MacInTouch Reader Reports

Hard Drives: Alternatives

Jan. 3, 2009
Jan. 5, 2009
Jan. 6, 2009
Jan. 21, 2009
Jan. 22, 2009
Jan. 23, 2009
Jan. 26, 2009
Jan. 27, 2009
Jan. 28, 2009
Jan. 30, 2009
Jan. 31, 2009
Feb. 2, 2009
Jul. 9, 2009
Jan. 3, 2009

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Jacques P.

I read a lot of messages here about people experiencing troubles with WD drives but.... not many people suggest good alternatives drives to buy.... Suggestions?

Jan. 5, 2009

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John Baltutis

Jacques P. wrote:

"I read a lot of messages here about people experiencing troubles with WD drives but.... not many people suggest good alternatives drives to buy.... Suggestions?"

Seagates and LaCies in that order are my favorites. Alternatives are Macally enclosures with Seagate bare HDs.

item.84620

Sterett Prevost

Re: Jacques P & WD alternatives

Back in the day, I preferred Quantum SCSI hard drives, and I still have a 3.5" 240MB running perfectly inside an Apple IIGS. Maxtor bought Quantum, and I have several Maxtor 3.5's that are so far so good. I also have some Hitachi 2.5's that are chuggin' along OK; an IBM, or two, round out the collection. Sometimes we can't avoid WD as they show up in external *back* up and not trust your important data to one basket, eh?

Jan. 6, 2009

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Jeremy Grodberg

Jacques P. wrote

I read a lot of messages here about people experiencing troubles with WD drives but.... not many people suggest good alternatives drives to buy.... Suggestions?

I highly recommend Hitachi SATA drives.

item.84714

MacInTouch Reader

Jacques P.'s post opened up a can of worms:

Having worked for many years in the disk drive industry, I am always wary of the replies that you read on various fora regarding the presumed reliability of various disk drive brands. Let me try to put this into perspective.

1. First of all, I think the original poster was referring to the reliability of external drives, not just bare disk drives. As many have suggested, not installing the proprietary software that comes with some of those products is an important step in ensuring trouble-free operation on Macs. Now the reliability/compatibility of such enclosures depends on the bridge board that converts the external interface (USB, Firewire, eSATA) to the internal drive connection (SATA only these days for consumer-grade drives). There are a few chipsets available. In the past, it used to be that Oxford chips were more compatible/better than others, but that is probably no longer the case. For the end user it may be hard to know which chipset is in each enclosure, and practically impossible to get accurate information on the reliability of each one of them. I would rather suggest buying from a reputable vendor, where you can return the product in case it does not work for you. A good quality case, with appropriate cooling (through fans or metal casing), good quality connectors and switches, is equally important. Rely on online reviews for your choice.

2. Regarding reliability of hard drives. Hard drives are generally very reliable, and have become more reliable during the last few years. This is not hearsay, but comes from not publicly disclosed information gathered at technical meetings and customer feedback. Considering the progress in areal density, this a small miracle of engineering. The failure rates are so small, in fact, that anecdotal evidence gathered from sources like individual users' feedback is meaningless. Only users with access to an extremely large number of units (tens of thousands) are able to make statistically valid reliability comparisons among different products. Such are, for example, large vendors or OEM of storage systems, or operators of large server farms. Needless to say, such reliability data will never be made public.

3. The reality, and good news for the user, is that all major disk drive makers make essentially equivalent products. This is demanded by our OEM customers. It is meaningless to tout one brand over another. As an example, Seagate, who some see as the pre-eminent disk drive maker, was late to market for the past couple of generations of laptop drives. (Time-to-volume for the latest product generation is an indicator of the technical prowess of a drive manufacturer).

4. More often than not, different products have different reliability *within* the same brand. This is due to several factors, like maturity of the design, firmware bugs, component choice, etc. Moreover, reliability tends to improve during the product life cycle, as initial problems are smoothed out.

