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Is SCSI dead (yet)?

With FireWire and USB-2 now commonplace and reliable, is SCSI still with us? Does it have a future in recording?


One of the misconceptions about music and sound technology is that if you haven't heard much about something for a while, then it must be dead. This is closely linked to the attitude that you can only create good music if you have the latest equipment (not true!).

SCSI, in terms of general computer connectivity, was the predecessor to FireWire and USB. For most purposes, SCSI was a pain in the neck compared to these more modern and slick standards.

But there is one area where the latest versions of SCSI - and yes, it is still evolving even now - excels, and that is in lightning-fast hard disks.

SCSI has two advantages over the more common FireWire and USB methods of connecting hard disks (and even over the latest internal SATA interface).

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The first is that it is a parallel interface. This means that data is transferred over many wires simultaneously rather than just one pair of conductors. The consequence of this is that several bits can be sent down the line simultaneously, whereas in a serial interface such as FireWire, each bit has to wait its turn in line.

Now serial interfaces do have their good points. One is that it is easier to use longer cables. But ultimately, over short distances, a fast parallel interface will always be faster than a fast serial interface.

The other advantage that SCSI still has is that SCSI hard disk drives are themselves imbued with intelligence. So the computer simply shoves a load of data off to the SCSI drive, and the drive itself manages all the 'housekeeping' work. It's one less load for the computer's processor.

If you would like examples of where SCSI is still used, then firstly look no further than the internet. The highest speed servers are equipped with SCSI disks, even though they are more expensive, gigabyte for gigabyte. They can simply handle heavy data loads better.

The other example is from Digidesign. If you have a Pro Tools HD Accel system (the best), then if you also equip yourself with a Digidesign SCSI-128 kit, then you will be able to achieve a massive track count of 192 tracks! Yes, that is one hundred and ninety-two tracks.

What you'll do with all those tracks is a good question, but thanks to SCSI you'll be pretty sure you won't run out!

By David Mellor Thursday February 10, 2005