Done with Seagate

by Richard Kolkovich

I’ve been a proponent of Seagate drives since somewhere around my second or third PC build. I think my first “high capacity” (13.2GB) drive was a Seagate; I then went the Deathstar route with a 40GB Hitachi/IBM followed by an 80 (which, apropos, arrived on the day the 40 died). After that, I actually thought about brand before buying hard drives. I think I stepped up with Seagate in the following order: 160GB, 320GB and dual 400GB drives. When my 400GB mirror became full, I decided to upgrade once again.

If it’s worth building, it’s worth over-engineering the piss out of. I decided to roll with 4x1.5TB drives in a ZFS raidz pool (RAID5-equivalent capacity). I knew that initial shipments in Seagate’s 1.5TB 7200.11 series had firmware issues aplenty; these had been resolved by the time I decided to build this array (early August 2009). I was doubly re-assured by the drive’s placement on the Maximum PC Best of the Best list (where it reigned, I believe, until the recent arrival of the WD 2TB Caviar Black). I pulled the trigger on August 4.

After basking in the glow of 4.5 (4.0, effective)TB of empty space and the awesomeness that is zfs, I moved the contents of my 400GB array over. Everything went as smoothly as could be expected. About two days after this, however, I awoke to a S.M.A.R.T. error on one drive accompanied by its subsequent detachment from my system. I quickly started the RMA process at Newegg only to have a second drive begin exhibiting the Click of Death (before I had shipped the other drive back). ZFS’s raidz can tolerate one drive failure, so I immediately shut my machine down to stymie the impending doom of the second failing drive. I amended my RMA to be a refund for two drives and ordered two new drives with expedited shipping (makeshift advanced replacement). With my array once again happy, I continued on my merry way.

Before October’s passing, it decided to leave me a gift: the dreaded Click of Death had begun on another drive. Being out of Newegg’s 30-day zone, I RMA’d the drive through Seagate. The drive was still accessible, but since access was painful, I shut my machine down. I paid the $19.99 for an advanced replacement and return shipping label, reslivered the new drive into the array and was off to the races (again). On a side note here, I decided that I would sell my (original) Raptor when I built this array, assuming it would be fast enough for OS/applications.

Fast-forward to yesterday. December has given me an early Christmas present: ANOTHER FAILING DRIVE! As I wondered why my machine was running sporadically slow yesterday, I discovered while refilling my coffee once that the Click of Death had once again visited me (my new headphones are designed to block out noise, so I didn’t hear it until taking them off…). I did my due diligence and ran the long test provided by Seatools; this is just a bootable S.M.A.R.T. agent. The long test is the same as the S.M.A.R.T. long offline test (which would not complete using smartmontools, as the drive would disconnect after extremely long seek delays). This morning, I called Seagate Warranty Support, determined to at the very least not pay $19.99 for an advanced replacement AGAIN.

I initially suggested to the customer service representative that Seagate refund my money for all four drives. I would be much happier buying four new drives from a different manufacturer, such as the WD Caviar Black. Obviously, this suggestion was dismissed. I battled this rep for a good 20 minutes to get the advanced replacement with no charge. Upon requesting a supervisor, she told me her supervisor was on another call but suggested I talk to tech support before they could approve my request. I wasted time talking to a helpful tech support rep. who agreed that any clicking warrants drive replacement. He made his notes on my account and transferred me back to customer service.

I was now speaking to a different rep. than I had initially. She read the notes on my account, again presented my two options (I ship, they ship or advanced replacement) without waiving the $19.99 fee. She told me she could not approve that, so I waited in the queue for her supervisor.

The supervisor was pleasant but worthless. He danced to the same tune - they could not send me an advanced replacement for free. I don’t typically let my emotions get the better of me, so I was cool-headed but forceful with him. At this point, I didn’t care about Seagate’s obligations or policies. I was a loyal customer who had experienced a 57% failure rate in four months of ownership of a drive with an advertised annual failure rate of 0.34%; I wanted him to go out of his way to make me happy. The best he said he could do was to send me a shipping label to ship my drive in, free of charge. That would result in at least a week turnaround which is, to me, unacceptable.

Once I had become exhausted with attempting to garner a concession based on sympathy for my (hopefully) unusual experience with faulty drives, I turned to logic. I asked this supervisor what the difference was between giving me the advanced replacement for free and covering my shipping costs. He stated the $19.99 was their cost for the packaging materials and shipping via UPS, and that’s “just how it is”. I asked him to explain, logically, how it could be any different. He’s offering to cover shipping both ways. They are going to provide their own packaging materials even if I send my drive first. He did not refute these points, but he still could not explain why the options were really any different cost-wise.

They aren’t. The only difference between these options is shipping order. In both cases, Seagate was going to pay for shipping from them to me, shipping from me to them and packaging materials for the replacement drive. As this gentleman did not have a supervisor, I am now waiting 24-48h for the department he reports to (Seagate Global Customer Service or something…) to call me back.

I would also like to note that Newegg’s packaging and UPS’s shipping are suspect here. I was fairly pleased with the packaging - each drive was individually wrapped in a copious amount of bubble wrap and the box was filled with packaging peanuts, but various sources on the Interweb swear against Newegg when it comes to magnetic hard drives. I’ve seen this same dogma applied to UPS shipping, too. In the future, I will attempt to avoid both these potential pitfalls. My friend and colleague Stephen Shelton ordered four of the same drive from Dell a week before I did. They came in foam packaging designed for four hard drives (just like the first replacement I received from Seagate); he has had no problems with his drives. At the same time, “normal” shipping abuse should be considered by manufacturers - how else are these drives going to get to end users?

I’m beyond the realm of logic now. I’ve spent more time than the $19.99 is worth between being on the phone and not having my workstation running. Now, I fight a battle of principle. I was, even with this failure, willing to place blame at Newegg and/or UPS. Seagate has thus far shown me they don’t care enough about retaining me as a customer and proponent of their products to concede a bullshit $19.99 fee. For this, they will lose my business in the future. </rant>