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ATPM 12.11
November 2006


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by Mark Tennent,

A Song of Opposites

This time of year is always a bit Keatsian. No more the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, or at least not in the southeastern corner of the UK. Our gourds have swollen, and we have drunk the oozings from the cider press, just as John Keats wrote in the 1800s. He was possibly the first Macintosh fan as well, penning his poem on hot-desking, “Sharing Eve’s Apple.” We do still have tomatoes growing outdoors, but our apples are long since eaten, and the plums and pears have already turned into jam and chutney. That is, those pears the darned gray squirrels didn’t get their teeth into. These North American immigrants decimated our conference pears this year but were too scared to tackle the tree of unknown variety overhanging the pond.

We head towards gaining an extra hour in bed at the end of the month when the U.K. returns to GMT, a strange custom of playing with time. It was first mooted by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, largely as a joke, and 200 years later adopted around the world for some arcane reason ostensibly to do with giving longer hours of sunlight in the evenings. So why do we lose them in winter when we need them the most? The one hour of extra time is a poor substitute for dismal dusk starting halfway through the working afternoon. One year, the UK tried remaining on summer time, which I thought was brilliant, but apparently the Scots had different ideas—but then the men do wear skirts, so should we trust them entirely?

That’s just what I feel about my new hard disk, a Western Digital MyBook Pro 500 GB.


Western Digital MyBook Pro external hard disk.

I bought it following glowing reviews in the computer press and mainly because it has USB and FireWire 400 and 800 sockets. My G5 has a front FireWire socket to spare, so it seemed time to start filling the unused 800 sockets at the rear. And all was well in the beginning. The drive, looking a little like a metallic dictionary in size and shape, is extremely rapid and comes complete with a full set of cables. The installation booklet is mainly for PC users with page after page of advice about connecting to Windows. The Mac section, one sentence or so, says “Bung it on and plug it in,” or words to that effect.

After a few days, one becomes aware of an irritating hum coming from the drive that even now, propped on two thick pads of sponge, still manages to transmit to the sounding board of my desk. Not a big problem, but it adds to the humming, whirring, clicking cacophony of the office.

Then there are the enormous lights on the front, twin circles of tasteless design that must have seemed a good idea at the time but, like the new Honda Civic, the verisimilitude is flawed in reality.


Honda Civic’s new design, a matter of bling over taste.

The final straw came when, after installing Mac OS X 10.4.8, the drive no longer functioned properly on the FireWire 800 circuit. If the Mac goes to sleep when the drive is mounted, it won’t be there when the Mac wakes up, requiring either a reboot or yanking the leads on the drive. It works fine under FireWire 400, though I haven’t tested the USB operation (having no spare port).

Western Digital has told me: “There is no workaround. This is a known issue. We are aware of the problem and working on the solution.” But as it also said, “We do not provide firmware updates.” It will be interesting to see how Western Digital solves this one. Consequently, I cannot recommend the drive. Unlike the Honda Civic—which goes like a rocket on rails—if only Honda would redesign the rear end and dump the excess chrome, which, I understand, is considered de rigueur for the North American market. You can have your squirrels back, too.

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Reader Comments (8)

Gregory Tetrault · November 2, 2006 - 11:01 EST #1
I ran into firmware and/or driver problems with a Western Digital internal hard drive. Same answer: we're working on something, don't know when we'll fix the problem, but why don't you try one of our other (slower, lower capacity) drives? I returned their drive and bought a LaCie external 500 GB Firewire drive with multiple ports (Firewire 800 and 400, USB 2). Fast, quiet, works great.
Mark Tennent (ATPM Staff) · November 2, 2006 - 11:11 EST #2
Currently there is a new drive en-route from WD. At first they billed my credit card for the cost of the drive - at a darned sight more than I paid for the original. They also wanted me to pay the postage costs to and from Germany.

I said "Fine, and I'll write about the drive's failure and the hassles and expense you've put me through in my blog and APTM column". Now they decided to refund my card and are shipping me the drive for free with a return coupon. I wonder why.

It didn't stop me writing about it. ;-)
C H · April 3, 2007 - 14:00 EST #3
I had the same challenge w/my IMAC which runs on OS 10.4 and firewire 800 . It runs fine with the firewire 400 and usb 2.0 . I even got a replacement MyBook 500 pro and the same thing happened. I have read that some people have attributed the problem to the cable Western Digital provides. Others have attributed it to how the drive interfaces with the operating system.
Mark Tennent (ATPM Staff) · April 4, 2007 - 03:27 EST #4
Well, the situation ended for me by WD giving me two drives. They are both flakey and sometimes refuse to mount for some reason or other. One is worse than the other.

I did buy a separate power supply for my EyeTV box - which had been running power over Firewire - but it had no effect.

According to my contact at WD, the MyBook Pro 2 drives are the same.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · April 4, 2007 - 09:10 EST #5
Do you think the problem is limited to these FW800 versions of the MyBook drives? I have two of the Essential Edition drives that only have a USB 2.0 connection and I use a power supply with them as well. They hold an ongoing video series that I edit on one, and make a clone on the second. They've yet to give me any problems whatsoever.
Mark Tennent (ATPM Staff) · April 4, 2007 - 09:33 EST #6
There are many Mac users who have no problem with the drives. I even had troubles when I ran them under USB. Not only were they incredibly slow but they prevented my Mac from sleeping.

So now I run them chained into a FW 800 port and remember to dismount them or get used to pulling the leads to get them running again.
CH · April 7, 2007 - 01:47 EST #7
What company makes the most reliable external hard drives? I can't find any sites that review hard drive reliability. Any suggestions? I have an IMac that's running OSX 10.4.9 I want a 500GB or more.

I have been running my MyBook Pro for about 1 week on USB 2.0 on my IMac with OSX 10.4.9 . As I mentioned above, it was giving trouble and not mounting on my firewire 800 port. It has been working fine on USB 2.0, but that defeats the purpose of me getting a drive with firewire 800.
Mark Tennent (ATPM Staff) · April 7, 2007 - 05:23 EST #8
The most reliable drives I've had have been Hitachi, Connor, Quantum and IBM. The least reliable have been Maxtor and Western Digital.

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