My Seagate hard drives are safe now

Local Northern California disc drive manufacturer Seagate has discovered a flaw in the “firmware” which controls many of their recently-manufactured disc drives. I was alarmed when I discovered that as many as SIX of my disc drives might be affected, including two of my main production discs in my Mac Pro. These are very high-performance 1 terabyte discs, and despite all my precautions about backups, I was still concerned.

But after following this story closely for a few days and with the friendly assistance of “Brian B.” on Seagate’s tech support live chat system, I finally got what I needed to update my drives. Five of my drives were actually in need of updates…

After about a half hour of nervous hacking, Mission: Accomplished!

I successfully updated five Seagate ST31000340AS (7200.11 1TB drives) which were at SD15 firmware to ‘SD1A’ firmware. This was a little complicated because after I did the two that were internal to my Mac Pro, I had to remove three of my internal drives and replace them with the three from my eSATA drive. It turns out the sixth 1TB drive was actually a Maxtor-labeled drive, and the firmware hasn’t been posted for that drive yet.

But here you go…FreeDOS booted on my Mac Pro running Seagate’s flasher program. Worked like a champ. Whew!

Feb 2 2009 Interesting update found on Macintouch.com written by Randall Voth:
It is my understanding that a log file is written to by the firmware when certain things happen, such as swapping bad sectors. If you startup the drive when it has written exactly 320 items to this log, then the drive will not be recognized at boot. The data is still intact. The physical drive still functions. The log needs to be cleared and you should update the firmware.

  1. steve posted the following on February 3, 2009 at 6:00 pm.

    In my experience, you can leave non-affected drives in, and they’re simply skipped over by the updater, as are drives for which the updater doesn’t have the particular firmware that’s required. With respect to the RAID drives, there’s nothing actually written to the drive’s data areas itself, so it shouldn’t matter as long as the drives aren’t connected to a RAID card (meaning they’re directly connected to one of the Mac Pro’s internal SATA ports).

  2. Ray posted the following on February 3, 2009 at 5:19 pm.

    Thanks for the step-by-step. Question: Should I remove my main drive from my Mac before performing the update? Also, the two Seagate drives in question are configured as a RAID 1 assembly. Should I do the update on one drive at a time, or leave ‘em in place and just go for it?

  3. Brian Brumfield posted the following on February 2, 2009 at 8:03 am.

    Thanks Steve – a friend sent me a link to this and I had one of these drives in my Pro – I have to check my off-site vault to see if there is another one there. The rest of my 1TB drives are Western Digital’s. One curious thing is that I have a 1.5TB Baracuda 7200.11 drive at firmware level SD17 and Seagate’s serial number validator said that it’s not affected. Here’s to hoping they’re right. The internal drive updated just fine. Thanks again!

  4. steve posted the following on February 1, 2009 at 2:58 pm.

    Have you checked the Seagate support pages? You can start here: http://www.seagate.com/ww/v/index.jsp?locale=en-US&name=freeagent-downloads&vgnextoid=3723b5b59b7d5110VgnVCM100000f5ee0a0aRCRD

  5. Rick posted the following on February 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm.

    Can someone point me to some definitive text that confirms or denies whether my Seagate FreeAgent external hard disk is effected by this firmware bug?

    AND, if it IS effected, I’d sure appreciate a pointer to instructions on how I can fix it … or at least follow along with the efforts to get a fix.

  6. Pingback from ExtraBITS for 26-Jan-09 | Web News Directory

    [...] Fix for Buggy Seagate Firmware on Intel-based Macs — Although Seagate has yet to respond to our inquiries about how Mac users can update buggy firmware in a wide selection of buggy Seagate drives, Steve Maller reports that Seagate tech support walked him through building a CD that booted his Mac Pro into FreeDOS, after which he could run the firmware updater. PowerPC-based Macs and drives in external cases are still out in the cold. (Posted 2009-01-26) [...]

  7. steve posted the following on January 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm.

    Well done, Mr. Fearless! :-)

  8. mrfearless47 posted the following on January 27, 2009 at 4:03 pm.

    I had four Seagate 7200.11 1TB drives with the old firmware. Seagate had already replaced two of them under warranty but sent the same old firmware. After reading your piece, I was able to build a CD, boot to it and update the firmware on all four drives. I now feel more secure now that the firmware is upgraded to the later, presumably correct, version. No problem whatsoever booting into FreeDOS under the current (early 2008, Mac Pro).

  9. CVBruce posted the following on January 26, 2009 at 7:49 pm.

    Steve,

    The point that I was trying to make about the Mac Mini, is that I don’t physically have an internal place to mount the drive so that the firmware can be updated. I don’t see going out and buying a Mac Pro, or a Windows box, just so I can update the firmware as a practical solution to the problem.

