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HDDs showing strange seeking-without-access behaviour

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May 24, 2007 11:57:02 PM

Hello!

Since a few days I'm witnessing a strange behaviour of my HDDs.

From time to time, even when the PC is not booted into Windows but e.g. sitting in the BIOS setup screen, the HDD heads start continuously seeking, without any application apparently doing accesses (which is obvious when the PC is in the BIOS setup... :)  ). It is small and quiet, but fast and continuous seek noises, as if the HDDs were stepping very quickly track-by-track to read through the whole drive. From time to time there's a little louder seek noise inbetween.

As soon as I access the HDD in question, the seeking stops. Performance and behaviour of the HDDs is otherwise all normal. SMART tools show no dangerous values, temp is normal. Even after rebooting or turning the PC off and on again the "seeking cycles" repeat after some random time. Just now the seeking started about a minute after I booted the PC, but right now it is quiet for like 20 minutes.

The HDDs in question are:

Seagate Barracuda ST3320620AS (SATA-2)
Seagate Barracuda ST3160827AS (SATA-1)

My mainboard is an Asus M2N with an Athlon 64 X2 2.6GHz.

I'm wondering if this behaviour is normal for those HDDs and I simply did not notice so far. I got a new PC two weeks ago which is much quieter fan-wise than my old one. Are the HDDs doing some self-test or so? I've had the ST316 for about a year now, whereas the ST332 is new (two weeks), and so far I've never consciously observed that strange seeking behaviour yet.

Any ideas, anyone? Thanks in advance! :) 


Kind regards,
Frank
May 25, 2007 1:08:09 AM

I've noticed this as well with several of my HDD's.

For me though it happens in Windows, the HDD will access, sometimes furiously but the HDD light won't come on. The drives I've noticed this on are a Maxtor 80Gb IDE, a WD 40Gb IDE, a WD Raptor 36Gb, and the most recent a WD Raptor 74Gb. All of them while they're the system drive.

Please someone answer, I'd like to know too.
May 25, 2007 2:34:47 AM

Quote:
I've noticed this as well with several of my HDD's.

For me though it happens in Windows, the HDD will access, sometimes furiously but the HDD light won't come on. The drives I've noticed this on are a Maxtor 80Gb IDE, a WD 40Gb IDE, a WD Raptor 36Gb, and the most recent a WD Raptor 74Gb. All of them while they're the system drive.

Please someone answer, I'd like to know too.



OK Guys for what it's worth,,back in the old days we're talking MFM HDD's ALL hdd's used to come with a BAD track map printed on each drive,,now a days
that is no more the ATA drives and newer do the bad track thingy on the fly
ALL hdd's have bad tracks there is no such thing as a perfect hdd surface,
in essence it's nothing to worry about,I think that the hdd is updating it's bad track map,,?????
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May 25, 2007 3:48:33 AM

Thanks for the reply!

Definitely could be the source of such activity.
May 25, 2007 4:18:36 AM

What you're experiencing is Seagate's STIR (Seek To Increase Reliability) technology. This debuted in the 7200.7 series. Unfortunately, there is no way to disable this "feature".
May 25, 2007 8:37:11 AM

First, thanks for your replies, guys!

About the "STIR" feature... it sounds reasonable, though in other forum postings I've read that this STIR is supposed to do "random seeking when the drive is idle". But what I'm experiencing sounds totally different from random seeking.

It occurs every few hours, and sounds more like the drive is reading thru its whole capacity. Very quiet seeks, like track-to-track, but for a long time. I think if it was this STIR, it should occur always when the drive is idle, intermittently, and not a continuous noise in few hours intervals?

I may have another explanation. I remembered that there's certain SMART self-test functions, a "short" and a "long" one, that could be triggered using special drive commands, and also be executed regularly. I downloaded the "smartmontool" suite, and the tool "smartctl" tells me that "Auto Offline Data Collection" is enabled for my drives.

When I initiate a "long SMART self-test", the noises the drive then makes very much fit the noise that it makes by itself every few hours. So my suspicion is currently that "someone or something" :)  enabled (or repeatedly enables) this automatic background-selftest every few hours.

Although internet information on this also contradicts itself... on a webpage I read that this "offline data collection" really just collects data and "does not do active testing". This would kinda imply for me that no drive activity is involved, although that is not said explicitly.

Any comments to this from the teccie experts here? :) 
May 25, 2007 8:41:20 AM

Additional info on the SMART test thingy:

For my drives, smartctl reports

Offline data collection capabilities:
(0x5b) SMART execute Offline immediate.
Auto Offline data collection on/off support.
Suspend Offline collection upon new command.
Offline surface scan supported.
Self-test supported.
No Conveyance Self-test supported.
Selective Self-test supported.

Behold, "Offline surface scan supported". That might be the reason... when this offline test thing is turned on, the drive might execute a surface scan every few hours. The noise I hear perfectly fits the description "surface scan".
May 26, 2007 9:24:25 AM

Well after several tests and reading thru multiple web pages, I again concur with joefriday. I disabled SMART and everything that has to do with it, but the seek noises still persist. Even when the drive is not connected to the SATA data port.

I'm wondering three things now:

- STIR is said to produce intermittent seek noises, but mine is more like a continuous track-by-track read that starts after about 30 seconds of drive idle time and lasts for a minute. Can that really be attributed to this STIR crap?

- I wonder why I never witnessed the noise before, since I've had one of those drives in my old PC for about a year. It could be because the old PC was way louder fan-wise than the new one, and I had the swap file on the drive in question with "only" 1 GB of RAM, so the swap was probably needed more.

- Is there any way to turn this crap off? Firmware patch or so? It's really annoying. If not, I'll probably code a little service that writes to a file every 10 seconds on the drives in question to prevent them from idling.
May 26, 2007 4:32:18 PM

As I already mentioned, there is currently no way to disable the STIR technology. Others have come up with the same solution as you suggest: a small program that writes to the hdd every few seconds to keep STIR from occuring.

As for the length of STIR: yes, what you describe is very typical. I have a 40GB Seagate 7200.7 in my HP computer, and its STIR will make a continuous noise for about a minute long if uninterupted, repeating every 10-15 minutes of so.
May 26, 2007 4:37:11 PM

Thanks joefriday for your help! I'm glad that it is at least a "feature" and not a sign of hardware defect.

I meanwhile already coded the little Windows Service that does a write-through non-buffered Write (as not to be caught by OS or drive caches) to all HDDs in question every 30 seconds. Works nicely. :) 
!