Seagate offers free data recovery for faulty drives

By Lucas Mearian, Computerworld |  Storage, Backup & Recovery, HDD

Seagate Technology Tuesday is offering free data recovery services for customers who purchased the company's flagship Barracuda 7200.11 desktop hard drive through December 2008. A firmware bug in those drives has produced a high number of failures.

According to users on Seagate's online support forum the drives tend to freeze for about 30 seconds during I/O transfers of streaming video or when reading or writing files at low speeds.

"We're offering free data recovery because the information on the drives is not deleted. It's just rendered inaccessible by this suspect firmware," said Seagate spokesman Michael Hall.

Owners of the Barracuda 7200.11 drive can contact Seagate through its support Web site . Seagate also offers support by telephone at (800)-SEAGATE (732-4283). The company is offering data recovery services through its i365 data recovery subsidiary.

On Friday, Seagate issued a statement saying a firmware bug has been causing drive failures or freeze-ups affecting not only the Barracuda 7200.11 but several other models manufactured through December 2008. Those include the DiamondMax 22, the Barracuda ES.2 SATA and the SV35.

The Barracuda 7200.11 is the eleventh generation of Seagate's flagship drive for desktop PCs and comes in capacities ranging from 160GB to 1.5TB. Seagate manufactures hard disk drives in China, Singapore and Malaysia.

Hall said he didn't know what percentage of the 7200.11 drives are failing. "The best information we have right now is that it's a pretty small population of our drives. I'd say this is certainly one of the more highly publicized cases."

Duncan Clarke, managing director for the U.K. data recovery firm Retrodata, said he and his colleagues in the data recovery industry believe failure rates on Seagate's Barracuda 7200.11 drive are upwards of 30%. "We've been aware of this problem since November. I was getting 30 times the number of those drives than any other drive," he said.

Hall said Seagate isn't seeing anywhere near a 30% fail rate and hasn't decided whether to issue a recall on the Barracuda 7200.11 drive. "At the moment, we're really still looking into it," he said. "It's an issue that's ongoing for us at the moment.

"This is something that crops up now and then. Obviously, when you release a drive the firmware is refined over time. There are times when the firmware is at a point where there may be some issues that cause these problems that are undetected when the drive ships," Hall said.

Clarke said he is disturbed that Seagate has not done enough to address the issue.

"First they're shipping rubbish products. Second, they're not taking responsibility for the problem. They actually own a data recovery company that people go to recover data from these drives, and they charge a lot of money for that," Clarke said, referring to the period before Seagate began offering free recovery services. "I hope Seagate is taken to the cleaners over this."

Hall said Seagate is still considering whether it will reimburse customers who took failed drives to i365 or other data recovery services before the larger issue came to light. He acknowledged this isn't the first time in recent months that a Seagate product has had firmware issues. In November, Seagate's 2.5-in. SATA drives with firmware version 7.01 were failing. The drives, which included model numbers ST96812AS and ST98823AS, are commonly used in laptops such as the MacBook or MacBook Pro .

Complaints about the drives have not been limited to Seagate's online support site. Users have also weighed in on other forums . The complaints involve drives running Linux, Mac OS X and Windows Vista .

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