5. Occasionally, screw-ups happen. See the infamous IBM/Hitachi "Deathstar", or the more recent Seagate 1.5 TB firmware problem. But those are quite rare. Drive returns are a large expense for a disk drive maker, so we do our best to ensure low failure rates. Considering what you pay for disk drives, you are getting a terrific deal....

6. OEMs (read, computer makers) get the highest quality products. That is not to say that retail boxes are necessarily inferior, but be wary of the "special deal" on a new product from a shady store.

7. Here are my tips to choose a disk drive:
- buy from the vendor that offers the best warranty. Note that Seagate recently reduced the warranty on many of their products.
- buy from an established store with good return policies
- try to avoid the "latest and greatest." A newly-released product may suffer from immaturity. Also, reliability tends to improve during the product life cycle, as the manufacturing process and yields are optimized.
- stay informed and read the reviews to avoid pitfalls. Storagereview (http://www.storagereview.com/) is a good site. But don't obsess over individuals claiming that "brand X is better than brand Y".

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Joe F

I have to agree 100% with the anonymous reader replying to alternatives to WD drives. In case I wasn't clear in my previous posting, my WD MyBook Studio drive has operated flawlessly over nearly a year of daily use. I think the drive itself is as good as the alternatives. It's fast, reasonably priced, quiet, and well behaved (sleeps and wakes as needed). I did my research before purchasing and was well aware of the problems people had, but I was confident it was related to the superfluous features WD added to it (smart power button and capacity gauge). I didn't care about those features and so didn't install the custom software (but did install the firmware update). I wouldn't hesitate to purchase another one if it fit my needs at the time.

Jan. 21, 2009

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Charles Bleadon

I have two drives which are down or going down. Seagate is the manufacturer (Maxtor) and Western Digital on the other. I am using FireWire and find that a problem.

The Maxtor is a little more than a year old and was sent back to the manufacturer for a retrofit 6 mos. ago.

The WD is about ready to die. I have an older 300G Maxtor which has been working wonderfully for several years.

I need to know where to purchase *excellent* drives that are almost 100% reliable.

I feel USB 2 is the way to go.

Are there any good experts who can tell me what they think?

Jan. 22, 2009

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David Blanchard

Paul Huang wrote:

Once again, this proved what I have been saying for a long time when people ask me to recommend a hard drive: 'all hard drives are bad, some are worse, so back up often and do it on more than just one drive.'

So true. My Western Digital MyBook Pro 750 GB drive is going bad. It overheats and fails. Once it cools down it works again, albeit briefly.

Because it is still under warranty, WDC sent a replacement drive. But it wasn't a MyBook Pro. Instead they sent a MyBook Studio Edition. Guess what? The Studio Edition cannot be used as a boot drive for PowerPC Macs! So back it goes to WDC today and I wait, again, for a replacement for the MyBook Pro.

One more thing: this replacement model runs almost as hot as the original MyBook Pro. Not a good sign.

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MacInTouch Reader

The web site StorageReview.com has been tracking the reliability of hard drives for a number of years. While it won't help you choose the latest and greatest hard drives, it is useful if reliability is your number one criteria: after about a year after a product's release it is pretty clear which drives are reliable and which aren't. All the data is user-contributed, so if you sign up and track your hard drives you'll be helping your fellow computer enthusiasts.

http://www.storagereview.com/map/lm.cgi/survey_login

Jan. 23, 2009

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Seth Robson

David Blanchard wrote,

"The Studio Edition cannot be used as a boot drive for PowerPC Macs!"

I don't recall that the Studio Edition drives ship pre-formatted as HFS+, but you also have to check the type of partition map the drive is set up with. If you can't boot a PowerPC Mac from it, then it probably is set up with a GUID Partition Table. You will need to go into Disk Utility and re-partition the drive with the older Apple Partition Map to enable booting from PowerPC Macs.

