Why you should never buy an external HD drive

By Brian Boyko,
Contributor, [GAS]

Edit: August 22, 2007: Seagate sent me a brand new 500g FreeAgent – the original model that went bad on me – in replacement.  I still miss my data, and I think that technical support wasn’t sufficiently technical nor supportive, but I’m glad to know that Seagate will fix it’s errors, even if the guy on the phone gave me some – let’s call it “less than accurate” information.  It was a little frustrating but I’m glad everything was made right in the end.   

This weekend I lost all my data.

Seagate FreeAgent DesktopSad but true. I wanted to start from scratch with my computer, so I did a reformat of the OS. Knowing how important data is, I meticulously backed-up all my data to an external drive, a 500GB Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 2.0 drive; you know, the ones in those black enclosures. I bought it less than 6 months ago.

It was only when I was done with the reformat, and ready to restore, did the OS fail to detect the external drive. I tried another OS. Zip. Another computer. Nada. The drive had died on me at the worst possible time.

Because Seagate puts the FreeAgent into a snap-together enclosure, I called them up to see if there was any way to open the enclosure without wrecking the case. The first guy escalated me to level 2 tech support, the level 2 tech support guy told me that they never open these things up once sealed, couldn’t tell me how because he didn’t know how to open it, and informed me that opening it would void my warranty anyway.

The worst part about this is that, while it sucks to be out $200, my data was more important than that, and I had to open up the case on the off chance that it was the enclosure – and not the drive – that had failed on me. So I opened up the case, removed – with great difficulty – the bog-standard Seagate SATA drive inside, and tried hooking it up to my computer. It was DOA – the BIOS wouldn’t even recognize it. Lacking a clean room, I resigned myself to the fact that the drive was dead.

Sadly, had I bought a Seagate drive and put it in my own enclosure, I would have been able to return the dead drive to Seagate. The only difference between the two solutions is Seagate’s design of sealing everything away in a black case. To re-purpose a cliché, it was like buying a car with the hood welded shut.

 GigaPod VI SP147I went out and bought an internal Western Digital drive and enclosure for my new backup solution. I don’t plan to buy anything I can’t easily get into the guts of again. (This is also why I distrust Apple products…)

A quick update: Ignoring the warnings of the person I spoke to on the phone about “voiding the warranty,” I went to the Seagate Web site and filled out a form for an RMA on the Barracuda drive that was inside the external enclosure. I’m going to send in the “naked” dead drive. I have no idea whether or not the request for replacement will be honored, but I will keep you updated either way.