Kevin Kempf's Blog

March 19, 2010

A Seagate Brick

Filed under: Hardware — kkempf @ 1:44 pm

We definitely don't stand behind this product!

A little break from the norm…

Working in IT, it’s not uncommon to have requests from friends and relatives to take a look at PC problems, install RAM, upgrade an operating system and the like.  It goes with the territory.   A friend of my wife’s recently dropped off her Gateway LX-6200 because it would no longer boot.  She wanted to recover her (not yet backed up) digital photographs.  Nothing unusual there.  I booted the system, it behaved oddly, in that it didn’t even seem to acknowledge a hard drive.  Not to be deterred, I removed the Seagate 7200.11 750gb hard drive and tried to access the data through 2 different “over the counter” USB hard drive interfaces.   Neither could see the drive.

Knowing when I was beyond my capabilities, I brought it in to work to have it looked at by someone who has done far more hard drive recover than I.  He quickly reached the same conclusion, but someone recalled a Seagate issue from about a year ago where the drive would “brick” from a firmware update from Seagate.  Sure enough, upon subsequent research, we were convinced this was the issue.

Seagate

So I started by calling Seagate for support.  On their website, they openly acknowledge the problem, and at some point even offered a free fix and free data recovery as a result of the issue.  Except when I called them, they quickly said it was not their issue, as the drive was OEM‘d to Gateway.  Nice accountability there.  They literally would not budge, it was not their problem.  Despite the fact that they manufactured the defective drive, issued the defective firmware, and didn’t deny the problem, since it was OEM’d, they wouldn’t touch it.  The drive isn’t labeled “Gateway”.  It’s labeled “Seagate” with a model and serial number.  I guess they’re proud of their drives, until they have a defect.  In contrast, when I owned a Ford Ranger about 10 years ago, and the Wilderness AT tire issue broke out, I didn’t take it my truck to Ford for recall replacements, I took it to Firestone.  Those must have been a different kind of OEM.

Gateway

I moved on to Gateway support, not having any idea how old the PC was.  It turns out, it’s over a year old.  So Gateway says “It’s out of warranty, nothing I can do”.  End of discussion.  Here’s my exchange with support (I use “I” and “My” rather liberally, it’s not my PC, but they don’t know that):

Me:

Customer (Kevin Kempf) – 03/10/2010 07:56 AM

I have a PC with a bricked 7200.11 750gb hard drive.  When I contact seagate they confirm it’s on their list but can’t do anything because it’s an OEM drive.  I can’t boot my PC anymore the hard drive isn’t recognized.

The issue is publicly known, if I’d bought it directly from seagate they would perform free data recovery.  What do I do to get this remedied?

Gateway:

Dear Kevin Kempf,

Thank you for contacting Gateway. I’ll be happy to assist you.I understand that, you’re facing the issue with hard drive.

As per our records your computer is out of warranty.

Please note that, you may check the hard drive status in BIOS.For entering in to BIOS Tap F2/DEL key while restarting.

If hard drive not detecting in BIOS, you may need to purchase the new hard drive.

Me:

You understand this is an acknowledged manufacturing defect on the part of Seagate, and if I had purchased this drive independently of Gateway, I’d be getting a repair or data recovery for free?  So, in effect, Gateway made my warranty artificially worse?  If I had bought a Dell, by the way, I could send it in immediately for free repair.  Not adding up to much of a case for the merits of your company here.

Gateway:

Thank you for contacting Gateway. I apologize for the inconvenience that you have experienced.

Let me confirm the issue regarding hard drive. As per our records your system is out of warranty.

In order to resolve this issue, we will take your system in to depot repair. For that you need to pay $199 and one way shipping charge.

If you are ready to send the system to our depot for repair, we would be happy to assist you in resolving any issues to get your system up and running.

