IME, since the mid-late ninties drive reliability in the enterprise and consumer products has been diverging. Not just Seagate, but also new manufacturers with the same "lowest cost with acceptable fail rates" mentality.
Back in the early days of Atlas, Cheetah, Medalist, Conner "application drives" a warranty honestly meant the likelyhood of a drive failing within warranty was just a few percent. Then, there was little reliability variance between any models.
Now we are almost at point where the warranty isn't worth the paper it's printed on. A warranty is just a period within, the manufacturer has calculated, the costs of honoring warranties (BOA/Brick or in operation) are offset by the profit at the initial sale by a margin that is acceptable to the manufacturer.
Primarily manufacturing QC, but also engineered reliability, drive refurbishing has reduced consumer hard drives to being quai-disposable. The ubiquity of RAID has made it even easier on manufacturers.
The only drive I have bought withing the last 10 years that still works, and it's outside wararnty, is a WD Raptor. The handfull of Seagates and Maxtors have all bitten the dust. What seperates the Raptor is it's enterprise lineage.
Keep in mind, all these drives had MTFB of over a hundred years and warranties of 3 or 5 years. In reality the only way left for an enthusiast to gauge relaibility is word of mouth on individual models.
For home PC enthusiasts that means paying a very high premium for the reliability of enterprise or enterprise-consumer crossover drives.
It's all about consumer demands and fierce competition. We want bigger, faster drives, but we want them cheap.
At the time the WD Raptor was made, what would a 2TB drive cost? Today a 2TB SATA drive cost under $200.00 US.
Consumers need to understand that reliability comes with a price tag and manufactures' are trying to lure us to buy their product because it is so affordable, at the expense of reliability.
Word of mouth is still a formidable force in the marketplace. When Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 drives started dropping like flies, word got around fast. Seagate underestimated how widespread the news would go and kept a low profile for a long time, even denying there was actually a problem... until inventories started piling up from lack of sales. Now, Seagate has firmware updates on their website as well as a database of drive models and serial numbers that they know are bad. So much for all the denial when the problem first surfaced on the internet.
Consumers have the final say. We either buy the product, or we don't. People should return drives that go bad under warranty despite them now being so cheap they are easily tossed in a dumpster. This will influence drive makers to not cut quite so many corners in quality.
Reliability must be a personal experience which includes typical usage scenario and luck also.. I've my hitachi 250 GB running for 6 years now without any failures.. Seagate drives have worked fine for me and friends with very little issues.. And honestly I've seen high percentage of drive failures using WD drives..
The reality is: Mechanical systems will wear and break (just like your car will not go 2,000,000 miles no matter how well it was made at manufacture).
The level of quality is ALWAYS determined by price. As an automotive component supplier, every car company (yes, even the Japanese) will tolerate low quality and higher rejections if the price of the component/service you are providing is less than your competitor's who may actually provide higher quality. Quality is always diminished in mass production. The higher number of production units; the lower the quality since manufacturers rate suppliers on a part per million (PPM) measurable. Thus, the more parts you make, the higher number of non-conforming parts and rejections you can make and still be a "top quality performer." (That's why Ford's Q1 program became a laughingstock in the 90's.)
The same is true with any computer component. More and more people are buying computers, thus the production raises and consequently quality diminishes. Parts that used to be made in the U.S. and Japan with meticulous care are now made in China, Taiwan, the Philippines, etc. Why? Because they can mass produce these components for much less (with feasible low quality) and then just offer returns for defective products.
Also, when evaluating a new design or manufacturing process, the manufacturer's first step is the creation of a FMEA (failure mode and effects analysis). In this study the manufacture lists the "severity" of each quality failure. If you are manufacturing brake systems for automobiles, then your severity rating would be a 9 (the highest). If you are making plastic toys for McDonalds, the severity rating would be a 1 (the lowest) since no one's going to die if the toy's arms come off. Unfortunately, computers are NOT a high severity application. No one is going to die if my processor, mobo, monitor, memory or even hard drive fail. Yes, you may lose data but not your life. So when the computer manufacturers first create a mfg process, they consider all severities to be very low in the manufacture of their product. Thus, you have low quality.