Jan. 26, 2009

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Arthur Kent

Antonio Tejada wrote:

"First of all, $90 for a 500GB drive is way too much, never mind for an old model! On NewEgg you can find various brands of drives that size for about $65. Or you can get a 1TB drive for $100. I buy OEM drives -- it's no unnecessary packaging, and no unnecessary cables.

As for the difference between 7200.9, 7200.11, and 7200.12 (the current model), it's just performance. Each version is faster and more efficient than the last. "

Thanks for the information, Antonio. Regarding Circuit City, yeah, I understand that $90 is too much for a 500 Gig Internal Hard Drive. Also, their current "going out of business" sale just started, and prices are always high at the beginning. Now, if it was at least 50% off, that would be a different story. They will eventually get to that percentage, but not sure how much will be left in their stores by that time.

As for the WD 10,000 RPM drive, 300 Gig will be enough for me, but they sure are expensive. Cheapest I could find was around $230. Not sure if I want to spend that much, but it is certainly valid that a 10,000 RPM drive would be noticeable.

I guess I'll wait for prices to drop, before I make such a move. Does anyone else have any particular 10,000 rpm drives from WD and other manufacturers that they would recommend? (I did look at the other ones which Antonio recommended, but I just wonder if there are other choices).

Jan. 27, 2009

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Antonio Tejada

Arthur Kent responded:

"... Regarding [Circuit City's] "going out of business" sale just started, and prices are always high at the beginning. Now, if it was at least 50% off, that would be a different story. They will eventually get to that percentage, but not sure how much will be left in their stores by that time."

Beware these so-called "sales". Not only do the liquidators not lower prices enough, they actually raise prices before "discounting" them. I do not consider such sales, or sales practices, to be worthy of my time when you can go online and buy from a seller who's not going out of business for a lot less money.

See:
* http://consumerist.com/tag/circuit-city/
* http://consumerist.com/5138341/the-secrets-of-liquidation-sales


"As for the WD 10,000 RPM drive, 300 Gig will be enough for me, but they sure are expensive. [...]
I guess I'll wait for prices to drop, before I make such a move. Does anyone else have any particular 10,000 rpm drives from WD and other manufacturers that they would recommend? (I did look at the other ones which Antonio recommended, but I just wonder if there are other choices)."

The Velociraptor has no competition. No other drive maker makes a 10K RPM SATA drive -- all other high-performance drives are SAS, Fibre Channel, or Ultra320 SCSI.

For 7200RPM drives, you have many good choices, but save for the Velociraptor (and its predecessor, the Raptor), all 10K and 15K RPM drives are frighteningly expensive server drives that won't connect to a standard computer without special cards.

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Samuel Herschbein

MacInTouch Reader said:

Has anyone tried running the update via Virtual PC or have any recommendations/opinions on whether this is a stupid thing to try or not?

This won't work, VirtualPC emulates a PC's hardware, Windows does not talk directly to any hardware.

On the Intel side: Parallels and VMware emulate some of the hardware, including virtual disks, so they can't be used either.

Jan. 28, 2009

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MacInTouch Reader

I received an e-mail this morning from drive manufacturer Hitachi indicating that they are stopping the manufacture of HDD heads. They also are re-evaluating the entire HDD business itself.

If you recall, IBM had exited the HDD business earlier and it was sold to Hitachi.

Apple and everyone else needs to take a hard look at HDD warranties, reliability and service. For instance, if Hitachi exits the business (it would probably be sold), what do you get for a replacement if the drive fails and is under warranty?

We're seeing HDD manufacturer consolidation which is not encouraging.

I know some folks are excited about SSDs (solid state drives) but they are way too expensive for large storage needs and many off the chipmakers building memory are barely surviving now.

Also, I've seen some credible reports that suggest that SSDs have limited useful lifetimes. I suspect that macBook Air, the many netbooks and other laptops using SSDs will have SSD failures showing up soon.

Personally, I need considerable HDD backup redundant storage for my business and the Seagate problem has me concerned. I had relied upon Seagate IDE drives in the past since they were reliable workhorses. I had stopped using IBM drives since the ones I had failed.

