter cables if you have more drives than dedicated power connectors.

How to Connect SATA Cables

Once you know how many SATA cables you need, here is how to connect them when installing drives:

  1. Plug one end of the SATA data cable into the motherboard’s SATA port. Be gentle when inserting the SATA connector.
  2. Plug the other end of the SATA cable into the back of the storage drive. SATA ports on drives are horizontally oriented.
  3. Attach a SATA power cable from the power supply to the drive.
  4. Repeat these steps for each additional SATA drive you need to install.

Consult your motherboard manual for the location of the SATA ports. Refer to your case manual for the best way to route the SATA cables for optimal airflow and tidy cable management.

SATA Cable Types

There are a few different types of SATA cables to be aware of:

  • SATA data cables – Used to transfer data between the motherboard and drives. Required for all SATA devices.
  • SATA power cables – Used to provide power to drives from the power supply. Required for all SATA devices.
  • Right-angle SATA cables – Helpful for tight cable routing situations. Do not affect performance.
  • SATA express cables – Allow connecting SATA express drives. Backwards compatible with regular SATA.
  • Locking SATA cables – Have locks to securely connect drives and prevent accidental disconnects.

The most common cables are straight SATA data and power cables. Right-angle and locking cables provide extra convenience and security in some build configurations.

SATA Cable Lengths

SATA cables come in a variety of lengths, but you generally want 18 inches for data cables and 15-16 inches for power cables. The most common lengths are:

  • 18 inches – For SATA data cables inside the PC case
  • 24 inches – Gives you some extra length for larger cases
  • 36 inches – Allows connecting drives outside the case
  • 15-16 inches – Standard for SATA power cables

Cables longer than necessary can clutter the inside of your case. Try to get cables just long enough to cleanly route between the necessary components with a bit of slack.

SATA Bandwidth and Speed

Each SATA port provides a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 600MB/s. However, actual drive speeds are dependant on the drive itself and interface version:

SATA Version Speed
SATA I 1.5Gb/s (150MB/s)
SATA II 3Gb/s (300MB/s)
SATA III 6Gb/s (600MB/s)

Many modern motherboards support SATA III speeds, but you are still limited by your slowest component. Always check your motherboard and drive specifications.

RAID Considerations

RAID allows combining multiple drives for redundancy or performance. But RAID arrays require additional SATA ports and cables. Keep these guidelines in mind:

  • RAID 0 – Requires at least two drives and SATA cables.
  • RAID 1 – Requires two drives and SATA cables.
  • RAID 5 – Requires a minimum of three drives and SATA cables.
  • RAID 10 – Requires four drives and SATA cables.

Additionally, some RAID levels like RAID 5 and RAID 10 provide better performance with more drives. Connecting four drives for RAID 10 will be faster than just two.

External Drives and Enclosures

If you want to connect an external drive enclosure or dock via SATA, you just need one cable:

  • Connect the 18 inch SATA data cable to an open SATA port on the motherboard.
  • Route the cable outside the back of the PC case through an expansion slot or opening.
  • Plug the drive enclosure into the external SATA connector.

This allows hot swapping drives without opening up the computer. Just be sure your case and motherboard support external SATA ports.

M.2 Drives and SATA

M.2 drives do not require SATA cables. Instead they slot directly into the motherboard. However, some M.2 drives still use the SATA interface while others use PCIe:

  • SATA M.2 – Do not need any SATA cables. Connect directly to the motherboard.
  • PCIe M.2 – Also do not need SATA cables. Much faster speeds than SATA M.2 drives.

So M.2 drives help save on cables. Just ensure your motherboard has an M.2 slot before purchasing an M.2 drive.

Troubleshooting SATA Issues

If you are having issues connecting drives via SATA, here are some things to check:

  • Reseat SATA cable connections at both ends. Listen for a firm click.
  • Try a different SATA port on the motherboard.
  • Test with a different SATA data cable if possible.
  • Check that the drive is also connected to SATA power.
  • Ensure the BIOS is set to AHCI or RAID mode for correct SATA operation.
  • Update motherboard chipset and storage controller drivers if needed.

SATA cables are robust and problems are not common. But issues can arise with loose connections or faulty cables. Trying different cables, ports or drives can help isolate the problem.


Determining how many SATA cables you need is an important part of planning your PC build or upgrade. Take into account your motherboard SATA ports, number of drives, RAID plans, and future expansion to purchase the right amount of SATA data and power cables.

Standard builds usually require two or three SATA cables. More advanced storage configurations may need five or more. Cable length and type preferences also play a role. With quality SATA cables connected properly, you can enjoy reliable connections to your high speed storage drives.

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