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Seagate Employee Explains Firmware Debacle

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 13 comments

Last week, Tom's Hardware reported that an escalating number of Barracuda 7200.11, ES.2 SATA and DiamondMax 22 drives were failing due to a fatal flaw in the firmware which caused the drive to suddenly lock itself up and prevent the BIOS from even detecting it in the system. There is no way of fixing this unfortunately, and the drive needs to be returned for replacement.

An employee from Seagate explained the situation from the perspective of someone who doesn't work in Public Relations. The original stuttering problem with the 1.5 TB drives was originally thought to be caused by poor chipset SATA implementation. When it became apparent that the issue was firmware related, several revisions were released to customers who contacted customer support so that the correct version could be given. This is standard procedure for Seagate, who usually do not allow general public access to firmware downloads.

The problem with the 7200.11 series bricking, which has been in the news for the last month, was what really got the ball rolling. The Seagate employee says that is an old problem that was difficult to diagnose. A log or journal is written to in the firmware when certain events occur. If this reaches 320 entries and the drive is powered down, it will produce errors during initialization and not report information to the BIOS. Engineers quickly began work on a new firmware update to prevent this from happening.

Normally, a customer would go through the usual process of contacting customer support for the new preventative update and “this firmware had to go through five different checks to make sure it applies to the specific conditions to qualify sending to a customer, before now. 5 chances for us to go 'your drive needs the other (or none) firmware update'.” However, management, in order to quell the possibility of liability for drive failures, pushed a general public release of the firmware. “Suddenly, it's down to one check, and even that was more designed for a contingency just in case the wrong firmware was sent out.”

Thus some drives, particularly the 500 GB models, failed after applying the SD1A update that was released early this week, and the firmware was removed from the site. Unlike the original issue with the journal, this "bricking" does not prevent the drive from reporting to the BIOS, so it can be reflashed at any time.

Seagate has just released a new firmware update to resolve the problem.

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  • 0 Hide
    roadrunner197069 , January 23, 2009 12:04 PM
    I had a bricked 500GB, I did the firmware update, and now I got a working 500G again. Maybe in a few months I will buy Seagate exclusive again. We will wait and see.
  • 2 Hide
    bf2gameplaya , January 23, 2009 1:45 PM
    What a technical and PR fiasco, Seagate keeps making the problem worse!

  • 1 Hide
    thillrh , January 23, 2009 3:08 PM
    Thanks for getting the word out. I have a 1TB Seagate 7200.11 drive that hadn't yet been provisioned into a system. Following the information and links provided, I was able to register with Seagate to receive notification as soon as the firmware is released.
  • Display all 13 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    m3kt3k , January 23, 2009 3:12 PM
    I have never liked seagate. This just confirms it even more.
  • 2 Hide
    SirCrono , January 23, 2009 5:08 PM
    I've always found WD drives more reliable than seagate ones and luckily they cost and perfom in the same ball park.

    This news only means one thing to me, more WD HDs in the future (until they screw up this bad, no company is perfect)
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 23, 2009 9:11 PM
    While it is too bad that this problem occurred, I am surprised by the number of people who are now claiming "I will never buy another Seagate drive again." I find this viewpoint very shortsighted. As anyone with basic management experience knows, it is best to put aside this kind of useless "anger" and realize that Seagate has likely learned from this mistake and will be the last one to do it again. It is like firing an employee that has made a mistake. While it may feel good in the short term, in the long term it is a very dumb move. If it costs you money to fix the problem that they create it is like paying for training, the employee is not likely to make that mistake again. If you turn the employee you just lost all of the training expense. In fact, if they go and work for a competitor then you just payed to train your competitor's employee.