We are running low on data storage options for the next few years. I work in the semiconductor business and there are some promising massive storage in tiny spaces R&D options but they may be five years out from a commercial production standpoint.

item.86129

Gary Kellogg

Thanks to "MacInTouch Reader" for correcting my post concerning affected Seagate drives. Count me among the pleased and bewildered having discovered, as did Paul Ediger, that my MBP Core Duo will boot from the FreeDOS CD produced from the Seagate-supplied ISO disk image.

I had my Seagate ST3500320AS/SD15 mounted in a LaCie Q4 enclosure and connected to the MBP with a Sonnet Tempo Express 34 eSATA adapter. I was skeptical that the eSATA adapter would be seen at all, but it was all quite routine.

It has been at least a decade since I booted any computer with a bare bones DOS (the FreeDOS and utility software would have fit on a 1.44 floppy disk). As with Paul, the confusion comes at the end when the software tells you to recycle the power and then press any key. I turned the external drive off and pulled the eSATA connection, then reconnected, turned it back on and pressed a key. It just sat there.

After staring at the screen, Homer Simpson style, for 15 minutes and listening to the drive for any signs of disk activity, I decided to power cycle the drive again and reboot from the CD. Upon reboot I used the Seagate scan utility to confirm that the SD1A firmware was installed. I then booted the machine into Leopard and confirmed that there was no data loss. Still, I am going to demote this drive to hold just video and DVD backups and have bought a new Hitachi drive for the Q4 enclosure.

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Barry Nathan

"MacInTouch Reader" is incorrect about Hitachi possibly leaving the hard drive business. It's Fujitsu, not Hitachi:

Fujitsu to Stop Making HDD Heads, HDD Business Transfer Becomes Inevitable

Jan. 30, 2009

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Cody Frisch

I just yanked a 4 year old 250GB Western Digital SATA drive from my Power Mac, and a 500GB Seagate (7200.9) that had 3 years on it (or so I think).

I put in a 640GB Western Digital 6400AAKS drive, and a 1TB Western Digital 1001FALS.

The 6400AAKS is one of the fastest drives on the market for seek times (outside of enterprise class 15,000RPM drives, or Western Digitals VelociRaptor drive), exceptional for your boot drive and running applications from. My Power Mac is significantly snappier.

The 1TB 1001FALS drive is also the fastest 1TB drive on the market, and with a 5 year warranty as well. In fact it rivals the 6400AAKS.

These two drives are about $70 and $120 respectively at most good online dealers (newegg, zipzoomfly, and of course OWC. Maybe a couple dollars more than the Seagate, but much faster, and well as we can see - no concerns about reliability ( or at least less, always backup! ).

The WD 1TB is about 20MB/s faster than my Hitachi 1TB, for comparison. The WD drives are definitely some of the best consumer drives on the market right now.

Jan. 31, 2009

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Scott Boone

As a Mac user and consultant, I long ago stopped recommending HP products to my clients because of their un-Mac-friendly attitude by ignoring Mac issues and releasing broken/bad software and drivers.

As good capitalists, (and good Mac users) we all have learned a lesson: *stop buying Seagate*. The way capitalism works is that the consumer has the power over the producer. Seagate has shown that it obviously doesn't care about the Mac market. Therefore we have no further recourse but a boycott.

Buy WD. Buy Samsung. When/if Seagate wakes up and realizes their responsibility then things might change, otherwise, I vow never to purchase a Seagate product, or recommend a Seagate product again.

Customer data is tantamount, and any storage solutions provider who acts so cavalier is basically saying "Don't buy our product."

(And I don't own any Seagate drives. But I won't trust my data to them in the future.)

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Paul Huang

I stopped recommending HP when I was onboard a flight out of LAX. The CEO proudly announced that they introduced more than 100 printer products. At that moment, I realized that they did it so they could crowd the retail space and confuse the consumers.

