back to article Data recovery firm sounds Mac hard drive damage alert

Data recovery company Retrodata has challenged Apple to come clean about what it claims is a "critical manufacturing flaw" affecting some hard drives used in MacBook laptops and desktops like the Mac Mini - an issue that could result in data loss. According to Retrodata, its customers have sent in a much higher number of …


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  1. Bob Bobson
    Jobs Horns

    Another quality Apple product

    It's good to see that you get high quality in return for your $500 markup. No wonder the most popular feature in System 10.5 is Volume Shadow Copy, err, I mean Time Machine.

  2. Mark Fell-Crook
    Gates Halo


    This is a seagate

  3. Ivan Headache

    Another quality Apple product ?

    No. Another quality Seagate product .

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Is Apple any different to the herd?

    Let's be honest now, who hasn't noticed the tell-tale signs of poor to non-existent quality control in electronic/electrical products bearing the 'Made in China' stamp?

    Sure, things have got a LITTLE cheaper over the last couple of years - but reliability has plummeted. Myself, I've been replacing DOA and first 30 day fault motherboards, DVD-RWs, HDs, PSUs, etc, etc at an alarming rate of late.

    I'm also seeing things such as cases that don't match their spec at all, unless 'rolled edges' in Chinese actually means 'razor sharp edges' for instance?

    Who's to blame?

    The Chinese, who are being paid ridiclously low rates which aren't being passed onto the end user to any notable extent?

    Or the importer/'manufacturer' who is paying his Chinese supplier so poorly that they don't mind the high volume of returns because their profit margins are soaring?

    What's happening to my way of thinking is that quality control is nearly non-existent and the end-user is now being saddled with the consequent cost in time and reputation via the returns system.

    China is rapidly getting the reputation for its products that post-war Japan, Hong-Kong and Singapore once had - manufacturers of low cost, poorly made products - a reputation it took a very long time to overcome.

    The problem, here and now, is that Chinese competition is destroying existing industries elsewhere because we aren't prepared to dig our heels in and pay a little extra for quality. The danger is that by the time we wake up there won't be any alternatives left in business.

    Sure, there are a few decent China based producers, but not many.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Yeah whaddup apple

    How dare they use hard drives from a shoddy hand-me-down hdd firm like Seagate... err

    It's like a few months ago when Apple laptops were suffering from exploding batteries, while other laptop manufactuers merely looked on in sympathy with their superior batteries... err

    ok i'm all out of lame "err" retorts to mister Bobson.

    Oh and FWIW - VSS and TM have not a scrap in common.

    VSS creates a local copy of a file for use in OTHER backup software, as well as being an API for alerting apps to quiesce for an impending snapshot.

    TM copies files periodically to a secondary location and provides an interface for restoring said files up.

    Finally just to twist the knife - how about asking Veritas about how great MS was for "inventing" VSS... :)

  6. Ian Halstead

    Is it me...

    ...or are the Apple detractors becoming increasingly knee-jerk defensive/abusive. The tone smacks of Mac zealotry circa 1996.

  7. Ian Ferguson
    Jobs Halo

    Seagate mainly to blame

    I've had two 120gb Seagate laptop HDDs fail - both in my MacBook. However, it was a 'home upgrade' - I replaced the smaller HDD with the 120gb version myself, as I was unwilling to pay Apple's ridiculous markup when buying the MacBook in the first place.

    Of course it's difficult to say why they failed but I suspect it's a mixture of Seagate lack of manufacturing quality, and the rough handling I give the MacBook (it's often strapped to the back of my motorbike). So maybe not entirely surprising, but I'd certainly expect them to last longer.

    Another issue is the way the hard drive is 'parked' by Mac OS X - I have a suspicion that it is not properly parked if the battery suddenly runs out of power (for some reason the MacBook has stopped giving me a 15 sec warning like it used to). I'm fairly sure this contributed to my last hard drive fail, as the battery failed then I carried it upstairs to the power cable. I'm no hardware genius so I might be talking bollocks!

    But as Bob Bobson says above, Time Machine is the critical feature of Leopard. I will be upgrading purely for this reason, for better or for worse.

  8. Seanie Ryan


    yeah, apple went out on purpose to source a faulty component...they are such bastards... grow up!!!!

    the fanboi's are bad enough calling things like this a feature, but people like you are worse who have to jump in immediately with dumb coments.

    EVERY company in the world involved in manufacture get a substandard component at some stage.. thats life.

    bet people like you complain every night that its gotten so dark, like you have been hard done-by...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Ahhh...the Good Ol' Days...

    This reminds me of the Good Old Days, where 10MB disks came in 18-inch removable platters, cost $10,000 each, and when they crashed, they REALLY crashed. I mean digging a deep gouge into the platter; destroying both the disk and the head.

