Bugs & Fixes: Resolving confusion with LaCie’s drive updates

I own a LaCie d2 DVD±RW drive. Because I get occasional burn errors when using it, I keep a lookout for firmware updates. My hope is that an update could provide a permanent fix. Recently, I spotted the release of LaCie DVD Update Tool 2.0. I was prepared to give it a go.

After launching the utility, my first surprise was that the DVD Update Tool identified the two LaCie hard drives connected to my Mac and offered to update them. Huh? This was a DVD updater. LaCie has a separate LaCie Update Tool 2.0 for its hard drives. Why was the DVD Update Tool messing around with my hard drives? My confidence in the Tool was on the wane.

The DVD updater did finally get around to checking my DVD drive. In a second surprise, it said that the drive did not need updating, as “the firmware is already at vLC03.” Apple’s System Profiler confirmed that the drive’s Product Revision Level was LC03. However, I had not even attempted to update the drive’s firmware in over a year. Maybe all LaCie was doing was updating the utility software rather than the firmware it installs. Or maybe my drive was not a model that needed updating. There was no way to tell for sure.

Just to see what would happen, I decided to run the hard drive Update Tool. Not surprisingly, given that the DVD Update Tool checked for hard drives, the hard drive Tool returned the favor and checked the DVD drive. It agreed that my DVD drive did not need updating. However, it gave a slightly different message—stating that “the firmware is already at v.1.02(DVD) (Oct 12 2006).” This confirmed that, despite the Update Tool’s May 1 2008 release date, the latest firmware for my drive dates back to 2006!

Apple’s System Profiler agreed that the drive’s Firmware Revision was 0x102. However, it was unclear why one LaCie updater referred to the Firmware Revision while the other referred to the Product Revision Level. At least they both confirmed that my DVD drive was up-to-date. Which is a good thing. Because if my drive did need updating, I’m not sure which of the two utilities I would want to trust to the task. Maybe they would have both done the same thing. But when you’re dealing with firmware updates, you don’t want to have to guess.

Seeking answers to all these questions, I went to the source and asked LaCie what was going on.

Regarding why the DVD Update Tool did not have new firmware for my drive, LaCie stated: “This is because there is no new firmware for your particular drive. Keep in mind, the Update Tool is an all-in-one tool for many different disk and optical drives. When an Update Tool version is released, it does not include new updates for all drives.”

Okay—I would have preferred if the documentation stated this more clearly, perhaps even listing which models have new updates. Otherwise, this makes sense and seems reasonable.

Regarding why the DVD Update tool offered to update my hard drives, and why there were different firmware numbers given by each Update Tool, LaCie told me: “The LaCie (hard drive) Update Tool will examine the bridge firmware in all LaCie products and update that firmware as necessary. The LaCie DVD Update Tool will examine and update the ‘drive’ firmware of LaCie supported DVD and CD drive mechanisms. Since these products also contain bridge firmware, and that firmware might also need updating, the DVD update tool will also examine the bridge firmware of all LaCie products and update that firmware as necessary. So, the bottom line is the the LaCie DVD Update Tool (18 MB) will ‘do it all’ for a LaCie customer. The LaCie Update Tool (10 MB) is also provided so that customers with only hard drives do not have to download such a large program.”

I don’t see 18 MB as “such a large program” as to necessitate having two separate Tools. I would have preferred if LaCie instead offered only one Tool, and explained how it worked. LaCie’s answer also indicates that its hard drive Update Tool will examine and offer to update a DVD drive’s bridge firmware but not its drive firmware. Once again, such distinctions are not made clear in LaCie’s documentation, resulting in potential confusion for users.

Personally, given the lack of clarity in the documentation, I remain hesitant to use the LaCie updaters—even after getting these answers. And I’m especially hesitant when you consider that a firmware update failure can convert your device into a “doorstop.” Even LaCie warns: “Updating drive firmware is a critical task…While LaCie has taken precautions to prevent data loss, be sure to have a backup. If there are other unanticipated issues with your system, data loss is possible during the update process.”

If you are already having serious problems with your drive, risking the update makes sense. Otherwise, I would think twice before proceeding.

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