Bad Customer Support is the Norm today

If you google “seagate 7200.11 brick” you will have many hits citing the problem, and even some pretty detailed “hacks” to fix it for about $20 in cables.  I would have been tempted to do this, except this isn’t my drive, and it’s not backed up.  There’s even a youtube video which shows (in excruciating detail) how to fix this yourself.   If I were Seagate, I’d be so embarrassed having produced such an awful product, I’d do everything I could think of (like Toyota?) to bend over backwards and fix this issue for any affected drive, regardless of OEM or not.  It turns out if the OEM drive had been thrown away after buying the PC, replaced by a drive purchased from Amazon.com, it would have been covered.

The Fix

Nobody was going to own up to owning the problem. I believe if it went to any random local PC repair shop (or Best Buy), they will botch the fix and the data will be lost.  I found a few services on Ebay which promise to fix the drive (search on “unbrick seagate”).   If any of them have even done one successful unbrick, they’re more experienced than I.  So in the end, I recommended that the owner send it to one of these services.  If the link there is expired, just go to http://www.ebay.com and type seagate unbrick. I’m happy to say that our analysis was correct, the drive was successfully de-bricked, and returned to her in working order.

The Blame Game

In the end, I place the blame 90% on Seagate’s shoulders.  They built it, they broke it, they ought to fix it.  Whether I bought it from Amazon or Gateway shouldn’t make any difference because they’re the ones who gaffed it.  If they had a PR brain, they might have been more amicable to fixing these drives, no matter where they came from, in order to preserve their good name.  If a service on Ebay can do it for $75, I imagine that Seagate could do it for far less, en masse.

Why do (most) people simply buy a PC over the counter (or internet) these days, as opposed to the “good old days” when you’d buy a kit and custom tailor every component?  I argue the answer to that is

a) People don’t care about the components per se.  They certainly don’t have the expertise to install and configure them. (Apple is a great example of this argument)

b) Components are mostly commoditized these days, so the difference between a Dell, Gateway, Lenovo and HP with the same hard drive, memory, graphics card and CPU is rather insignificant.

c) They want a single place to call where the person on the other end of the phone is liable for their problem.  This OEM attitude turns that model on it’s head.

I guess what I’m trying to summarize here, is that the hardware manufacturers can’t have it both ways.  They either need to own up to their failures and back the product, or really rebrand them before they go into a Gateway so the hard drive says “GATEWAY” on it.  This way, I’ll know who to hold responsible.

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4 Comments

  1. You’re not alone my friend. I have an HP personal media drive and was politely informed by Seagate that the responsibility lies with HP. Of course HP is telling me that a drive that I used twice is out of warranty and when speaking with the tech support person, he refused to transfer me to a supervisor when requested. After being promised a call back by a supervisor, which didn’t happen, I escalated to the CEO, Mark Hurd. I’m still in discussions with HP, but at the end of the day, nobody seems to want to do anything to assist a loyal customer (I have numerous HP products and the last hard drive I purchased was a Seagate).

    Comment by Njineer — May 1, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

    • That’s excellent news, I’m glad to hear you were able to do this yourself. It still seems like this is something Seagate should be offering “gratis” but barring that, there’s so much information out there about the issue it’s like the proverbial elephant in the room. I wish I’d had the opportunity to do what you’ve done, I’m jealous!

      Comment by kkempf — May 8, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

  2. Sorry to hear you’re in the same boat. Assuming you get no love from HP, and that you’re computer savvy, your situation may be ideal for the “fix it yourself” scenario I couldn’t justify (because there was precious data on the drive). The ebay listing guy worked great (search on Seagate unbrick) but you may be able to do it yourself:

    Comment by kkempf — May 3, 2010 @ 9:35 am

    • Thanks for the advice. I still haven’t made contact with the HP guy (I’m too busy at work to call them during business hours – which is the only time this person works), but I did follow a number of instructions on the internet and successfully unbricked my drive and updated the firmware. Cost me about $12 for a special cable and about 10 hours of my time reading, modifying cables and practicing. I’m back in business now with zero data loss. To anybody else out there contemplating the repair, it’s really not that bad as long as you follow the instructions. I highly advise people to buy the Nokia CA-42 (clone) cable to make your life easier. Cheers!

      Comment by Njineer — May 8, 2010 @ 8:26 pm


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