Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lessons from Apple Store out-of-warranty repair of a Seagate drive

Mysterious application crashes, including corruption of Aperture file data, exposed bad blocks on a slowly dying 2 yo iMac drive. Modern drives aren't supposed to show their bad blocks, and of course they should never corrupt a file. So I knew the drive needed to be replaced.

The 27" iMac 11 (i5) is not user-serviceable. It can be done, but it's hard to keep dust out of the display. So I compared repair costs at FirstTech in Minneapolis to the Roseville MN Apple store. FirstTech's service costs were about $200, but Apple's service fee is a flat $40 (offsets the high cost of their proprietary designs). Both charge far more than retail for a hard drive. Apple dinged me $226 to replace a 1TB Seagate 7200.12.

The replacement drive is an ST31000528ASQ revision AP24 S/N 5VP9Z4TC. I was told it had a 90 day warranty. A comparable new drive from Amazon is $134, so Apple adds a $100 markup on the drive. (Of course I'd have preferred a 2TB replacement, but Apple out-of-warranty repairs follow warranty rules -- so no upgrades.)

Overall the Roseville MN Apple store experience was mediocre. Some of this is because of Apple policies, but mostly this store is bursting at the seams at this time of year. Apple needs more retail.

If I were to do it again I'd order replacement parts from a quality Mac after-market vendor and I'd do the repair myself, or I'd order the part and pay FirstTech to do it. When an out-of-warranty Apple repair makes sense, I'd look for a quieter Apple store.

Here's what I learned for future reference:

  • Apple wanted to keep my old drive. They can probably get money from Seagate. This was a problem because I hadn't secure-wiped the drive, and although my passwords are on an encrypted image I prefer not to have our family data floating around. I also wanted to reformat and stress test it myself, and decide if I could use it as an emergency store. Store management wrote that "I needed the drive for data recovery" and that let me keep it. (Not true - I had 2+ complete backups.)
  • I thought I was told the drive would cost about $160, but in retrospect that was probably my mistake. $160 would be low markup. In any case, get estimates in writing if possible.
  • When I went for an estimate I was told to expect a 3 day turnaround. In fact it took about 9 calendar days -- including 3 days to repeat the drive test and confirm the bad blocks. It took so long it ran into a business trip; the store was grumpy about storing it until I returned.
  • They expect to have a guest or maintenance account available for testing. I had none on this machine. They were able to test anyway of course, but this is worth knowing.
  • The machine had additional memory added, but the repair receipt listed the original memory. This was mildly worrisome but it came back with its bits.
  • The installed drive was formatted with the same OS as the old one - Snow Leopard.

I tested the drive with Tech Tools Pro. The SMART check on the prior drive showed no problems except out-of-range temperature variation. The SMART check on the new drive also shows out-of-range temperature variation! I hope this is a quirk of TTP and the iMac's thermal regulation system rather than a drive problem. The block scan passed 1,953,525,168 blocks, 0 bad. (Although no bad blocks should ever be exposed, the good block total will fall over time.) The overall SMART test also shows a tendency to read errors, though still within normal limits (Hardware ECC recovered, Raw Read Error Rate).

Lastly, I chose to do my restore from a bootable Carbon Copy Cloner backup rather than my Time Capsule backup (I trust CCC more). I'd never done a full clone restore on a Mac; it worked well but there were a few quirks...

  • During my initial testing I'd created a user account on the new disk. The default CCC restore would have left those files in place -- which is an abnormal install state. Also, the default restore seems to leave "more recent" files untouched, which might produce a mixed version system.
  • I set the restore to overwrite "more recent" files and to move non-matches to an archive folder.
  • After the install completed I deleted CCC_archive on the target system
  • After the restore it appears TC is backing up my entire system. That will take a week over the home wireless.

For extra insurance I'm going to leave my CCC backup untouched and rotate it offsite. My routine backups will be to an older CCC backup and to Time Capsule. In my initial testing however the restored data appears fine. I also have my original drive which is fully readable, I'll wait a month or so before I wipe that drive and stress test it.

Update: Time Capsule is trying to backup 340GB over WiFi; it's doing a full backup. This will take weeks. I've set my TC backup to omit all but Users, tomorrow I'll bring it to the computer and connect by ethernet.


Auntie Linka von Sofia said...

um? wasn't the HD eligible for replacement under this: ???

Auntie Linka von Sofia said...

Wouldn't this Seagate drive have been eligible for replacement by Apple??

JGF said...

At the time Apple said it wasn't covered. About a year later they extended their coverage and it was included. So Apple paid back the money i spent on the replacement. It turned out to be useful to have had the work done at an Apple store.