  10. vincent himpe

    some tech info

    First of all there is NO parking zone on these drives. On a laptop drive the heads do not land on the surface but are always ( 90% of the cases, only very old drives still have landing zones) retracted and stored into what is adeptly called the 'garage' : a piece of plastic with a detent. The arm is no longer over the platter.

    The reason behind this is twofold : a landing zone puts to waste precious real estate that can be used to store data. It also requires a costly additional step to 'rough' up that area of the platters so the heads can land there. This rough area also imposes additional wear and tear on the head itself.

    Heads can no longer land on the media ( that has been the case for at least 8 years ) simply because of the smotthness. the platters are so smooth that the contact between the head and platter creates a cohesion force. the heada are literally 'glued' to the surface. When starting the motor the heads would shear off the arm destroying the entire drive.

    Now that that 'landing' myth is out of the way

    Laptop drives also use a 'catch' mechanism. When the heads are retracted a mechanical 'catch' blocks the arm from jumping out of the 'garage'. Some drives use a magnetic catch that lock the voicecoil down. Other drives ( the ones that make the cluttering sound when you gently shake them ( when they are powered off )) use a flow latch. A piece of spring loaded plastic prevents the arm from moving. When the motor spins up it creates an air flow inside the drive (the spinning platters themselves, due to their smoothness, move air molecules around ) . This air flow literally 'blows' with enough force to move the piece of plastic , thus unlocking the arm assembly.

    Now, judging from the (grainy) picture. The damage is on the hubward tracks... which leads me to believe that the proble is mechanical in nature. mechanical like a pressure beeing excerted on the top cover of the drive... !

    I wonder if the drive is beeing 'squeezed'. a laptop drive is very sensitve to pressure on its top cover. This can not only catch the arm , but it also impacts the internal air flow. The waring on the sticker 'Do not apply pressure' is NO JOKE !. also the warning to not cover the 'breathing hole' is also no joke ! as the drive warms up air escapes from the drive through the drive. as it cools down it will suck in air through the hole. If the breathing hole is obstructed this can create pressure difference after the drive cools down ( believe me warm expanding air WILL find a way to escape ! and when the drive cools down it will seal itself tighter than a food saver vacuum machine ! ) This 'underpressure ' in the drive will suck the lid down... which leads me again to the point that laptop drives are very sensitive to pressure on their lid.

    Now , it may be that the cause of this particular defect as experienced by Apple on these particular drives has nothing to do with what i ave explained above ( i would need to see the drive and model number). I merely wanted to clarify how a modern drive works. There seem to be many misunderstandings. And no, i do not work for seagate , but i do work in the harddisk business as silicon developer.(preamps and motor controller)

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    @is it me

    Actually, it is you. First you talk about Apple "detractors" (hint : a detractor is generally against what your subject is), then you mention Mac zealots (hint : zealots are 110% FOR the subject).

    But don't worry, Apple zealots are being just as knee-jerk reactive/abusive as ever, and Apple detractors are responding with the usual taunts and condescension.

    All is normal, you may continue with your lives.

  12. Kenny Millar

    Dear Bob Bobson

    Eh $500 markup? Not good at maths then?

    Compare and Apple product to the same specification of machine from say Dell or HP and you'll find they are very competitively priced. Don't forget to include the cost of the latest OS.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Shared blame

    I'd personally say the main problem is with Seagate and their outsourcing to China to make a buck. (or maybe things have gotten so bad that that's the only way to make a profit these days) However, given the apparently ridiculous failure rate of these, Apple should have given some kind of restitution to its customers. It seems like Apple's slowly losing all the 'values' that it started with and becoming as money-grubbing as MS. Reminds me of the IBM 'deathstar' fiasco.

  14. Luke Wells
    Paris Hilton



    Where is the Paris Hilton angle? I've been a register reader for several years now and every day there seems to be less and less actual Paris Hilton coverage


    Ner ner neee ner ner Mac owners!

    Yes they might be Seagate drives, but at least they are wiping the smug grins off your faces as fast as they are wiping your data off the platters )

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Mine fits the profile; Or, why I won't buy Apple again.

    My June, 2006 MacBook's 2.5" 80g Seagate Momentus drive failed after less than a year of use. It is FW 7.01 as mentioned in the article. I did not opt for replacement under warranty as that entails returning the drive with data that might or might not still be accessible. I had backups for most of the data, but you often can't remember exactly what you might've lost following a failure.

    I'm sure Apple knows that they've saddled their customers with an untrustworthy batch of kit. I have come to live with the little 'idiosyncrasies' of my MacBook like the home/left arrow button that requires great force to operate, the mushy trackpad button that requires governator thumb force to operate, and the Superdrive FW update that completed without any errors, but left me without the ability to read CD media (it still reads and writes DVDs correctly!). However, for Apple to treat my data with such disregard is unacceptable. Because Apple DOES KNOW about this problem, they should at least warn customers who might have one of the affected drives so that they have the opportunity to get a replacement before the premature failure leaves them stranded.

