Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Weird IDE hard drive behavior

Last June I wrote about some puzzling experiences with some IDE drives. It was just plain weird. Every drive I tried worked fine when hooked up directly to the motheboard or PCI card IDE slots -- but behavior inside a Vantec enclosure or a Firewire enclosure was much less predictable. I ended up leaving the 200GB Maxtor Diamondmax in my IDE tower and putting the Seagate Barracuda (the best of the drives) in the firewire case.

Yesterday was phase II. I'd outgrown the Vantec removeable enclosures I used for backup and I'd bought two of the lovely Venus USB enclosures I so like. Imagine my surprise when the Maxtor failed during backup, making the same clunky sounds as it had in the Vantec! It then failed during a repartitioning and reformatting (NTFS).

I moved it to a Mac in the same enclosure and ran some intensive workouts there. It never had a problem, swallowing GBs of data. Then I moved it back to XP but plugged it into an old and reliable Orange Micro USB/Firewire card. It reformatted, did a backup, absorbed 100s of GB of data -- no problems.

Weird. I have to guess there's some stable defect in this drive that makes it very sensitive to timing issues of some sort. I'm using it for backup for now, but I'll probably replace it with something I trust more. (I'll update this post with the make of the drive I use at the office -- that one has performed flawlessly in the Venus enclosure.)

IDE drives can be weird when you put them in enclosures. Seagate's done better than Maxtor or WD in my limited trials.

Update 4/17: The Maxtor is definitely flaky. Retrospect Pro, an evil product, breaks it. It goes into some eternal seek mode where it's very busy, but accomplishing nothing. A good lesson in the costs and complexities of flaky hardware. Consumer drives are dirt cheap, but their odd failure modes may be very expensive. Unfortunately I don't think there's a "quality option" available for a consumer buyer at any reasonable price. Nonetheless, I've had better luck lately with Seagate and I'll try them again.

Update 4/17: Ouch. NewEgg's reviewers had very poor ratings for Seagate, and WD isn't so sweet either. I guess there really aren't any good options. I may go for a larger capacity drive on the theory that they might still be competing a bit on quality. Or just give up and figure it's just another example of living in the age where everything is disposable -- except time. (My theory is that we're actually experiencing a LOT of inflation in our economy, but it's hidden by shifting costs to consumers and buy shedding quality. In terms of value delivered per dollar spent, however, I think we're in 1970s style inflation -- only now it's occult.)

Update 5/27: I ended up going through Amazon's reviews. They gave the best sample of feedback, including longer use feedback. Based on that, and a guess that a newer drive would be quieter, cooler and more reliable, I opted for the Western Digital 320GB ATA IDE drive for about $150. So far, so good -- after one week of heavy use. The Seagate drives had awful rating, even though only Seagate seems to "sleep" properly in on of my external enclosures. Maxtor was pretty good, but of course I didn't want another Maxtor. The WD 320 did relatively well with a good number of comments. None did terrific. I notice Apple used Matsushita in my iMac.

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