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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Interfaces and Configuration | Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI) | SCSI Protocols and Interface Features ]

Command Queuing and Reordering

SCSI is often described as being "advanced", or is called an "intelligent interface". One of the reasons for these descriptions is that SCSI hardware incorporates features that improve overall system performance, where simpler interfaces such as IDE/ATA do not. One of these techniques is a special feature that allows for concurrent, multiple requests to devices on the SCSI bus. This feature is called command queuing and reordering; sometimes the name is given as tagged command queuing. It was first introduced in the SCSI-2 standard.

Traditionally, a simple interface like SCSI-1 or IDE/ATA will allow only a single command to be outstanding at a time to any device. This means that once a particular command is sent to a device, any other commands must wait for the first one to be completed, which slows down performance. Command queuing allows a device to accept as many as 64 or even 256 concurrent commands. The commands can also come from different originating devices. Command reordering allows a device that has multiple commands outstanding to fill them "out of order", meaning, not necessarily in the order that they were received.

For a very simple SCSI bus, such as a single hard disk on a host adapter in a desktop PC, command queuing and reordering may not make a particularly huge difference in performance. The reason is simply that there aren't that many concurrent processes running, and not a great deal of activity on the bus. This feature really comes into its own in a multiple-device, multitasking environment, such as that experienced by a shared server. In that environment, command queuing and reordering will improve performance significantly, by allowing devices to accept multiple simultaneous requests from different users, and fill them in the most efficient manner.

This is very important for devices like hard disks, which are very slow compared to the rest of the system. If commands are processed only as they are received, a great deal of time may be wasted while the hard disk's mechanical components move past a physically close piece of data that will be needed one or two requests "down the road". For a more thorough explanation of how drives can improve performance by reordering commands, see this discussion.

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