PCA publishes Fujitsu HDD advisory

What to tell the customers


The PC Association, the UK lobby group for system builders, has issued an advisory on the Great Fujitsu HDD Fiasco for its members. It makes for interesting reading, but remember, the PC Association is carrying the banner for the UK trade only. DC

INFORMATION - NOVEMBER 2002

FUJITSU MPG3 series HARD DISK DRIVES

The following information is given as being accurate to the best of our knowledge, but because of the lack of openness shown by Fujitsu relating to this matter there is, of necessity, a degree of speculation involved in compiling this information. Anything herein that is not a matter of fact is offered as "fair comment". The PC Association can accept no responsibility for any loss or damage resulting from acting upon, or failing to act upon the views expressed herein. The PC Association is not a legal advisor.

The Personal Computer Association is a not for profit trade organisation operating for and on behalf of its members, which by and large are involved in the UK computer industry. It was established in 1993 and members include national and international manufacturers, distributors and retailers of computers and components.

We would state at the outset that until this issue arose, Fujitsu had built a well-deserved reputation as a manufacturer of good quality low-cost disk drives.

The issue of alleged faulty MPG3 series disk drives was brought to the attention of the PC Association in late summer 2002, and was discussed by members during the PCA's annual conference in September. The members requested the Association to investigate the situation. As the result of publicity, primarily in on-line computer news publications, the Association received more than 50 complaints from businesses and users world-wide; one of the publications received over 500 e-mails, their biggest-ever response to a news item.

SYMPTOMS

With little or no prior warning drives are not recognised by the system, programmes and data are not found. The loss is irrecoverable by normal user actions.

FAILURE RATES & TIMESCALE

Reported failure rates ranged from 10% to over 80%, with an average being about 40%. Ambient and operating temperature, and power-on-hours probably have some degree of influence as to when the devices fail, with a lot of failures apparently occurring after about 12 - 14 months use; however it may be that this is when failures become an issue worth reporting, in that within 12 months the drives have generally been replaced without fuss, under guarantee.

LEGAL ACTION - FUJITSU & CIRRUS LOGIC

Fujitsu claims, in court papers* lodged in the United States in December 2001, that Cirrus Logic, a supplier of controller chips used in their MPG3xxx hard disk drives, supplied them with up to 4.9 million faulty controller chips during 2000 - 2001. They claim that a reformulation of the epoxy mould compound used in the chips causes them to short circuit and fail prematurely. Fujitsu admit they started to receive complaints from their customers about failing drives from May 2001, and that "by July 2001, Fujitsu had received enough customer complaints to recognise that a mass chip failure was occurring". Furthermore, Fujitsu also states that "these defects already have caused a substantial number of chips to fail (and with them the drives in which they were installed)" and " ... it is highly likely that a significant number of additional chips will short and cause their drives to fail."

For reference, Cirrus Logic has filed a third party claim against Amcor Technology Inc as being the company that recommended and sold them the goods that allegedly failed, Amcor in turn have made a claim against Sumitomo Bakelite Co Ltd the company that sold the alleged defective goods to Amcor.

This would seem - in effect - to be an admission from Fujitsu that they knew the probable scale and probable scope of the problem in July 2001, as well as the cost implications. Fujitsu admit that the cost of replacing a faulty disk drive "can approach $300 per replacement".

The forgoing information was not general knowledge at the time the Association started investigating the situation, in late September 2002.

LEGAL CLAIM - CLASS ACTION

A class action on behalf of American end-users was lodged on 23rd October 2002 in the Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Clara County, against Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard and up to 100 currently unnamed defendants (expected to be mostly computer manufacturers). To clarify: this class action is on behalf of users and against manufacturers.

GUARANTEE / WARRANTY

Guarantees are variable and present opportunity for misunderstanding. If you are an end-user, your guarantee is with your supplier - typically the computer manufacturer. If you have one-year guarantee and the drive fails at 13 months, then that (normally) would be that. It's your problem. See THIS ISN'T NORMAL below. Standard recommendation given by all computer manufacturers worth their salt, and by the PC Association, is that users are responsible for backing up their data regularly. The PC Association has stated that hard drives may fail and that since this is where all your important data resides you must be prudent and back up frequently. The fact of the matter is, of course, that few users back up their data as frequently as they should.

For the trade the problem is - in many ways - a lot worse. Some manufacturers may give a two or three year warranty on their computers, but if they themselves have received only a 12 month guarantee on some of the parts they've used, they may be taking a considerable risk - which has become painfully apparent due to this problem. Some OEM customers and trade distributors of Fujitsu drives may have purchased their drives from the company with a guarantee longer than 12 months - the wisdom of this is now apparent.