At the beginning, the inkjet printers were expensive; they were in the $500 range. The ink cartridges in those printers had 42ml then. However, due to competitive forces, that same 42ml cartridge is now called 'large capacity', while the 'normal' dropped down by 50%. Today, you may find printers with 3ml of ink. Well, excuse me, 3ml may be OK for sperm banks, but to me, not OK for a printer.

While I understand that the printer business has changed their business model to the 'sell them the razor at a loss and they will come back for the blade'. However, it's ridiculous to continue this lunacy. Why? Even color laser printers' CMYK cartridges cost more than a new unit of the same printer that those cartridges would go into. What are the consumers doing? They are throwing away the printers and buying new ones. When it hurts the pocket book, the consumers do what's prudent for themselves, not the environment.

Now, the Seagate situation. I have advised people all around me to avoid Seagate for the time being. Seagate has millions of dollars of sales at stake. Seagate should have learned from WD back in the mid-90s.

Feb. 2, 2009

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Samuel Herschbein

Scott Boone said:

Seagate has shown that it obviously doesn't care about the Mac market. ... Buy WD. Buy Samsung. ...I vow never to purchase a Seagate product, or recommend a Seagate product again. ...I don't own any Seagate drives. ...

IMHO Scott is being reactionary, not logical, since he hasn't had any personal experience with the company nor its products.

In my experience with 1000's of drives over a 29 year IT career, WD is the worst for reliability, while Seagate/Toshiba/Hitachi are the best. I haven't dealt with enough Samsungs to be statistically meaningful & I'm leaving assimilated brands off the list.

Seagate dropped the ball, really screwed up, and owes us an apology. This reeks more of incompetence & miscommunication than any deliberate attempt to foist an inferior product on the market.

Save your wrath for truly evil companies, like those whose executives knowingly sell unsafe products that kill us (like the peanut butter debacle...).

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Randall Voth

I think this is going too far. Seagate has botched this situation badly, but boycotting them won't give us more alternatives! The drives are fast and physically reliable.

It is my understanding that a log file is written to by the firmware when certain things happen, such as swapping bad sectors. If you startup the drive when it has written exactly 320 items to this log, then the drive will not be recognized at boot. The data is still intact. The physical drive still functions. The log needs to be cleared and you should update the firmware.

I am guessing, but this likely means that a drive kept powered up, such as in an NAS that is never turned off, should be quite safe.

What this reinforces is what I have always told people: Never purchase drives and their backup drives from the same source! (Kind of like putting all your money in one stock or trusting one man to solve all of America's problems.) I have a Seagate 320g drive in my Mac Mini and a WD 320g drive for backup. I have 2 WD GP drives for my NAS and 2 Seagate 7200.11 drives for backup NAS, plus an additional Samsung for interim storage.

And I'm certainly not boycotting Seagate, especially not since they are resurrecting drives for customers including data.

Jul. 9, 2009

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MacInTouch Reader

In my experience complaining about a hard drive failing is about as meaningful as blaming HP for your ink cartridge running out of ink.

Hard drives are *consumables*, just like your printer's ink or toner. You use it for a while, then it fails, then you buy another one. If it fails under warranty, then maybe it is feasible to replace it under warranty. Harddrives do fail, there is no security about them. It's not an IF, it's a WHEN. It doesn't even matter what brand it is and there is no real correlation between how old the drive is and when it is going to fail. If you keep anything on them you don't want to loose, use a RAID cluster, or make backups often. Even crappy harddrives are unlikely to fail all at the same time. (unless you get a power surge or something)

That said, the Seagate fiasco with firmware is not the first or last such incident with a harddrive company. I used to be one of those people who would say "My WD drive died, so WD sucks". Over time I went through quite a few drives from quite a few different manufacturers. I have had drives from ALL manufacturers fail on me. Seagate actually handled it pretty well: you didn't even have to RMA your drive!

That said, I am actually surprised hard drive manufacturers still don't offer harddrive subscription plans.


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