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Western Digital to end HDD part code confusion

Balls to fluid dynamics

Hard disk manufacturer Western Digital today pledged that the confusion surrounding the supply of its ultra-quiet hard drives based on its new Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) technology should come to an end this month.

Within that timeframe, system builders and resellers will be able to order FDB-based drives from WD's bulk distributors and stand a very good chance of getting what they ask for.

According to UK system builder sources, that's not what's happened to date. The gradual introduction of FDB into the country has left buyers in a lottery, with some getting the new parts and others getting older, ball bearing-based mechanisms.

WD's plan has always been to replace the older drives with the new ones. For mainstream drives, it never announced that transition, WD Sales Manager Ian Keene told The Register. "With the standard Caviar SE drives, some have ball-bearings, some have FDB," he said. "We never announced or put it in the specification that it's going to be an FDB product."

The upshot is that some OEMs ordering the drives got FDB units as a bonus, since they were only ever offered as providing WD's Quiet Drive Technology.

However, for customers who wanted an FDB part, it was a different matter. One channel source told us: "We had shipment after shipment of the wrong drives. We wanted FDB parts but kept getting ball bearing drives. I had to make 20-25 phone calls over two weeks to get it sorted out."

According to Keene, that shouldn't have happened. "We did create a new part number for those customers who specifically wanted an FDB motor," he said. "So for those customer who wanted FDB, we shipped FDB."

Sources in the system builder community claim it didn't go according to plan. WD created new part codes for FDB units, but with the intention of deprecating them once all its drives were equipped with the new technology. Consequently, "the disties were not interested in including the new part number", one sources said. "Without talking direct to WD you wouldn't know what you were getting."

The FDB indicator codes are a 'P' or an 'L' for a drive with a 8MB cache or an 2MB cache, respectively, in place of the usual 'B' or 'J' in the model code. So a 250GB Serial ATA drive with FDB and an 8MB cache is coded WD2500PD, or WD2500PB if it's an IDE unit. Without FDB, the part numbers would be WD2500JD and WD2500JB, respectively.

Crucially, once all WD drives are based on FDB technology, they will revert to the old B and J model codes.

Sources claimed the FDB part numbers were not listed on distributor web sites, leaving them little choice but to order Js and Bs, and trust to luck to get an FDB unit.

Keene said their chances of doing so were good. "We completed transition at the factory in the December/January timeframe," he said. "Even if people bought a ball bearing model in the past three months, the chances are they got an FDB anyway."

Keene admitted that the UK was not a priority market for FDB drives, unlike some Scandinavian countries, for example. There, he said, they are very keen on ergonomic and environmentally sensitive products. Here, price and capacity are the key criteria.

Distributors were provided details of the new codes, he said, but admitted "sometimes that doesn't always get through to our customers systems" because of their focus on cost and capacity.

Certainly, some channel partners have taken the new codes into account. Reseller Scan Computers, for example, distinguishes between FDB and non-FDB parts.

Keene estimated that, now all drives now manufactured using the new technology, the UK channel should have sold out all ball bearing-based drives by the end of the month. ®

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