Users at risk of data loss thanks to 'irresponsible' Apple

Loss due to hard drive design flaw

A U.K. data recovery organization has warned Apple Macbook users that they risk potential data loss due to a design flaw on certain hard drives.

U.K. firm Retrodata has come across "many dozens" of failures affecting Seagate 2.5 inch SATA drives, commonly found in laptops such as the MacBook or MacBook Pro. Apple desktops that use laptop-oriented components, like the Mac Mini, are also potentially at risk.

"The read/write heads are detaching from the arm and ploughing deep gouges into the magnetic platter," explained Retrodata's managing director Duncan Clarke. "The damage is mostly on the inner tracks, but some scratches are on the outer track (track 0), and once that happens, the drive is normally beyond repair."

The problem is found on the Seagate 2.5-inch SATA drives that are made in China and are loaded with firmware version 7.01. Model numbers affected include ST96812AS and ST98823AS.

Clark advises users to go to their System Profile, and under Serial ATA look for the revision number. "If it is firmware version 7.01 then you have to panic," he warned.

"Apple are being utterly irresponsible and should launch a product recall," Clarke said.

One unlucky Macbook user told Techworld that she had lost two months of crucial work data when her hard disk "just collapsed when saving a Word file." She insisted her 13-month old Macbook had been treated very gently, mostly as a desk-based computer, and rarely left the house.

According to Alkas Ali, a director at data recovery specialist DiskEng, it is difficult to pinpoint specific hard disks with design flaws, due to the high volumes of faulty disks they encounter.

"Damage to magnetic platters are a normal type of failure for laptops," Ali said. "This can be caused by temperature related issues or if the read/write head oscillates." However he conceded that if the read/write heads are detaching from the arm, that is a design flaw. But he warned that you would need to see several hundred or several thousand drives with this problem to know for sure there is a design flaw.

Retrodata's Clarke concedes he does not see these numbers of failures as his is a small firm, but the picture could be different when all the experiences of U.K. data recovery firms with these hard drives are tallied up.

"There is absolutely, definitely a flaw with these drives," said Clarke. "I have seen enough to know there is a problem with them...any Apple Mac that uses a 2.5 inch drive is at risk."

"This matter has only just come to our attention and Seagate are looking into it," a Seagate spokesman told Techworld. Apple meanwhile, did not respond to a request for an interview.

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Tom Jowitt

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