With regard to orphaned products, Fujitsu says that if an end-user has bought a computer - with one of their drives - from a company that has subsequently gone out of business, and if the customer can prove that the computer was bought less than 12 months ago then (generally) they will honour the warranty

Fujitsu Customer service (UK)
Phone: +44 (0) 20 8848 5180
http://www.fel.fujitsu.com/home

FUJITSU'S RESPONSE

From information received it seems that Fujitsu's attempts to contain the problem generally consist of some or all of the following:

  • Denial
  • There is no problem
  • It's the way the computer manufacturer has installed the drive
  • Inference that it's a customer problem - "We have received reports from some customers of higher than expected failure rates on certain desktop drive models".
  • High failure rates are "exceptional cases".
  • Must have been badly handled / transported
  • Not our problem
  • We don't provide guarantees to end-users, any problem is the OEM's

However, it seems that behind the scenes Fujitsu was attempting to handle the problem by containing it. They have APPARENTLY co-operated in replacement programmes with some of their major OEM's, Compaq has been named in this respect. Furthermore, they have reportedly co-operated with some other OEM's and Value Added Resellers and have recompensed them for costs involved in replacing drives under cover of the secrecy imposed by Non Disclosure Agreements. Indeed their admission of up to $300 replacement costs would seem to indicate some experience in this respect.

Will handle within warranty only

If it's failed outside of normal warranty, it's your problem.

To the best of our knowledge Fujitsu has never publicly admitted (outside of the court papers) that there is anything in particular amiss with these drives.

RECOMPENSE AND RESTITUTION

THIS ISN'T NORMAL: If this drive failure was an isolated occurrence, an unusual exception to the manufacturer's specification for their product of a mean time between failures (MTBF) of many tens of thousands of power-on hours, we would have to say that "these things happen", and it would be right for the drive manufacturer to countenance no claim outwith warranty.

However with regard to the Fujitsu MPG3 series drives we cannot support that view because:

Fujitsu know of the problem but took no action - AND HAVE STILL TAKEN NO ACTION - to alert users that there existed and still exists a very strong likelihood that an abnormal and significantly large proportion of these drives will fail long before anyone might normally expect failure to occur. As an example of this, we know of one computer manufacturer that purchased similar quantities of drives from Fujitsu and a competitor, at about the same time. To date none of the competitors drives have failed, whilst 20% of the Fujitsu have.

Had Fujitsu issued an alert - at least to the trade - then customers could have been warned of the massively increased potential for data loss and could have taken action accordingly. Furthermore, the computer manufacturers could have taken action to replace drives they know to be at risk before they failed.

SO WHY DIDN'T FUJITSU ISSUE A WARNING?
It can only be assumed that Fujitsu wanted to minimise the costs to itself of this problem on the basis that if most of the drives fail outside warranty they will have no warranty costs associated with them. If they admit to the problem (and perhaps recall the drives) they are faced with repaying - as a minimum - the replacement value of all the drives potentially affected - perhaps 4.9 million of them.

However this apparent decision to stonewall may yet backfire on the company. If the class action in the USA were successful then the company would be forced to rectify and recompense, as well as paying punitive damages. Furthermore, many customers throughout the world would take success in the USA as a signal and precedent to launch their own legal claims.

But what if you can't wait that long? Well, perhaps the "admissions" contained in Fujitsu's court case against Cirrus Logic might underpin a legal claim against the company now. E-mail the PC Association at kw@pcauk.org to enquire about obtaining a copy of the legal papers.

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE TO RECOVER DATA?

Often, yes. But you'll have to pay. Data recovery specialists will charge you between £350 - £1000 to recover data from your failed drives. The data is usually copied to another hard drive and/or supplied to you on CD. Some recovery companies will charge you up front (they'll have to do the work, even if they can't recover the data at the end of it all) others may be willing to be paid on performance. Contact the PC Association for details of those of our Members who offer this service.

On some hardware forums on the Internet you may read that changing the controller will solve the problem. We cannot vouch for this and besides, such a route should never be attempted if you are not technically competent, and it may render the data completely irrecoverable. You might also read that chilling the drive in the refrigerator, or the controller chip with a freezer spray may sometimes cause it to come alive long enough to recover data. We cannot vouch for this either.

FURTHER IMPLICATIONS

We have no facts on which to base the following train of thought. Is the alleged faulty product from Sumitomo / Armcor / Cirrus Logic - and the problems allegedly caused - relevant only to Fujitsu drives? If yes, is that because it was only ever sold to Fujitsu, or might it be that it was sold to other HDD or component manufacturers who might have a slightly different application. In the latter case, then might it simply be a matter of time before products from other manufacturers start to evince similar problems?

Conspiracy theorists might make something of the fact that round about the time these problems publicly surfaced, many of Fujitsu's competitors reduced the length of their guarantees from two or even three years, back down to one - the minimum they could get away with.

Best be safe. Always back up data regularly.

*Reference: Counterclaim of Fujitsu Limited: Case No C01-20987 ARB, United States District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose Division. Fujitsu's counterclaim papers dated December 17 2001, Cirrus Logic's claim lodged October 19th 2001.

© 2002 PC Association 2002.


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