How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

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How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby viking777 on Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:39 am

A couple of days ago I started getting I/O errors and warnings on boot up about my external USB hard drive (about 5 years old). I checked it with Smart Monitor and every parameter showed up as 'Pre-Failure'. I took this as a warning that it needed replacing and quickly - it holds all my backups/drive images etc. - about 60Gb worth in all. I started looking for a replacement with the following priorities in mind -

1)Availability
2)Price
3)Drive Capacity
4)Portability (ie size)

The answer seemed to be a Western Digital Passport 500Gb which I could get for a reasonable price the following day. I didn't bother googling this device because, I reasoned a hard disk is a hard disk is a hard disk right? Well normally yes, but in this case - no. I knew it would be partitioned with ntfs and I knew it had a bit of windows type bloatware on it (backup and encryption software I think) but most things you buy have this kind of stuff on them nowadays and a quick format into a linux file system and it is all gone.

So I picked it up the next day formatted it, partitioned it and transferred all my data onto it. Job done. For a while I was quite pleased with the purchase.

That feeling melted away as soon as I tried to reboot - the boot process stopped stone dead as soon as the disk was recognised. If I unplugged the disk everything worked normally again.

Puzzled by this I started to do what I should have done before I bought it ie. googled around. The net is awash with people complaining about this device and there are the usual confusing array of 'solutions' to make it work properly. Having got a flavour for what other people had tried I started to investigate the problem myself. These are the things I tried:

Remove the device completely from the bios boot order - no effect.
Move the main hard drive to the top of the bios boot order - no effect.
Erase the mbr with dd - no effect
Run Test Disk on the device to look for hidden partitions - none found.
Do a low level format of the device with dd - no effect.

These last two took several hours and gave me more time to google the subject. It appears that the device has a virtual cd device loaded into its firmware and this is completely unremoveable. I even used my wife's Win 7 computer to flash the firmware it made no difference to the device though. The WD support site lists a procedure which is supposed to switch off the vcd (though it doesn't remove it). I tried this but it failed - no 'smartware' device attached (smartware is what it calls its bloatware). I guess that is not surprising since I have formatted it three times!

So basically I am stuck with a device that has to be unplugged every time I reboot. It is not a big deal I guess, but annoying that it doesn't work as it should.

It struck me at the time that this is a little glimpse into the future though with Uefi on the horizon, situations like this are going to be happening every day (uefi codes will apply to hardware devices as well as software in case you didn't know).

So a lesson to learn here, no matter how urgently you think you need something, google the product first with the word 'linux' in the search :(

By the way I am not looking for answers to this, there arent' any, it is just a warning so that hopefully others don't fall into the same trap.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby kc1di on Sat Jan 07, 2012 9:36 am

Thank you for the warning was just looking on line today for usb h.D.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby Habitual on Sat Jan 07, 2012 10:00 am

That's an odd one.
I bought a WD 3T MyBookEssential for $139.00 online at bestbuy.com about 6 months ago. NEVER had any issue with it.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby tomast on Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:29 am

Yeah I found that out the hard way too.
I had been booting off External USB hard drive so I could carry it back and forth from work and home , and thought I'd get another...
Surprize ! Virtual CD :evil: No way to boot from this Crummy drive.
I thought that was kind of sneeky and underhanded of WD to put the VCD on without warning anyone what they were getting.

Just for future reference. I found that the Western Digital Passport Essential had the VCD
But Western Digital Elements does not have the VDC
Western Digital Elements 500GB USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive WDBAAR5000ABK-NESN

Edit:
Hope this isn't considered SPAMING to put the part number and all.
I can delete that part if needed. Just wanted ya'll to know which one to look for.
Am NOT trying to advertise WD. In fact I'm kinda ticked off at them. :x
But what ya gonna do ? Gotta get whats out there or do without... ;-)
Last edited by tomast on Sat Jan 07, 2012 12:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby viking777 on Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:38 am

tomast wrote:Yeah I found that out the hard way too.
I had been booting off External USB hard drive so I could carry it back and forth from work and home , and thought I'd get another...
Surprize ! Virtual CD :evil: No way to boot from this Crummy drive.
I thought that was kind of sneeky and underhanded of WD to put the VCD on without warning anyone what they were getting.

Just for future reference. I found that the Western Digital Passport Essential had the VCD
But Western Digital Elements does not have the VDC
Western Digital Elements 500GB USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive WDBAAR5000ABK-NESN


Hmm. Trust me to pick the wrong one. Lucky I didn't want to boot from it I guess.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby altair4 on Sat Jan 07, 2012 12:02 pm

I wonder if it wouldn't be better in the long run to roll your own external drive. My wife has a Mac and bought one from a Mac shop. It comes with Mac specific software installed on it but they sell just the enclosures: http://eshop.macsales.com/item/Other%20 ... g/MOTGSU3/

I'm sure there are other enclosures available elsewhere but the point is that you buy the enclosure and then put any HDD you want in them.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby tomast on Sat Jan 07, 2012 12:06 pm

@altair4
Thing is these are powered thru the USB and no need for external power supply.
Kinda handy. And they fit in your shirt pocket...
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby gn2 on Sat Jan 07, 2012 2:02 pm

viking777 wrote:~ I am not looking for answers to this, there arent' any ~


What about an on/off switch?
You can buy USB cables with in-line rocker switches or you could make your own.
Or put it on a network USB hub device?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Belkin-Network- ... B000WJP8FQ
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby MALsPa on Sat Jan 07, 2012 2:30 pm

Good info, viking777.