    I appreciate Retrodata's comments about the nature of this mechanical failure. When the people who profit from fixing breakage-prone stuff challenge Apple on an issue like this, it reveals Apple's deepest commitment to profit over customer care.

  16. Jack Hughes

    Wait a minute...

    If they only get the HDD and not the entire machine, how do they know the drive came from an Apple? Is it by serial number?

    Also, I got my MacBook in June 2006 and it came with a Toshiba HDD. Since then I've switched it for a drive with larger capacity, so I may just be checking what brand is in there now...

    Hooray for Time Machine?

  17. Igor Mozolevsky
    Jobs Horns


  18. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Where does the blame lie?

    Yes - I blame Seagate for the quality, and Apple for not recalling.

    Both will probably end up in a class action suit.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    @Jack Hughes - I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that they know the HDDs come from a Mac because of the partitioning, the filesystems used and the OS that is installed on them. They'll be able to recover a fair amount of data from even a totally dead disk.

    @ 'Yeah whaddup apple' Anon Coward - If you know anything about Windows volume and device management (which includes VSS) you'll know that it is all based on Veritas Foundation suite, Veritas get a hand out for each copy of Windows sold. I really don't think they care about who people think invented VSS, while the cash is rolling in, at least.

    General comment: It doesn't matter who makes the disks, the fact is that they seem to be failing in Apple products therefore Apple need to come clean. If this problem affects other manufacturers computers, they also need to come clean and this would then suggest that Seagate have the problem.

    Apple _really_ need to sort out their customer services.

  20. Ivan Headache


    Apple _really_ need to sort out their customer services.

    This HD issue is a problem that's been going on for a while and Apple have been replacing faulty units when they come in for service.

    So once again more anti-Apple fud. They're replacing them but not talking about them. Customer service is way ahead of ill-informed comments.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Jack Hughes

    There is also an Apple logo on the HD sticker to identify that the Seagate was made for Apple.

  22. Mikey

    The Safe Sleep is essentially Hibernate...but quicker?

    Well, they do they same thing yeah?

    ...And hmm, a little humbling to admit, I mean, I know they both write to disk, and yet with either my used to be HP or my is now MacBook, I just shut the lid, chuck it in the bag and go (I did have to restart the HP every week because Windows gets tired hibernating often, go figure).

    ...And I wandered past my MacBook as it sat on the coffee table the other day and pushed the lid closed from the back, being a nice smooth retro formica number the machine nicely slid off and onto the carpet...and then went to sleep.

    ...And I dropped the bag my HP was in when fumbling for keys to open the door and pulled it out to find a nice crack in the lid and a LCD that would flicker now and then from then on.

    It took four years of that kinda treatment for the HP drive to fail. Nicely though it was with that nice pleasant disk threshing and a delayed write error now and then to let you know it's time to change.

    ...And, just checking Disk Utility for the MacBook...It's a Toshiba. Woo-Hoo!

    Yeah, yeah I know, I've been the giver of bad news more than a few times with sudden failures...

    Silly perhaps but I kinda figure these things are like a lot of things in life, or maybe just the way I live it...

    Trust until you can't...and take out insurance ;)

    Oh, hehe, backup, bugger, I've never backed up this MacBook. Shucks, fingers crossed.

  23. t3h

    You missed the point...

    @Pascal Monett

    >Actually, it is you. First you talk about Apple "detractors" (hint : a detractor is

    >generally against what your subject is), then you mention Mac zealots (hint :

    >zealots are 110% FOR the subject).

    I think you missed the point he was making. He's saying that the Apple detractors now are just as bad as the '90s Mac Zealots. I agree with him. He was not saying that they hold the same position on the subject, which seems to be what you think.

    Also, on the topic, this is why I don't use Seagate hard drives.

  24. Daniel B.

    When Computers Crash

    Hm... I don't know, someone above mentioned how modern laptop HD's work, but that pic surely brought back memories of exactly the mere fault we originally called a 'crash'.

    A "crash", in computer jargon, originally meant that the head "crashed", that is, fell down and smashed against the platters ... and bye-bye, data!!! Talk about a data wipe... That pic looks a helluva lot like damage caused by a HD crash. This is the very same reason those of us who got into computing in the early 80's know that HDD's are to be treated with respect, even the 'portable' ones.

    As for Apple ... I put the blame on Seagate sending manufacturing to China. Want quality components? Manufacture in places where workers are well paid! Underpaid workers will do underquality stuff.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    No, they won't care IF they get the appropriate money back. However they're not as Microsoft is slipping the technology into shadow copies (should have only been vss writer and ntbackup) and now DPM (data protection manager).

    but i guess you already knew that, err...

