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Are Hard Disk Warranties Worthless? 187

Posted by Cliff
from the better-QA-on-refurbished-hardware dept.
1984 asks: "Earlier this year I returned a Hitachi 2.5" drive under warranty, and got back a replacement which died after a week or so of light use. More recently a Seagate 200GB desktop IDE disk flaked after a few months use, so I sent it off and received a replacement under warranty. The replacement wouldn't even format. So I RMAed that and got another dead replacement. All the replacement disks were 'refurbished', and I see many instances of similar problems with refurbished replacements when Googling. So I'm asking, what experience are people having with getting replacement disks that work, and continue to do so for something approaching the expected lifetime of the original drive? Are current warranties just a sham?"
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Are Hard Disk Warranties Worthless?

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  • Lemon Law (Score:5, Informative)

    by joshetc (955226) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @09:37AM (#16257697)
    In some areas (of the USA) the "Lemon Law" applies to more than just automobiles. One thing it may apply to is computers and computer components. I'd check your local law and see if it applies, if it does then ask the company for a NEW replacement otherwise you'd like a full refund. If they don't oblige you can simply mention that law. (generally 3 faults requires them to give you a full refund or a completely new replacement)
  • Re:Lemon Law (Score:5, Informative)

    by joshetc (955226) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @09:41AM (#16257725)
    Extremely sorry, I forgot to include a link [wikipedia.org].
  • by bullok (155096) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @09:55AM (#16257791)
    In the last 4 years or so, I've bought about 30 Seagate drives. Two died during the warranty period. In both cases, the RMA was quick and the replacement drives worked ok. One of the replacements was refurbished, the other was new.

    One of the failed drives was shipped via UPS, and the package was pretty roughed up. The drive worked initially, but failed within a week. I suspect that many failed drives haven't failed due to manufacturing defects, but due to abuse during shipping. Of course, this means that they should be using better packaging (and more conscientious shippers). I'd gladly pay a couple of extra bucks for a better shipping container (or better shipper) to avoid the occasional beat-up drive.

    1/15 does seem like a high failure rate to me, but it's a pretty small sample size, so my numbers alone don't mean much.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 30, 2006 @10:06AM (#16257865)
    I just had a drive die in a DELL desktop that was just over a year old. If purchased direct the disk would have had something like a 3 year warranty. When purchased as part of a Dell computer you get just 90 days warranty in this case, I think the base warranty on other Dell product lines may be longer.
  • Bad Power Supply (Score:5, Informative)

    by crow (16139) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @10:11AM (#16257889) Homepage Journal
    From my experience, repeated drive failures are the result of a bad power supply or some other external factor. This doesn't include DOA drives, of course, but otherwise when your drives keep failing, you need to check the operating temperature and power supply.
  • Re:Bad Power Supply (Score:5, Informative)

    by ivan256 (17499) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @10:28AM (#16257997)
    You hit the nail on the head.

    In the course of past jobs, I've probably returned about 200 drives under warranty (out of probably 4000-5000 drives installed). The failure rate for the replacement drives was never above average for the replacement drives with the exception of two models. One was an old Quantum low-end 3.5" model in the 2-4GB range that I can't remember the name of, and the other was the notorious version of the IBM deskstar. However in the deskstar case, the second round of replacements were a far superior drive, many of which I still have in use today.

    On the other hand, I have seen machines that seemed to eat hard drives for lunch, and in the end a few minutes with a scope always showed unstable voltage from the powersupply during bootup.

    Generaly I'd say my hard drive warranty experience has been positive; especially since, more often than not, I have received either faster or higher capacity drives as replacements.
  • by maynard (3337) <j...maynard...gelinas@@@gmail...com> on Saturday September 30, 2006 @10:29AM (#16258003) Journal
    Where I work we regularly ship back dead Seagate IDE and SATA drives after RAID failures. Without these long warranties we'd lose far more money than is the case. Further, since these longer warranties have become standard, the MBTF and hardiness of consumer IDE drives have increased dramatically. I used to expect consumer disk to die within a year or two of regular (personal) use. In a heavily RAID array, they would often die within six months to a year. Now, they last much longer. Often, a year or two.

    Of course, commercial SCSI / fiberchannel disks still last a good five years of hard constant use. So, as is always, you get what you pay for. But, as it happens, these days you get more reliability on the consumer side than previously. I mean, who remembers the IBM disk fiasco a few years back? The warranties have helped.
  • Cooling! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Psychofreak (17440) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @10:32AM (#16258023) Journal
    You have a good point about cooling. I had terrible luck with a removeable disk drive. I had it replaced at least 3x. The company folded so I had no recourse. I concluded that the drive was overheating as the ejected cartridge would be untouchably hot. People now call me a little crazy about cooling. I atribute the very long life of my curent computer to it sounding like a vaccume cleaner with it's 7 fans. That's 2 regular case fans, two midgit fans in a HDD cooler, one slot fan against the video card, and two processor fansin a dual p-pro system(overclocked of course).

    As a side note the dorm I lived in would top 100F regularly. I saw this alone kill many classmates machines.
    Phil
  • by sarkeizen (106737) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @10:37AM (#16258055) Journal
    ...and this seems to extend beyond the hard drive market. Virtually every computer component I get repaired has some refurbished part. Seagate has recently started labeling their refurbed drive. The branding sticker on the one I most recently replaced had a green border and read "Seagate Reconditioned Drive" at the top. I wonder if this is to stop people from selling them outright.