    As far as I’m concerned Seagate needs to step up and figure out a solution that will allow the drive to be updated in an external enclosure. Or they can ship me a new drive.

    CVBruce

  10. Paul posted the following on January 26, 2009 at 7:15 pm.

    After reading a success story from a reader on Macintouch who successfully updated an affected drive using a MacBook Pro with external eSata enclosure, I did the same today. We have different enclosures and ExpressCard adapter brands (Vantec/Griffin vs. Seritek/Seritek).

    You can read his account there now and my followup should appear tomorrow:

    http://www.macintouch.com/readerreports/harddrives/index.html#d26jan2009

  11. steve posted the following on January 26, 2009 at 11:00 am.

    John, all of the Mac eSATA enclosures require some form of driver to be loaded at boot time, and the Seagate updater is incapable of doing that. So unless the hardware drivers themselves are native to the machine (which the internal SATA ports are in the Mac Pro), you’re not going to be able to access anything external to the Mac.

    And with respect to a straight SATA adapter, I doubt that would work, either.

    I suspect a recent iMac is capable of doing this as well, but of course the iMac hard drive is not as easily accessible. But I do not think any of the other current Mac machines (portables or mini) could perform this firmware update with the current Seagate utility.

  12. John I. Clark posted the following on January 26, 2009 at 10:42 am.

    Quick question: you say you had drives in an eSATA external enclosure… Were they actually connected to your Mac Pro via an eSATA cable? And even then, the scanner couldn’t see the drives? I’m curious, since it sure would be easier if I could simply slap drives into my eSATA dock [http://bit.ly/15uZp], connect it via the eSATA cable and the eSATA card I have for my MB Pro, and use the FreeDOS trick from there.

    Alternatively, one could use the straight SATA adapter that is available for the Mac Pro, and hook up drives externally that way. As long as they’re connected at boot-time, they should be recognized. That adapter is available at Other World Computing for $25: [http://bit.ly/b2vy].

    I’ll keep checking back to see if anyone has success with either of these techniques, as I don’t know how soon I’ll have time to try them out…

    Thanks for the report!

  13. steve posted the following on January 26, 2009 at 9:35 am.

    CVBruce, these external enclosures are pretty easy to open up and remove the drives from. But you should confirm that the enclosure contains a SATA drive and not a PATA drive. And if you have access to a Mac Pro, they’re simple to swap drives into and out of. The Mac mini is a complete PITA to work on, though, so don’t even try that one. But I don’t think the mini’s notebook-sized drives are subject to this problem.

  14. CVBruce posted the following on January 26, 2009 at 9:31 am.

    I also did this and it is pretty easy.

    The problem is that it only works for internal drives. From what I can see, if you have a drive that is attached via USB or Firewire in an external enclosure, the software provided by Seagate can’t find it.

    I have such a configuration, a 1.5TB Seagate drive in a MacAlly external enclosure that is Firwire attached to a Mac Mini. No joy here.

    CVBruce

  15. steve posted the following on January 23, 2009 at 4:34 pm.

    You’re welcome. And cool stuff over on your blog. Thank you for the props. :-)

  16. Mike Thornton posted the following on January 23, 2009 at 4:14 pm.

    Thank you Steve for this. I know I can fix it when they release the firmware upgrade for my drive, you are a star. I have linked to you from my blog http://protoolsformedia.blogspot.com/

    Thanks again Mike.

  17. steve posted the following on January 23, 2009 at 12:21 pm.

    It’s actually quite straightforward, Mike.

    1) download the “.ISO” file from the Seagate website
    2) burn the ISO file onto a CD using either Toast or Disk Utility (instructions are on Seagate’s website)
    3) Nothing actually has to be installed on the Mac itself. The CD is bootable, and turns your computer into a PC temporarily.
    4) Insert the CD into the Mac while it’s still powered up (as a Mac).
    5) Shut down the Mac.
    6) Start up the Mac holding the ‘C’ key until you see the FreeDOS boot screen
    7) You should be presented with a screen showing you instructions. Press F10 to clear that screen. 8) Press ‘S’ to scan for disks. You should see any Seagate disks you have installed.
    9) Press the appropriate key for the particular disk(s) you have installed.
    10) When the installer is complete, POWER OFF the computer (do not restart).
    11) Start up your Mac normally. Go into System Profiler and you should see the Firmware Revision of your hard drive has been updated to ‘SD1A’.

  18. Mike Thornton posted the following on January 23, 2009 at 11:29 am.

    Any chance you could release a blow by blow account of how you did this including installing FreeDOSS for those of us with Intel Macs but no experience of the Intel world?

    Thanks,

    Mike.

  19. steve posted the following on January 22, 2009 at 6:13 pm.

    oh hush! this is serious stuff! :-P

  20. susie posted the following on January 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm.

    oh thank god….i can finally sleep! :-)


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