[conspire] question about EIDE ATA hard drive to buy

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Tue Dec 19 20:15:13 PST 2006

Quoting Darlene Wallach (freepalestin at dslextreme.com):

> I'm confused about brands.
> I guess the advantage of buying from Central Computer is they are
> local and close to where I live. Noone in the store, at least when I
> was there, is familar with Linux.
> Anyway, do people have experience good/bad with: Samsung, Western
> Digital, Seagate?

Huh.  This is a very logical thing to ask, but is one of the great
debatable topics.  ;->

o  Anecdotes you get have to be interpreted carefully, for a number of 
   reasons, including the power of gossip.
o  The merits of a particular brand are not necessarily accurately 
   reflected by that brand as experienced via particular retailers.

At least once in this space (2003-07-10), I've told a cautionary tale
about now-defunct discounter NCA Computer Products.  If you've heard
this before, feel free to skim while I blather:


You can go into the Adaptec SCSI BIOS and turn off the Adaptec chip's
willingness to attempt disconnected operation for each specific SCSI ID,
individually.  Sometimes, you do that, and suddenly the drive works well
in conjunction with other drives.  But, of course, more slowly than you
would like, having reduced the chain to an IDE level of inefficiency.

If that's the case with one (or two) of those 9GB drives, then that will
make the second (and possibly third) drive I've ever encountered that's 
that miserably bad.  However, it's possible.  I've seen it:

Consider Tandem Computer, now long swallowed up and digested.  It used
to sell workstations with each one SCSI drive.  At a point a decade or
so ago, they came to IBM to buy a batch of 1.3 GB SCSI drives for such a
workstation, and IBM offered them a special deal on a big batch of them,
at very low distress prices because they didn't do disconnected

This wasn't a deal-breaker for Tandem, because the machine was spec'd to
have just the one hard drive, ergo inability to detach from the host
adapter and do independent operations ("SCSI disconnect") wasn't an
issue.  So, they bought some number of shipping palettes of the drives,
really cheaply.  They had a lot more than they needed, so they sold a
lot of them off to NCA Computer Products.  Where I bought one, had
enormous problems trying to use it on a multidrive chain, eventually
figured out that it worked if you disabled disconnect, and brought it
back to exchange it.

NCA Computer Products always had the best prices in the Valley, and
their reliance on grey market crappo merchandise was the main reason
why.  They also always had a long line of people waiting to exchange
defective or otherwise malfunctioning gear.  I have no doubt that the
IBM drive I brought back went right back onto their shelf.

(I confirmed my suspicion about the drive by telephoning IBM, who
confirmed that it was a model lacking disconnect ability, and referring
me for any further support to the OEM'er, the then-already-defunct
Tandem Computer, whose S/N it bore.)


Point is, if you happened to buy a lot of IBM drives at NCA Computer
Products, you'd tend to think IBM drives sucked.  However, you weren't
getting a representative sample of what IBM made.

Anyhow, one thing to check with any computer parts retailer is:  Is this
grey market gear?  That's not necessarily a deal-breaker, but you want
to know what you're buying.  Central Computer _used_ to have on the wall
a reasonably prominent sign (might be still there; dunno) advising
customers generically that many of their offerings _are_ OEM resales, or
some wording like that, that translates to "grey market".  What's grey
market?  It's parts that were originally offered on an OEM basis, but
then resold separately, with the result that there's no manufacturer 
warranty.  In the example quoted above, IBM made a batch of drives
specifically for Tandem:  As part of that deal, to get a lower price,
Tandem agreed to do all end-user warranty support.  Ergo, no IBM
warranty, and the IBM S/N database was marked to so indicate.  NCA sold
one of those drives to me, I had a problem, I called IBM:

Me:  Hey, this drive doesn't support SCSI disconnect!  I want an RMA.
IBM:  What the S/N?
Me:  [reads off the requested string]
IBM:  Sir, that's a Tandem OEM part.  This drive is part of a Tandem 
      minicomputer.  Therefore, you'll need to get your warranty 
      service from Tandem Corporation.
Me:  There is no Tandem Corporation, any more.
IBM:  [polite phrasing that approximates "Sorry to hear about your
      personal problem."]

Now, Central Computer would say, on behalf of such arrangements, that 
_they_ provide a "store warranty" for all parts, that they fully stand
behind what they sell, and that OEM-resale arrangements allow them to
offer you better pricing, compared to full-retail shrinkwrapped parts.
There is some considerable truth to that.  The main thing is:  Know
what you're getting.  If you're happy enough with a "store warranty",
then go with it.  Grey market gear _does_ tend to come in cheaper.

The power of rumour:  Ever heard the phrase "IBM Deathstar"?  It's a
nearly ubiquitous meme, when you're talking about drive brands.  The
truth of the matter is:  There was one batch of IBM DeskStar hard drives
in the 60GXP and 75GXP series (only) manufactured at one contractor in
East Asia, that had a high defect rate -- about seven or eight years
ago, about.  It only happened with that one batch, and never again, and
never affected any of IBM's many other model series -- but they never
lived it down, despite their overall quality in my experience being very
high, and their customer service being exceptional.

Getting back to brands:  One way to judge the merits of brands, that 
isn't impaired by the power of rumour, nor by grey-market and similar
retail-based distortions of statistical sampling, is to look at warranty

A few years before the Deathstar fiasco, Seagate Technologies had been
getting a bad reputation for quality control.  It's uncertain whether
this was justified, or just reflected their producing _more_ drives than
anyone else of the period, plus having to absorb Conner, Micropolis, and
probably some others I'm forgetting.  Anyhow, their response was to put
out a prominent press release saying "We're extending our warranty
period to five years."

If memory serves, most or all of their competitors were obliged to
follow suit, _but have subsequently cut back_.  I think you'll find that
Seagate's still doing five, while most or all others have quietly cut
back to two or three years (from memory, I'm guessing three).

Ultimately, "you pays your money and you takes your chances", but
warranty duration -- IF the manufacturer's warranty applies -- is 
definitely a pretty reasonable indication of manufacturer confidence.

You're wise in mentioning the convenience of dealing with a nearby
vendor:  Back when I occasionally bought cheap parts at the Robert
Austin Computer Show, at the Cow Palace or Oakland Convention Center,
I'd always have to bear in mind that it's a long drive from South of
Market (where I lived) to Fremont or Milpitas, if I ended up needing to
take something back to a vendor.

And don't be the _least_ surprised at store staff being ignorant of
Linux.  They typically don't know much about MS-Windows either, but 
they see it more often.   Basically, they're just moving parts; you're 
not going to get competent OS-related help, so it's best not to even

More information about the conspire mailing list