Seagate: You done us bad…

Seagate’s new “Free Agent” (ha!) drives are all broken, it would seem in an interesting way that makes them partially incompatible with Linux and other *nix based operating systems, including Macs.

Seagate representatives claim that there may be workarounds for this, but they do not intend to find out what they are and will not support them.

Solution: Never, ever buy a Seagate product again. It really isn’t necessary to do so. There are plenty of other disk manufacturers. Also, wait for the next bit of news on this, about how Microsoft bribed Seagate to pull of this particular technological feat.

(Not that I know that this is what happened. I’m just sayin’)

[source]

Comments

  1. #1 Jeff Knapp
    December 10, 2007

    I take it that this is related to external USB drives only? I hope so. I really prefer Seagate drives. I’ve had too many Maxtors die on me – both internal Maxtors that came with my Macs and drives that come in external cases. LaCie uses Maxtor and almost all of the LaCie drives I have purchased had died within a year or so. The culprit was always the Maxtor drive itself. Since the cases are still good, I replace the dead Maxtors with Seagates and they work just fine. I’ve rarely had Seagates die like that. Besides, I find the Seagate Barracudas to be quieter than other drives.

  2. #2 Paul Schofield
    December 10, 2007

    This has been known for a while (I came across a few complaints when I was trying to get my Linux box working a while ago). The problem is that they ‘spin down’ when inactive, so if you don’t access them for a few minutes, you lose the connection and it doesn’t re-connect right in Linux or OS-X.

    Fortunately workarrounds already exist.

    I will probably go with SeaGate in the future for two reasons. Firstly, I have had some good experiences with them and their prices in the past. Secondly, our physics department does a lot of work with them, and so I know more about their contents, development and future research goals than anyone really needs to, and find that extremely good fun.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2007

    Paul: Those fixes are a little iffy, but could work. Seagate has a fix that will work for Windows only.

    I’ve had good experiences with LaCie, and I’ve had WD external drives crap out within days of purchase.

    It is almost impossible to find good comparative reliability data on hard drives.

  4. #4 Jeff Darcy
    December 10, 2007

    Yeah, too bad that Seagate drives are way more reliable than most of their competitors. This isn’t actually a drive problem at all, but rather a problem with the USB-bridge logic (which Seagate probably acquires from the same vendors as everyone else) along with some bad configuration and a healthy dose of help-desk cluelessness. There’s no zeal like the deal of the newly converted, I guess, but alarmism helps nobody. You go ahead and boycott Seagate if you like. I’ll continue buying their drives and putting them in systems either directly or via separate enclosures (which is both cheaper and more flexible), and I’ll have more reliable systems as a result.

  5. #5 Barry
    December 10, 2007

    Regarding brand reliability, we have in the excellent (but shockingly unknown) Dan’s Data:
    66
    Different drive models vary in reliability, and despite the devout beliefs of various geeks about different manufacturers’ products, there’s actually no detectable relationship between brand and reliability.
    (Which, yes, does mean that there’s a strong case for buying drives based on price, even if you’ve always sworn by Brand X on account of those two Brand Ys that died on you in quick succession.)
    99

    Anyway, boo to Seagate. Given that they own Maxtor, and Western Digital seem to be going down the route of Digital Restrictions Management, it’s getting difficult to choose a hard drive brand.

  6. #6 Jeff Darcy
    December 10, 2007

    Actually, Barry, the Google study shows nothing like what you seem to think. The paper even explicitly says (emphasis mine):

    Failure rates are known to be highly correlated with drive models, manufacturers, and vintages. Our results do not contradict this fact.

    What you have interpreted as a statement that make and model don’t matter is really a statement that normalizing make and model does not affect the study’s main conclusion about the utility of SMART data. If you were really interested in the facts, it wouldn’t have taken much Googling to find sites like StorageReview that have actually collected this sort of data. According to them, Seagate (for example) has a whole bunch of drives in the 90th percentile or better for reliability, while WD (again for example) has but one. As a former employee of a major storage company I’ve seen other information leading to similar conclusions, but of course I’m not free to share it. Really, I didn’t just make this stuff up. You insult me and do other readers a disservice by doing otherwise and responding before you’ve done any research of your own.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    December 10, 2007

    OK, fine, but the Google study says:

    “However, in this paper, we do not show a
    breakdown of drives per manufacturer, model, or vintage
    due to the proprietary nature of these data.”

    WTF? And to think of it, I just recently had dinner with a guy at Google that is in charge of fixing their hardware. Didn’t think of asking about hard drives.

  8. #8 Left_Wing_Fox
    December 10, 2007

    Thanks for the heads up. Haven’t had a problem yet with mine (Using a seagate Free Agent external as my Time Machine backup drive) But I’ll keep an eye on it.

  9. #9 Marc B
    December 11, 2007

    In my opinion, this whole story has been blown completely out of proportion. I use Linux both at work (Debian), at Home (Kubuntu) and on my laptop (Ubuntu), own three Seagate FreeAgent drives and wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one.

    1) The NTFS issue. This is completely a non-issue. The drive can simply be re-formatted to another file system, or used with with NTFS3G driver. I reformat mine to ext3, and haven’t had a single problem.

    2) The spin down issue. This was a pain in the ass, until I applied this fix:
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=494673
    The drive still spins down, but the kernel waits for it to wake up. Apparently this issue is fixed permanently in Linus’ kernel tree, but seems as though it will only be included in 2.6.25

    It confuses me a little that this issue has been so widely reported, but the fact that many of the commonly used USB->IDE bridge chipsets are not really USB compliant has been ignored. Manufacturers should make compliant hardware, but we shouldn’t start making up Microsoft related conspiracy theories whenever a slightly non-compliant piece of hardware is released.

    In addition to that, spinning down might (or might not, depending on which study you read) extend hard drive life, and certainly saves power, which is something we can all enjoy.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    December 11, 2007

    Marc: You are probably right. (by the way, regarding NTFS: I have a terabyte NTFS drive that of course would not work on my linux box. THen the other day, I forget that i could not sue it, plugged it in to look for something, and have been using it ever since. I suppose the driver is included in my current Linux distro (which is not the most current).

    But here is a larger quuestion, at lest for me: I have owned and used many internal drives, with only one failure on my owm machine (in a laptop) and I’ve owned a fair number of external drives, used less, with a failure rate of maybe about 14-20 percent.

    Is it the case that external drives are crappy and unreliable? If so, why? Why do iPods work at all? (My iPod is not broken yet)

  11. #11 Morgan
    December 11, 2007

    Ironically my FreeAgent drive has intermittent problems in Windows but works fine when my buddy looks at it under Ubuntu. If there’s a fix for that spindown issue for Windows I’m relieved to hear it, though I suspect at least some of the problem is due to my (Dell) laptop’s wonky USB.

  12. #12 Jeff Darcy
    December 11, 2007

    Any drive or other device is as reliable as the product of the reliability of the components involved, and the fact is that external drives involve more components. It’s often the same actual drive inside that enclosure as what you’d have inside your computer, but then you have the USB bridge board, the cable and connectors, and the entire USB subsystem (hardware and software) on the host side. Your iPod, of course, doesn’t have most of these sources of error, though on the other hand it does have to deal with some more challenging environmental issues such as dust and shock/vibration. So no, external drives are not inherently less reliable, but they are more subject to the “weakest link” phenomenon.