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Seagate firmware fix bricks Barracudas

Killer cure

The updated firmware Seagate issued to solve 1TB Barracuda drive faults is causing 500GB Barracuda drives to fail.

The original fault was that Barracuda 7200.11 drives made in Thailand (ref: ST31000340AS with firmware level SD15) were failing at boot time with a firmware error that locked the drive up and rendered it inoperable. Other Seagate drives - DiamondMax 22 and Barracuda ES.2 SATA - were affected as well.

Seagate issued a firmware upgrade fix (ref: SD1A) for this on January 17. (See also here.)

That firmware update screws 500GB Barracudas and has been withdrawn pending an update to the update. It is apparent that testing of the update on the full range of drives the firmware applied to was not completely or satisfactorily carried out by Seagate. Hundreds of drives are said to be affected, and a Seagate support forum thread is at 22 pages and rising.

The first posting on this thread on January 19 said: "My 3 ST3500320AS drives are broken (it takes 2 mins to recognize it by BIOS, can't access data on it, etc.) after official and updated firmware upgrade."

A ST3500320AS drive is a 500GB SATA interface, Barracuda 7200.11 model, spinning at 7200rpm and with a 32MB cache. The first message was quickly followed by dozens of others as outraged users found that the low-quality firmware update turned their drives into paperweights. Systems wouldn't boot and there were drive verification errors.

Poster Malachi said: "Firmware program reports firmware successful. Firmware update cd scan sees the drive and shows the new firmware. BIOS sees the drive, but booting is a no go."

Fellow forum member KLA1973 added: "I ran Seatools and it fails with a "drive not responding to commands" error." The similarly afflicted Davka expressed a view supported by many others: "My RAID5 is completely dead I would never thought that so big company could make such a mistake..."

It's clear that if you have a 500GB Barracuda 7200.11, you should not update your firmware with the SD1A version. Ironically, in general Seagate would advise you not to update your drive's firmware at all unless you have a fault.

Seagate's support Knowledge Base had the firmware fix relating to ST3500320AS, ST3640330AS, ST3750330AS and ST31000340AS Barracuda 7200.11 drives (with firmware levels SD15, SD16, SD17, SD18, SD19) taken offline for validation on January 19th.

Warning text in red on the posting stated: "The software and information in this article could be data destructive and/or render your hard drive inoperable if not followed carefully. It is always recommended to keep a backup of critical data."

Subsequent posts to the Knowledge Base identified other drives which should not be updated. Users might want to review this Knowledge Base page for the current situation.

It seems most likely that users' data is still on the drive and accessible once the drive firmware fault is corrected or via a data recovery service. It is The Register's expectation that Seagate will extend the free data recovery offer for the original Barracuda firmware fault to users who have suffered data loss due to this new fault caused by Seagate's 'corrected' firmware.

Some users tried retro-fitting firmware level AD14 to a 1TB Barracuda bricked by the SD1A update and found that worked - others found it did not. Poster Apraxisz said on the Seagate forum: "Seagate's incompetence is stunning."

Poster DMD71 summed up the situation for many: "I can honestly say I will never purchase another a Seagate product. I have no problem with the original defect as I realize problems arrise during manufacturing, but its unbelievable to me the way they have handled this situation. Poor communication, no response from customer support, and, the final nail in the coffin, firmware that actually disables the drive."

The warranty costs of this secondary fault will not be significant, but the damage to Seagate's reputation by this perceived botched firmware update could be immense.

Coming as it does after the abrupt departure of Seagate CEO Bill Watkins, it is easy for customers to see Seagate as a rudderless ship, and a firm in disarray. The results for the final quarter on 2008 are going to be announced after the close of business later today, and they are expected to be unwelcome. Investors and customers will look to new CEO Steve Luczo to demonstrate that he is getting a grip on the situation.

Seagate was contacted but was not able to issue any information about the situation. A statement is expected to be issued later today. ®

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