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Great Fujitsu hard drive fiasco rumbles on

It's heating up...

Questions surrounding the Great Fujitsu Hard Drive Fiasco simply won't go away, however much the Japanese manufacturer hopes that they might.

Earlier this month we reported a product recall - sorry replacement - of 300,000 faulty Fujitsu hard drives.

The fault, which is supposedly brought on by heat and prolonged usage, lies in faulty controller chips used in the HDDs and is found in 2-3 per cent of the 10 million units made by Fujitsu between September 2000 and 2001, according to Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai.

Following our initial reports on this we were deluged with email on the subject, over 300 and counting from all over the world.

Time and again, we were told of failure rates of 30 per cent and above in machines fitted with 20GB Fujitsu HDDs. UK system builders report huge failure rates for 20GB Fujitsu drives - of the order of 30-50 per cent, and sometimes even higher.

Dozens of Compaq corporate customers, collectively owning a few tens of thousands of Compaq Deskpros, also contacted us following our initial reports.

One of the more interesting documents we were sent purports to be a field service notice issued by Fujitsu US. Although we were not able to confirm its authenticity - Fujitsu declined to comment - it has every appearance of been genuine.

Explanation of PB16 Family Drives Field Failures:

Recent analysis of field returns has confirmed that some of the PB16 family drives have a date code related issue that is PCBA related. The source of the problem is that some of sub-supplier parts used does not meet the stringent requirements established in product qualification. This issue is not related to the Servo Timing Mark whose effects were corrected with firmware The PCBA issue could exist on drives manufactured:

1. PB16E (MPG3XXXAT) - Through March, 2001
2. PB16H (MPG3XXXAH) - Through May, 2001
3. PB16HE (MPG3XXXAH-M) - Through May, 2001

This was a particularly difficult failure to isolate. The symptoms of failure are very similar to those caused by the Servo Timing Mark. Although the failure rate is relatively low, the failure rate exceeds our quality commitment that our customers have come to expect. As such, Fujitsu has decided to err on the side of conservative caution and act on every drive manufactured during the problem period.

Fujitsu has a utility that will identify the drive by Month of Manufacturing. This utility can be used by our customers for screening purposes. The utility will operate in Windows 95/98/2000/NT environment.

Which raises the question: If Fujitsu has such a utility why doesn't it make it available to customers? We gave Fujitsu the weekend the think about this but it again declined to comment.

The faulty sub component referred to above is a Cirrus Logic controller chip (CL-SH8671-450E-A3), according to authoritative reports posted on Fujitsu refused to talk to us about this either.

Fujitsu's ostrich-like line in response to customer enquiries on the matter is that it hasn't announced anything about the issue, so all the reports about the issue are speculative and inaccurate. Fujitsu is referring users of its defective HDDs to their PC vendor and saying all problems can be covered by normal warranty procedures.

Fujitsu isn't extending warranties automatically from one to three years.

We question whether that approach can be sustained, indeed there are signs Fujitsu is bending to the weight of public opinion.

Readers who've bought their PCs through system builders who've gone out of business tell us they are been offered replacement hard drives for faulty equipment, despite the fact their warranty is no longer valid.

We'd love to know whether Fujitsu was extending this move to others in the same situation but this is unclear, again because Fujitsu is declining to respond to questions. ®

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