    My Advice:

    1) If you can, buy from a store with a good return policy (best buy, etc) - although often I find those stores only carry the boxed drives which tend to have lower warranties. If it dies in a very short period - return it and get a new one. Don't let them scam you into getting a warranty exchange.

    2) Before you buy check out the MTBF on the various models of drive. Some differ significantly.

    3) Back up religiously and/or use a RAID. My RAID 5 is composed of seven drives and I lose a drive probably every 18 months or so but it's virtually a no-pain situation. Pull the drive - send it out for repair - take the refurbed drive and assign it to the RAID as a hot-spare. RAID rebuilds itself.

    But to answer the question: "Are the warantees worthless?". My last drive I exchanged to seagate was 200G they replaced it with a 400G! Not bad IMHO.
  • Re:Is it the drives? (Score:2, Informative)

    by portmapper (991533) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @11:18AM (#16258263)
    > Is there any chance something other than the drives is causing the failures? Bad power? Too little cooling?

    Inadequate cooling will really shorten the lifetime of the harddisk. Using a modern power hungry graphics card(s), an Intel CPU , a power
    hungry motherboard along with an inefficient and overdimmensioned PSU will generate a lot of heat. Without an extra fan for the hard disk
    it may be too hot.
  • Re:Is it the drives? (Score:3, Informative)

    by legoburner (702695) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @11:31AM (#16258341) Homepage Journal
    As I understand it, heat is very bad for the lubricant in the drive, so when HDDs get too hot, the lubricant (eventually) dries out and vastly shortens the life of the drive. I might be mistaken, so does anybody have real experience with this?
  • Maxtor (Score:4, Informative)

    by spoonboy42 (146048) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @11:32AM (#16258347)

    To be honest, I've had drives from every major manufacturer die. By far the best warranty coverage came from Maxtor, however, who would send out a replacement drive before requiring the old drive back (for a drive which was starting to show bad sectors, I would take it offline, wait for the replacement, then transfer my data over directly). As long as you send the defective drive back within a month, you're golden.

    In my case, the new drives were always actually new, and performed very well. Recieving them basically "reset" the warranty to day 0, as well. Finally, the RMA process is completely automated, not requiring you to wait on a phone line. Just download and run a little diagnostic tool which will give you an error code, enter it in on the website, and you can handle the whole business without having to talk to anyone at a call center.

    In short, having a drive die sucks, and as I said, it's happened to me with most major manufacturers (Western Digital, Seagate, IBM, Toshiba, Hitachi all come to mind), but Maxtor had by far the best warranty coverage.

  • by Student_Tech (66719) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @11:49AM (#16258453) Journal
    There was an Ask Slashdot on a similar [slashdot.org] thing a few weeks ago. The comments answer to that seemed to boil down to:
    1. Contact manufacture about your policy concerning drive with data on them
    2. Most seemed to accept just the face plate once contacted
    3. Send in face plate
    3.5(opt) Destroy rest of dead drive
    4. Get replacement drive
  • by Fishbulb (32296) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @12:42PM (#16258795)
    Having been a SCSI-drive user since my Amiga 1000 days, you need to understand MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) and the difference between IDE/SATA drives and SCSI/FiberChannel drives. Remember that the profit margins on consumer electronics is razor thin, so any manufacturer is going to put any device it can't find a problem with back into service (eg: your RMA'd drives).

    Here are some articles I dug up in a few minutes:
    http://www.bqr.com/faq/faq.htm [bqr.com]
    http://www.atruereview.com/Articles/scsi.php [atruereview.com]
    http://www.driveservice.com/bestwrst.htm [driveservice.com] (a bit old, but has useful info)

    To answer your qeustion:
    Caveat Emptor!
  • Re:Wow (Score:3, Informative)

    by Forge (2456) <kevinforge@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday September 30, 2006 @01:11PM (#16258969) Homepage Journal
    You don't know how true that cost is. Even with my chosen methodology of keeping a disk image of each unique system installation.

    Physically replace the hard drive -: 5 to 10 minutes.
    Restore disk image -: 3 to 90 minutes (depending on NIC speed and configuration size)
    Patch and reboot -: 30 minutes.

    Too bad the Dell techs only replace the hardware and enough software to make sure it work. Which means that if your hard disk dies, they would just format and load on io.sys and the other core DOS files.
  • Re:Well, of course. (Score:3, Informative)

    by alienw (585907) <alienw.slashdot@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday September 30, 2006 @01:54PM (#16259309)
    Spinup/spindown are actually not significant as far as wear is concerned. An otherwise worn-out drive is more likely to fail during a spin-up or spin-down, but those actions don't actually cause any wear. My understanding is that most failures are caused by spindle bearings wearing out, which is directly proportional to how long the drive has been powered on.
  • by SamNmaX (613567) on Saturday September 30, 2006 @02:15PM (#16259489)
    I had a Maxtor drive flake out on me with the click of death. So, I sent in for another, and it worked for a little while, but then it wouldn't even spin up. My current Maxtor drive, while it sort of works, often has trouble unparking the drive head when I first boot up. I have decided to stop wasting my time trying to get replacements, and have stopped wasting my time with Maxtor altogether. Maxtor certainly isn't the only company that makes flacky harddrives. I've had Western Digitals and Quantums (now owned by Maxtor) die on me too. However, Maxtors drives seem to be consistently bad, and after getting 3 bad hard drives from them in a row, I make sure to avoid them at all cost, and let me friends know to do so as well.

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