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SATA stands for Serial ATA. Serial ATA internal hard drives first appeared in 2003, as a replacement for the older Parallel ATA (PATA) drives. SATA hard drives really improve performance over the PATA standard. The serial connection offers better performance, with speeds of up to 300 mbps. Also, SATA hard drives use thinner cables (block less air than the old ribbon cables), as well as point-to-point connectivity, instead of the older master-slave relationship.
If you've got a computer from 2004 or newer, your machine is very likely to be serial ATA hard drive compatible. If your machine is pre-2004, it might be PATA compatible. So if you want to update it with a new SATA drive to make it SATA hard drive compatible, you're going to have to buy a new PCI card as well to convert over to an SATA interface.
Bottom line: SATA hard drives offer better performance than the older PATA standard. You may have to update your PC, however, before it can accept an SATA hard drive.