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How SCSI Works

Some SCSI terminators are built into the SCSI device, while others may require an external terminator like this one.
Some SCSI terminators are built into the SCSI device, while others may require an external terminator like this one.

If the SCSI bus were left open, electrical signals sent down the bus could reflect back and interfere with communication between devices and the SCSI controller. The solution is to terminate the bus, closing each end with a resistor circuit. If the bus supports both internal and external devices, then the last device on each series must be terminated.

Types of SCSI termination can be grouped into two main categories: passive and active. Passive termination is typically used for SCSI systems that run at the standard clock speed and have a distance of less than 3 feet (1 m) from the devices to the controller. Active termination is used for Fast SCSI systems or systems with devices that are more than 3 feet (1 m) from the SCSI controller.

SCSI also employs three distinct types of bus signaling, which also affect termination. Signaling is the way that the electrical impulses are sent across the wires.

  • Single-ended (SE): The controller generates the signal and pushes it out to all devices on the bus over a single data line. Each device acts as a ground. Consequently, the signal quickly begins to degrade, which limits SE SCSI to a maximum of about 10 ft (3 m). SE signaling is common in PCs.
  • High-voltage differential (HVD): Often used for servers, HVD uses a tandem approach to signaling, with a data high line and a data low line. Each device on the SCSI bus has a signal transceiver. When the controller communicates with the device, devices along the bus receive the signal and retransmit it until it reaches the target device. This allows for much greater distances between the controller and the device, up to 80 ft (25 m).
  • Low-voltage differential (LVD): LVD is a variation on HVD and works in much the same way. The big difference is that the transceivers are smaller and built into the SCSI adapter of each device. This makes LVD SCSI devices more affordable and allows LVD to use less electricity to communicate. The downside is that the maximum distance is half of HVD -- 40 ft (12 m).
An active terminator
An active terminator

Both HVD and LVD normally use passive terminators, even though the distance between devices and the controller can be much greater than 3 ft (1 m). This is because the transceivers ensure that the signal is strong from one end of the bus to the other.

For more information on SCSI and other busses, check out the links on the following page.