Hard disk drives are accessed over one of a number of bus types, including parallel ATA (P-ATA, also called IDE or EIDE), Serial ATA (SATA), SCSI, Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), and Fibre Channel. Bridge circuitry is sometimes used to connect hard disk drives to buses that they cannot communicate with natively, such asIEEE 1394, USB and SCSI.
For the ST-506 interface, the data encoding scheme as written to the disk surface was also important. The first ST-506 disks used Modified Frequency Modulation(MFM) encoding, and transferred data at a rate of 5 megabits per second. Later controllers using 2,7 RLL (or just "RLL") encoding caused 50% more data to appear under the heads compared to one rotation of an MFM drive, increasing data storage and data transfer rate by 50%, to 7.5 megabits per second.
Many ST-506 interface disk drives were only specified by the manufacturer to run at the 1/3rd lower MFM data transfer rate compared to RLL, while other drive models (usually more expensive versions of the same drive) were specified to run at the higher RLL data transfer rate. In some cases, a drive had sufficient margin to allow the MFM specified model to run at the denser/faster RLL data transfer rate (not recommended nor guaranteed by manufacturers). Also, any RLL-certified drive could run on any MFM controller, but with 1/3 less data capacity and as much as 1/3rd less data transfer rate compared to its RLL specifications.
Enhanced Small Disk Interface (ESDI) also supported multiple data rates (ESDI disks always used 2,7 RLL, but at 10, 15 or 20 megabits per second), but this was usually negotiated automatically by the disk drive and controller; most of the time, however, 15 or 20 megabit ESDI disk drives weren't downward compatible (i.e. a 15 or 20 megabit disk drive wouldn't run on a 10 megabit controller). ESDI disk drives typically also had jumpers to set the number of sectors per track and (in some cases) sector size.
Modern hard drives present a consistent interface to the rest of the computer, no matter what data encoding scheme is used internally. Typically a DSP in the electronics inside the hard drive takes the raw analog voltages from the read head and uses PRML and Reed–Solomon error correction to decode the sector boundaries and sector data, then sends that data out the standard interface. That DSP also watches the error rate detected by error detection and correction, and performs bad sector remapping, data collection for Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology, and other internal tasks.
SCSI originally had just one signaling frequency of 5 MHz for a maximum data rate of 5 megabytes/second over 8 parallel conductors, but later this was increased dramatically. The SCSI bus speed had no bearing on the disk's internal speed because of buffering between the SCSI bus and the disk drive's internal data bus; however, many early disk drives had very small buffers, and thus had to be reformatted to a different interleave (just like ST-506 disks) when used on slow computers, such as early Commodore Amiga, IBM PC compatibles and Apple Macintoshes.
ATA disks have typically had no problems with interleave or data rate, due to their controller design, but many early models were incompatible with each other and couldn't run with two devices on the same physical cable in a master/slave setup. This was mostly remedied by the mid-1990s, when ATA's specification was standardized and the details began to be cleaned up, but still causes problems occasionally (especially with CD-ROM and DVD-ROM disks, and when mixing Ultra DMA and non-UDMA devices).
Serial ATA does away with master/slave setups entirely, placing each disk on its own channel (with its own set of I/O ports) instead.
FireWire/IEEE 1394 and USB(1.0/2.0) HDDs are external units containing generally ATA or SCSI disks with ports on the back allowing very simple and effective expansion and mobility. Most FireWire/IEEE 1394 models are able to daisy-chain in order to continue adding peripherals without requiring additional ports on the computer itself. USB however, is a point to point network and doesn't allow for daisy-chaining. USB hubs are used to increase the number of available ports and are used for devices that don't require charging since the current supplied by hubs is typically lower than what's available from the built-in USB ports.