dendritic arborization • I like that phrase

disordered thought processes

hidden in the seeming chaos is beautiful, elegant order—at least, I hope that's true.

how to: lose the faith of your customers

posted on March 22nd, 2008

So I used to have an array of external hard drives attached to my Mac Mini by Firewire. Most of the hard drives were encased in Venus DS3s. Like many Firewire 400/IEEE 1394a hard drive enclosures, it’s based on the venerable but reliable Oxford Semiconductor 911 chipset.

But hard drives continued to get faster, bigger, and cheaper, so eventually I disconnected them all and settled for a single 250 GB Western Digital My Book Premium Edition. Mostly because all those hard drives made the room unbearably hot during the summer.

The other reason, though, was that one of the drives was notoriously unreliable. I think it may have been overheating, but it had the tendency to simply just go off-line at the most inopportune moments. In retrospect, it may have been because I had all these external hard drives with the same GUIDs, but I haven’t checked.

I ended up resurrecting the Venus DS3s when Fry’s had a sale on 320 GB PATA hard drives for $70, making the use of Leopard’s Time Machine feasible.

For the most part, this worked without a hitch. Except, quite mysteriously, Time Machine would barf and abort in the middle of a backup, and until I figured out how to fix it, I would end up simply just reformatting the backup drive.

Eventually, I started wondering whether there was something wrong with the firmware. And this is where all hell breaks loose.

I discovered the Oxford Firmware Uploader through Google (naturally) on the DATOptic Inc Support Page, which also happens to have a copy of the most up-to-date version of the Oxford 911 Firmware.

The uploader is a Java program, and apparently does not work out-of-the-box on an HFS+ case-sensitive volume. After unstuffing the archive, you have to rename the “Data” folder to “data”. Eventually after several hours of my life which I will never get back, I figured out how to reflash the Venus DS3 and it seems to have worked without a hitch.

Feeling overconfident, I decided to upgrade the firmware on my My Book, too. This was a big mistake. The Upgrade Program, a custom version of the Oxford Firmware Uploader, doesn’t even run, at least not in Leopard. So I decided to be clever and use the Oxford Firmware Uploader instead. Although it gave all appearances of actually working, what it really did was kill my My Book.

Luckily, Google led me to this fix. While the screenshots are from Windows, the Mac OS X version is pretty similar. Except I had to use the SST39xF400A instead of the SST39xF200A. I don’t know if this is because of my particular My Book and when it was released. I’m not sure how to check this in advance without actually disassembling your My Book. My method was simply to screw around with the Uploader until something worked, which is certainly not for the faint of heart, especially if you have important data on that drive.

After a dozen or so hours of my life completely wasted, I finally got Time Machine up and running again. So far, it hasn’t failed again, but I have no idea whether or not the updated firmware even makes a difference.

Still, I can’t believe Western Digital actually still has their updated online. This thing is a steaming pile of crap that will almost certainly kill your hard drive.