  26. yeah, right.
    Jobs Horns


    All hardware sucks. All software sucks. The rest boils down to personal preference.

    My preference is a Mac. As a machine and operating system it's very cost effective with a very low total cost of ownership. That said, I'm far from a fan of Apple, the company.

    Apple seems to be starting another "90's crap shoot",

    and is desperately trying to piss off as many Mac customers as possible. From the iPhone to not recalling these defective drives, they're really taking the piss. Personally, I blame Jobs, or rather his ego. He really has gone off the deep end with his Borg impression. I don't know, maybe deep down he really wants to be Bill Gate's towel boy?

    (where's my icon for (devil gates)+(devil jobs)+(IT sucks)??)

  27. Duncan Clarke

    Identifying the firmware in your Apple Mac

    This is Duncan Clarke from Retrodata posting this. I've been inundated with requests on how to identify the firmware revision of the hard drive without stripping the computer down.

    You can easily identify the firmware revision with Mac OS X.

    First go to "About this mac" and then click on "more info"

    Then select Serial-ATA.

    The firmware is shown as "Revision"

    If it's 7.01, I suggest you backup and replace immediately.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Both companies are at fault

    Seagate are at fault for supplying awful drives and Apple probably more so for not recognising the obvious situation and doing something about it.

    Buy cheap and sell high. Nice strategy if you can do it.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    @ Ivan Headache - Certainly not apple FUD, I count a couple of Macs amongst my computers (ok, one technically belongs to my girlfriend) and I haven't had any problems myself, but I hear again and again examples of why not to buy Apple - "My iPod broke, they accused me of missuse", being a classic. There was the dodgy batteries in iPods that they refused to replace until they didn't any mre. The acceptance that there is a problem with HDDs, but quietly replacing them, rather than sending out mails to registered affected users, who could suffer data loss. Deletion of entries that they don't like from the discussion forums, bricking of iPhones, etc. etc.

    @ Anon Coward - Like I said VSS is a function of the Volume manager. VSS is not installed in DPM, it is an API that is called from DPM. You will also find VSS support in Veritas NetBackup, probably Backup Exec (I don't know for certain as I don't use it) Legato Networker and also packages like Replication Manager from EMC/Legato. Now the first two aren't a supprise, but you really can't be suggesting that Veritas have allowed Legato/EMC the code of, or use of VSS? VSS is most likely licenced on a per copy of the OS sold basis, you seem to be suggesting that MS aren't allowed to implement software based on part of their OS? I suspect their legal team a slightly better than that...

  30. Julian Lawton

    Safe Sleep

    Yes - Safe Sleep is basically the same as Hibernate.

    One problem with it is that a lot of Mac users coming from iBooks are used to 'unsafe sleep' - ie. close the lid and go - something replicated on few Windows machines.

    Once in that mode, with a reasonable battery charge, you can leave it for days on standby before the power finally runs out.

    It strikes me that safe sleep breaks more than it fixes - unless disabled, it means having to remember to shut the lid a minute before you need to move.

    Most modern apps autosave work as you go along anyway - even browsers are getting into the idea of restoring the last set of tabs.

    All it really saves is the need to do a cold boot and open your apps/documents after a complete power down, against a huge loss in flexibility.

    However - my understanding is that moving the machine should always trigger the motion sensors, same as dropping it.

    If you do that while it is going into safe sleep, the worst should be a corrupted safe sleep file.

    >Who's to blame?

    Dodgy hardware batches are nothing new - I can think of cases going back to the 80s, way before manufacturing moved to China.

    Without knowing the percentages it's hard to know if there should be a recall either - what if it's only 1% of the batch that are affected?

    What's the exact point at which a recall should be announced?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    more duff hd's

    reminds me of the old fujitsu mpg30 series hard drives so loved by Tiny computers where the resin on the main drive controller chip failed rendering the drive and data useless

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My drive failed this weekend

    My MacBook is a month or two out of warranty. The failed drive is Apple-badged Seagate Momentus 5400 80Gb, Firmware version 7.01. Failure mode: beachball on all apps forcing restart, audible drive clicking on startup, grey screen with "flashing ?" folder.

    Do I have any comeback with Seagate on this one..?

    I've just had to go through two logic board replacements in quick succession on an iMac G5; I'm starting to have serious doubts about the quality of the shiny kit I've been buying. In the case of the iMac I had to shell out for replacements, being just outside the serial numbers allowed to claim under the warranty extension program -- I'm considering sticking in a small claims court case on the basis that the goods were not fit for purpose. A motherboard should last more than a couple of years in normal usage, right? Right..?

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