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WD and Seagate take steps to fix terabyte drives

Reaching the terabyte mark was an important symbolic step for hard drive makers
— a way of saying, “Our drives are so big, we need a new word to describe
how big they are!” But that was two years ago, and, as the drives have
aged, some problems have come to light. Both Seagate and Western Digital are
in the midst of dealing with unexpected problems in their terabyte drives. And
both have now commented publicly on the problems. And, happily, both have offered
fixes for their respective problems.


Certain Barracuda 7200.11 drives (as well as the related ES.2 and DiamondMax
22 lines) have developed what The Inquirer unhelpfully calls “a
new self-bricking feature
“, in which otherwise-working drives suddenly
stop being recognized after a few months of service. The failure appears to
be in the firmware, not the hardware itself, and Seagate has stated that
data is not actually lost in the failure — it’s just not accessible. Affected
users are unlikely to appreciate this hair-splitting, as there is currently
no way of making it accessible again, though Seagate says they are “working
with customers to expedite a remedy”.

For those users whose drives are still working, Seagate has released an updated
firmware that disables the self-bricking feature once and for all. They (and
we) strongly urge you to upgrade to prevent the possibility of problems in the
future. A list of all affected models can be found on Seagate’s
web site
. Seagate’s press release follows:

Seagate has isolated a potential firmware issue in limited number of Barracuda
7200.11 hard drives and related SATA drives based on this product platform,
manufactured through December 2008. In some unique circumstances, the data
on the hard drives may become inaccessible to the user when the host system
is powered on.

While we believe that the vast majority of customers will not experience
any disruption related to this issue, as part of our commitment to customer
satisfaction, Seagate is offering a free firmware upgrade to proactively address
those with potentially affected products. This new firmware upgrade corrects
compatibility issues that occurred with the firmware download provided on
our support website on Jan. 16. We regret any inconvenience that the firmware
issues have caused our customers.

To determine whether your product is affected, please visit the Seagate Support
web site at http://seagate.custkb.com/seagate/crm/selfservice/news.jsp?DocId=207931

In the unlikely event your drive is affected and you cannot access your data,
the data still resides on the drive and there is no data loss associated with
this issue. Seagate is working with customers to expedite a remedy.


A less serious issue has been found in certain revisions of Western Digital’s
popular Green Power series. In fact, the issue is less a bug than a feature
that doesn’t play well with certain computing environments. Nevertheless, the
problem has developed a massive discussion
thread in the SPCR forums
, so we feel compelled to speak about what we know of
the issue.

The problem is this: The Green Power is designed and marketed as a “green”
drive, where power efficiency is the primary engineering concern. As part of
this concern, the drive is designed to unload the read/write heads after approximately
8 seconds of inactivity. That in itself is not a bad thing — in fact, it’s
a common attribute of notebook drives, which have different reasons for saving
power (battery life). However, certain software (notably, SpeedFan and some
distributions of Linux) can cause issues because they access the drive regularly
every 10 seconds or every minute or so. This causes a cycle of rapid loading
and unloading that is stressful to the drive — far more stressful than
“ordinary” use in which the drive is either working steadily or completely

It is worth noting that there are no actual failures attributed to this problem
as yet — just a number of drives that are reporting rapid (and unusual)
increases in load/unload cycles via the drive’s SMART reporting feature. Some
drives are approaching the rated specification of 300,000 load/unload cycles
after less than a year of ownership. While the drives are extremely unlikely
to give up the ghost right as the counter crosses 300,000, exceeding the specification
indicates the point where the risk of failure begins to increase.

In some ways, the solution is simple: Don’t use software that accesses the
drive every 10 seconds. However, for those who can’t or won’t deal with this
on the software level, Western Digital offers a
firmware update
that either disables the head unload feature or modifies
it so that the unload timer is set to longer than 8 seconds (up to 5 minutes
is supported). A
separate utility
is used to control the feature once the new firmware is
installed. In either case, the power saving gained by unloading the heads will
be lost, but that’s probably safer than dealing with potential drive failures
down the road. More information about the firmware update (including a new,
lower power spin up mode) can be found in this
product change notice

Western Digital’s Technical Bulletin on the matter follows:

Symptom: Attribute 193

WD drives are designed to reduce power consumption, in part by positioning
the heads into a park position (unloading the heads) and turning off unnecessary
electronics, resulting in substantial power savings. WD defines this mode
as Idle 3. Some utilities, OS’s, and applications, such as some implementations
of Linux, for example, are not optimized for low power storage devices and
can cause our drives to wake up at a higher rate
than normal. This effectively negates the power-saving advantages of low-power
drives such as WD’s RE2GP and artificially increases the number of load-unload

The number of systems using such applications and utilities is limited
and customers can resolve this symptom by optimizing their systems to not
wake up the drives unnecessarily every 10-30 seconds or so, thereby gaining
substantial power savings and eliminating superfluous activity.

Affected Models



Most customers, when made aware of the unnecessary activity caused
by their systems, have modified their utility, OS, or application to take
advantage of WD’s advanced power-saving mode. Other customers have requested
a utility to modify the behavior of the drive to wait longer before invoking
Idle 3 mode. Although such a change eliminates significant power savings during
periods of inactivity, WD has created an update for those
customers wishing to maintain their existing utilities, OS’s, and applications.
This update is described in WD's Process Change Notice PCN 2579-701324-A02
and is available through WD's technical support organization, at support.wdc.com/re2gp.

The update also supports a low-power spin-up feature optimized for
highly energy efficient, large scale storage applications, which is enabled
using a utility also available at the support link above.

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