Data recovery firm sounds Mac hard drive damage alert
'Critical' flaw with China-made HDDs?
Updated Data recovery company Retrodata has challenged Apple to come clean about what it claims is a "critical manufacturing flaw" affecting some hard drives used in MacBook laptops and desktops like the Mac Mini - an issue that could result in data loss.
According to Retrodata, its customers have sent in a much higher number of failed Seagate 2.5in SATA drives made in China and loaded with firmware version 7.01 than of any other current hard drive model.
"We're getting 20-30 times more failed drives of this kind than others," Retrodata chief Duncan Clarke told Register Hardware.
The drives of this kind sent to Retrodata for data recovery exhibited the same damage: the read/write heads have failed mechanically causing them to gouge deep scratches in the delicate data-storing surface of the disk platters. In almost all cases, this renders the drive useless.
And the drives in question all came from Apple machines, Clarke claimed. Retrodata only gets the drives, not the host computers, so Clarke couldn't specify exactly which Macs they came from, but since they're all 2.5in models, that suggests not only laptops like the MacBook and MacBook Pro, but also potentially desktop Macs that use laptop-oriented components, like the Mac Mini.
Damage to the disk surface
Clarke blamed the problem what he described as "poor quality control in Chinese hard drive factories" - an issue he maintained affects other hard drive makers in addition to Seagate. He also warned all hard drive buyers to avoid HDDs manufactured in China.
"We believe that any sizeable manufacturer would by this stage be aware of such a problem and issue a product recall notice, or an offer to have the drive exchanged for a suitable alternative at their own expense," Clarke added.
Users who find they have such a drive, Clarke said, should back up their data and consider replacing it with "an alternative drive, or a retail-version Seagate drive".
Mac OS X's System Profiler utility provides a way to identify the make and type of HDD installed in a Mac, but not directly its place of origin.
Update System Profiler also shows the HDD's firmware: under the Serial ATA section, look up the Revision entry - that's the firmware version.
Apple and Seagate did not respond to our requests for comment.
A discussion thread on Apple's support site highlights a number of MacBook users who have experienced what appear to be hard drive failures. However, only five cases explicitly identify the failed drive as a Seagate model, and of these none can be stated categorically to be the product of Chinese factories.
Some of the failures are attributable - indirectly - to Mac OS X's Safe Sleep feature. This copies the contents of a laptop's memory to the hard drive whenever the computer is put to sleep.
To be fair to Apple, it does warn users not to move the machine until this process is complete - at which point the light on the lid catch begins to pulsate - but it's easy for users to grab their laptops and go as soon as the lid's down.
Unfortunately, at that point, the drive's heads may by busily moving back and forth across the platters, and any movement risks the two physically touching, with the potential of data loss and even disc damage of the kind described by Retrodata. This is true of all hard disks, as proponents of solid-state storage like to point out.
Mac users can disable Safe Sleep by following Mac OS X Hints' procedure here. However, doing so risks losing data from memory should the laptop's power supply be cut.
My drive failed this weekend
My MacBook is a month or two out of warranty. The failed drive is Apple-badged Seagate Momentus 5400 80Gb, Firmware version 7.01. Failure mode: beachball on all apps forcing restart, audible drive clicking on startup, grey screen with "flashing ?" folder.
Do I have any comeback with Seagate on this one..?
I've just had to go through two logic board replacements in quick succession on an iMac G5; I'm starting to have serious doubts about the quality of the shiny kit I've been buying. In the case of the iMac I had to shell out for replacements, being just outside the serial numbers allowed to claim under the warranty extension program -- I'm considering sticking in a small claims court case on the basis that the goods were not fit for purpose. A motherboard should last more than a couple of years in normal usage, right? Right..?
more duff hd's
reminds me of the old fujitsu mpg30 series hard drives so loved by Tiny computers where the resin on the main drive controller chip failed rendering the drive and data useless
Yes - Safe Sleep is basically the same as Hibernate.
One problem with it is that a lot of Mac users coming from iBooks are used to 'unsafe sleep' - ie. close the lid and go - something replicated on few Windows machines.
Once in that mode, with a reasonable battery charge, you can leave it for days on standby before the power finally runs out.
It strikes me that safe sleep breaks more than it fixes - unless disabled, it means having to remember to shut the lid a minute before you need to move.
Most modern apps autosave work as you go along anyway - even browsers are getting into the idea of restoring the last set of tabs.
All it really saves is the need to do a cold boot and open your apps/documents after a complete power down, against a huge loss in flexibility.
However - my understanding is that moving the machine should always trigger the motion sensors, same as dropping it.
If you do that while it is going into safe sleep, the worst should be a corrupted safe sleep file.
>Who's to blame?
Dodgy hardware batches are nothing new - I can think of cases going back to the 80s, way before manufacturing moved to China.
Without knowing the percentages it's hard to know if there should be a recall either - what if it's only 1% of the batch that are affected?
What's the exact point at which a recall should be announced?
@ Ivan Headache - Certainly not apple FUD, I count a couple of Macs amongst my computers (ok, one technically belongs to my girlfriend) and I haven't had any problems myself, but I hear again and again examples of why not to buy Apple - "My iPod broke, they accused me of missuse", being a classic. There was the dodgy batteries in iPods that they refused to replace until they didn't any mre. The acceptance that there is a problem with HDDs, but quietly replacing them, rather than sending out mails to registered affected users, who could suffer data loss. Deletion of entries that they don't like from the discussion forums, bricking of iPhones, etc. etc.
@ Anon Coward - Like I said VSS is a function of the Volume manager. VSS is not installed in DPM, it is an API that is called from DPM. You will also find VSS support in Veritas NetBackup, probably Backup Exec (I don't know for certain as I don't use it) Legato Networker and also packages like Replication Manager from EMC/Legato. Now the first two aren't a supprise, but you really can't be suggesting that Veritas have allowed Legato/EMC the code of, or use of VSS? VSS is most likely licenced on a per copy of the OS sold basis, you seem to be suggesting that MS aren't allowed to implement software based on part of their OS? I suspect their legal team a slightly better than that...
All hardware sucks. All software sucks. The rest boils down to personal preference.
My preference is a Mac. As a machine and operating system it's very cost effective with a very low total cost of ownership. That said, I'm far from a fan of Apple, the company.
Apple seems to be starting another "90's crap shoot",
and is desperately trying to piss off as many Mac customers as possible. From the iPhone to not recalling these defective drives, they're really taking the piss. Personally, I blame Jobs, or rather his ego. He really has gone off the deep end with his Borg impression. I don't know, maybe deep down he really wants to be Bill Gate's towel boy?
(where's my icon for (devil gates)+(devil jobs)+(IT sucks)??)