Update: Seagate offers free data recovery for faulty drives, new firmware

Data recovery firms believe 30% of Barracuda drives are failing

Seagate Technology LLC today is offering free data-recovery services for customers who purchased the company's 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.

Seagate said it has re-released firmware originally offered last Friday, saying it has isolated the firmware bug in a "limited number of Barracuda 7200.11 hard drives and related SATA drives based on this product platform, manufactured through December 2008." "In some unique circumstances, the data on the hard drives may become inaccessible to the user when the host system is powered on," Hall said.

"While we believe that the vast majority of customers will not experience any disruption related to this issue, as part of our commitment to customer satisfaction, Seagate is offering a free firmware upgrade to proactively address those with potentially affected products," he added.

To determine whether your product is affected, visit Seagate's Support web site. Seagate customers can also send an email to Seagate: Americas: discsupport@seagate.com or at APAC, or EMEA. 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 that a firmware bug has been causing drive failures or freezes affecting not only the Barracuda 7200.11, but also 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 of 160GB to 1.5TB. Seagate manufactures hard disk drives in China, Thailand, 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," he said. "I'd say this is certainly one of the more highly publicized cases."

Duncan Clarke, managing director at U.K. data recovery firm Retrodata, said he and his colleagues in the data recovery industry believe that 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% failure 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," Hall said. "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."

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 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."

Jeff Pederson, manager of operations at data recovery firm, Kroll Ontrack Inc., said his company has received 100 Barracuda 7200.11 drives, 50 in the last two weeks alone. He said that is a 90% increase over what the company would normally see with a Seagate Barracuda-model drive.

"People are getting perturbed with having to deal with the drive," he said.

As far as Pederson can tell, the firmware issue is coming from Seagate's Thailand manufacturing facility. "The firmware is corrupted. It doesn't interface correctly with the drive and causes it to fail. But, it's failing at the electronics level and not the platter level, so it's not destroying data," he said.

Kroll Ontrack is offering a free diagnosis and close to a 50% discount for recovery services to owners of the Barracuda drive, which amounts to $850.

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 that this isn't the first time in recent months that a Seagate product has had firmware problems. 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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