Should there be an alternate solution to using SCSI and IDE ribbon cables?

In this week's edition of Member Debate, we take a look at the aging technology of ribbon cables. Should ribbon cables be replaced by a new technology? Share your opinions and solutions with other TechRepublic members.

One of the things that annoy me the most when working on a computer has to be the cables that connect hard drives, floppy drives, and CD-ROMs to the motherboard. I find that when I am working on a computer, I dread the time that I have to spend hooking up all the ribbons to their respective devices.

So I’ve come up with an idea that could dramatically change computing forever: eliminate IDE and SCSI ribbons altogether. Get rid of every last one of them. I’m tired of having to work around ribbons. They always seem to get in the way when I’m working on a machine. Ribbons are also very easy to dislodge, and if they get cut, which can and does happen inside a metal computer case, they can cause an entire computer to stop working properly.
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Reasons to give up the ribbon
Not that many hardware technicians probably need a list of reasons to ditch the ribbon, but here’s my take on why ribbons are an outdated technology and should be replaced.
  • Limited bandwidth
    We recently achieved a 100 Mbps transfer rate by using ribbons, but it makes me wonder how much more can we push through this cable. In order to achieve even 66 Mbps and 100 Mbps, manufacturers have had to come up with ways to allow data to transfer faster. As a result, the amount of cable available in standard ribbons has doubled.
  • Size factor
    Ribbons tend to be very wide and very long, so they take up quite a bit of space and can be difficult to work around if you need to get inside a computer. The areas that the ribbons plug into require a large amount of space as well, which means there's less space available on the motherboard.
  • Interface
    I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up an IDE ribbon only to discover that it will not work with the hard drive I want to use. The reason for this has to do with how many holes are open on the end of the ribbon. Some ribbons block off holes to keep users from plugging the cable into certain devices. If you don’t pay attention to these holes, you could end up bending a pin or two on your device or board.
  • Age
    How long have ribbons been used in computers? I guarantee that it’s been quite some time since they were introduced. It’s time to let another technology take the place of the ribbon.

Possible replacements
I know I’m making a pretty radical suggestion here, so I realize that I need to back up my argument with some reasonable solutions to the ribbon problem. Here are a few ideas for possible replacement alternatives to the aging ribbon.
  • IEEE 1394
    With its high speed, IEEE 1394 (or FireWire to Mac users) could be a more than adequate replacement to the aging ribbon cable. It’s extremely fast, transferring data currently at 400 Mbps, and provides power to the device it’s connected to. This capability would eliminate a power supply plug in the back of devices as well. Just imagine, a hard drive or CD-ROM that requires only one small plug to operate.
  • USB 2.0
    While USB 2.0 isn’t available yet, the speed it’s said to offer sounds quite promising. According to its developers, USB 2.0 will be able to achieve a speed of 480 Mbps, which is almost five times greater than the current ATA 100 standard.
  • Fiber
    This option is currently my favorite. However, it is also the most expensive. With fiber connectivity, hard drives and CD-ROMs will have an almost unlimited amount of bandwidth as well as a very small cable that will not get in the way of technicians who have to work on computers.

Where do you stand?
Do you agree that ribbon cables are just too old of a technology to be used in today’s high-tech computers? Why or why not? Do you have a replacement in mind that I haven’t mentioned? We want to know your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to post your thoughts below or send us e-mail with your opinion.
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