I have a 320 GB Western Digital external hard drive that I've been using for back-ups for about three years now. It's the Western Digital MyBook WD3200H1U-00. But you have to plug it in to a power outlet, it isn't powered by USB. I've been looking at those Passport models for some time now, but the MyBook still works fine so I decided to just stick with it for now.

One thing is, I always unplug my external after I do back-ups. I only back up about once a week. From what you can tell, would the Passport be okay for that type of usage?
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby viking777 on Sun Jan 08, 2012 5:42 am

MALsPa
One thing is, I always unplug my external after I do back-ups. I only back up about once a week. From what you can tell, would the Passport be okay for that type of usage?


Oh yes. No problem for that. And in its favour it is a very neat little device, small enough to fit into a shirt pocket I would say, though I haven't actually tried! OTOH when this one eventually wears out I won't be buying another like it.

gn2
What about an on/off switch?
You can buy USB cables with in-line rocker switches or you could make your own.
Or put it on a network USB hub device?


Probably would work, but not worth the effort, easier just to plug it in every time.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby AlbertP on Sun Jan 08, 2012 10:11 am

I'm having a laptop here which hangs during boot if there's a USB mass storage device plugged in, no matter what device it is (USB stick, harddisk, etc.). This happens with both Linux and Windows XP. So it might also be a problem with your computer instead of a harddisk problem.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby viking777 on Sun Jan 08, 2012 11:10 am

AlbertP wrote:I'm having a laptop here which hangs during boot if there's a USB mass storage device plugged in, no matter what device it is (USB stick, harddisk, etc.). This happens with both Linux and Windows XP. So it might also be a problem with your computer instead of a harddisk problem.


No its not that AlbertP, my laptop works with all my usb devices except this one, so it is definitely a problem with this device, my wife's windows computer won't boot with it plugged in either.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby dagon on Sun Jan 08, 2012 12:09 pm

Well, I tried my luck with the search engines and it's clearly the device that's the matter.

For reference purposes I leave you with the links I find most interresting:
This post remedies the smartware with a firmware update (under windows) and ubuntu disk utility:
http://www.securitybeacon.com/?p=571
-And links to this post:http://superuser.com/questions/44318/how-do-i-remove-a-mybooks-wd-smartware-virtual-cd-from-my-desktop
(--Wherein i found this comment suggesting palimpsest:http://superuser.com/a/229598)

Here's a trick to get your harddrive to ignore the smartdrive:
http://nixliving.blogspot.com/2010/01/enjoy-your-wd-my-book-1tb-drive-no-more.html

One of the comments suggested ripping the disk out of the case and exposing it to a strong magnet! :shock:
Not likely to work, at least not as intended!

Personally I would probably get another drive as fast as possible, sell the dumbware one and just try and forget that it all had ever occured.

ps. I'm not sure the methods claiming to remove the smartdrive partition really does it. More likely they hide it, which means it could pop up later or in other ways still be active...
Also, one post suggested that the smartdrive exists on a separate hardware flash unit and not on the disk itself. I can't see how this would matter though unless you can choose to actually lift this chip out of the circuit. (a possible hack... ;) )
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby viking777 on Sun Jan 08, 2012 1:18 pm

dagon, I really appreciate all your efforts there, but I did write on the opening post "I am not looking for solutions because there aren't any". I must say that the magnet idea is about the only one that is likely to do anything at all, and all that would do is to force me to buy another new drive :lol: .

I have searched all the alternatives, there are in my mind only three things I could do.

Reinstall the bloatware that I removed from the device when I formatted it, which might allow me to then use the WD software and a Windows computer to then disable it. (but it would still be there taking up space on my disk).

Find a way to flash the device firmware with an alternative that doesn't insist there is virtual cd drive on the disk. Linux is powerful, but it isn't that powerful.

Or lastly put it down to bad judgement and live with it until I can justify replacing it, and this is the option I have chosen.

Thanks very much for trying to help though.
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Re: How NOT to buy a usb hard drive

Postby dagon on Sun Jan 08, 2012 1:56 pm

but I did write on the opening post "I am not looking for solutions because there aren't any"

Indeed you did. And I think you made the right call...
I've worked with electronics and have actually soldered in these drives before so I come from a vastly different side of the story.
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