    That being said, if this is a recurring problem with Seagate then there is a real issue, just as if the employee in the example above were to make the same mistake again. Just my two cents.
  • 1 Hide
    gsteacy , January 23, 2009 9:28 PM
    I won't go as far as saying I would never again buy Seagate drives. But I will probably avoid the entire 7200.11 series just in case this latest firmware has another problem buried deep. It seems unlikely though, given that this version has had more testing than the previous "fix" that management rushed out. Management was just doing their job though, trying to avoid liability. It just didn't go to plan.
  • 0 Hide
    jhansonxi , January 24, 2009 1:41 AM
    I used to hate WD after multiple failures and their big recall several years ago. Now I don't have any problem with them. From my experiences I've come to accept that all manufactures can have a bad product model or production run. Sometimes you get burned but it's more practical to focus on the long-term averages and warranty.

    I just went through several months of pain due to bad Crucial TwinX 2G (2x BallistiX 1GB) DDR2 1066MHz 2.2V memory modules that I've RMAed twice due to failures. A lot of other people have experienced the same failures (see reviews at Newegg and Crucial's online store). They are coming out with 2.0V versions that are supposed to be more reliable. While it cost me a ridiculous amount of data damage and lost time diagnosing the problem, I'm not going to declare a lifetime ban on their products. After all, I just RMAed two Corsair XMS DDR modules as well so they aren't perfect either.

    Mistakes happen. Everything fails eventually. The only thing you can do is maintain backups of your data and spare hardware.

    I can understand why Seagate prefers to limit availability of the updates. It reduces the risk of widespread problems if the fix turns out to be faulty. Rushing out the other fix proved what can happen.
  • 1 Hide
    gimme_power , January 24, 2009 2:45 AM
    things happen. the good thing is that seagate is not trying to sugar coat it etc. they admitted mistake and provided fix in a timely manner. this is clear example of excellent service. i wish all of issues with hardware or software were handled the same way.
  • 1 Hide
    NikeWK , January 24, 2009 4:42 AM
    i don't understand.
    you've started talking about the freezing problem of the 1.5TB model.
    then you've spoken of the 7200.11 bricking drives and explained about how the drives are getting blocked- which is because the journal reaches 320 events.

    so why in the last paragraph you've said
    "Unlike the original issue with the journal, this bricking does"

    so: 7200.11 es.2 sata and diamondmax 22- aren't these drives are known for the bricking thing? so is the journal problem and bricking the same deal, or what??

    cuz i don't understand which is the "preventative" (sounds like the firmware that prevents the freezing problem for the 1.5tb) firmware that went trough 5 checks, and which is the second firmware that was the problem and had went only trough 1 check.

    please explain! you've got me all confused!
  • -2 Hide
    JordanPlayer , January 24, 2009 7:39 AM
    I've had my current Seagate hard drive for 4 years now and no problems (my PC is also running almost all of the time). It's so old it still uses an IDE connector...
  • 2 Hide
    gsteacy , January 25, 2009 3:03 AM
    NikeWKplease explain! you've got me all confused!

    I'll give you the (hopefully) simplified version :) 

    1) A "stuttering" problem is found with the 1.5TB hard drives. Seagate releases a firmware update only accessible through customer service (standard operating procedure for Seagate).

    2) A bricking problem, seperate to the above stuttering, is found in the other drives in the 7200.11, ES.2 SATA and DiamondMax 22 drives. This is the journal/log problem I was talking about. You can not reflash the firmware once this problem affects your drive.

    3) A firmware fix is release to the public (rather than only through customer service) to correct the journal issue. It ends up causing 500GB drives to screw up. They weren't "bricked" per se, because they could be reflashed, whereas the journal problem would prevent reflashing as well. I used inverted commas around "bricking" in the last paragraph because it's not truly bricked, but it doesn't function correctly. Perhaps I should have used another word entirely, but now you know. :) 

    4) Seagate pulls the firmware update.

    5) Seagate releases a new firmware update (mentioned right at the end) that corrects (we hope anyway) all of the previously mentioned problems and fixes 500GB drives.

    I hope that makes sense.
  • 1 Hide
    NikeWK , January 25, 2009 12:41 PM
    that makes a lot of sense!
    thanks a lot!!!! :D