Apple Computer Inc. said last week that
they had identified an issue with the Oxford Semiconductor 922 chipset used in FireWire 800 hard drives and were working to fix the issue. While Apple, Oxford and hard drive manufacturers have stated the issue only affects the newer Oxford 922 chips, users of FireWire 400 drives have been reporting symptoms very similar to the ones initially found with FireWire 800.
“I lost a good deal of work-related data,” author Dan Frakes, told MacCentral. “The original stuff was on one FireWire drive, and the backup was on the other.”
Frakes, like many other users, installed Mac OS X Panther on his new dual G5 when the new operating system became available on October 24. After installing Panther and booting the system, Frakes plugged in the FireWire drive and everything worked fine — it was after a restart that the problems began. When the system booted up again, the drive was unrecognizable.
“The drive worked fine on my G4/733 running Jaguar,” said Frakes. “And before I disconnected it from the Jaguar machine, I ran Disk Utility and DiskWarrior on it to make sure the drive was in good condition. In fact, the drive was fairly new, so it wasn’t even fragmented.”
Despite several utilities being able to access the drive, nothing was able to fix it. Frakes eventually took his drive to
DriveSavers, and they were able to recover the data from the hard drive.
Frakes was able to reproduce the problem the next day with another FireWire 400 drive. He took a 5GB hard drive and formatted it using Panther’s Disk Utility and copied a few files to the newly formatted drive to make sure it was functioning properly. When Frakes restarted the computer, the hard disk was unrecognizable in Panther.
“While Panther promises a number of compelling features, this is a significant blow to its much-hyped release,” Technology Business Research analyst, Tim Deal, told MacCentral. “Apple’s inability to anticipate and troubleshoot the problem prior to the release is both surprising and inexcusable. Apple employs top-notch developers to insure these kinds of problems do not happen.”
Frakes is not alone in his problem — other users have reported losing data using Panther and FireWire 400 drives, as well. Macintosh user Mike Myers lost the use of his FireWire drive and his 30GB iPod. While Myers was able to recover the data from the hard drive, his 30GB iPod will still not mount on any computer.
“I would just like to advise people to periodically check the discussions boards on the Apple website — especially when considering a significant upgrade such as this,” said Myers. “If I had done my homework, I would be working on my client’s proposal today, not my system software.”
After using his FireWire drive on a variety of OS 9 and OS X machines for the last year, Andrew Davidhazy was surprised to see a message in Panther that read:
“You have inserted a disk containing no volumes that Mac OS X can read. To continue with the disk inserted, click ignore.”
“I upgraded to Panther on the day of release and the FireWire drive worked without a problem for the first two days, then I started getting an error message,” said Davidhazy.
FireWire 400 problem difficult to reproduce
Speaking with MacCentral,
Oxford Semiconductor President James Lewis said the issues users are having with FireWire 400 drives are in no way connected to the earlier reported FireWire 800 incompatibility.
“The only problem that has been reported and dealt with is the 922 [Oxford chipset] and older firmware releases showing an incompatibility with Panther. That problem was totally unique to the 922 chipset and is not connected with any other issues.”
Lewis explained that the Oxford 922 chipset added features that were not available in the FireWire 400 drives, making it impossible for the incompatibility issue to happen on both chipsets. In fact, Lewis said that none of his customers have reported any problems with FireWire 400 since the release of Panther. (Keep in mind that Oxford Semiconductor’s customers are drive manufacturers, not end users).
“We haven’t even had a problem of this nature reported to us by Apple or any of our customers,” said Lewis. “Users should contact their drive vendors if they are having any problems.”
James Wiebe, president of hard drive maker
WiebeTech, said that he has received very little feedback from his customers concerning FireWire 400 issues, but Wiebe said that they are “attune to problems since there’s been so much discussion.”
“If we were able to correlate any of the data we have, we would of course report it to Oxford,” said Wiebe. “The reports are rare and difficult to reproduce.”
LaCie’s Mike Mihalik said that not everyone will see the problem — it all depends on the drive mechanism and how long it takes to spin down or disconnect from the FireWire bus.
“In all of our testing with LaCie, we have not found any problems with our FireWire 400 drives,” said Mihalik.
Mihalik, Lewis and Wiebe all strongly urged customers to contact their drive manufacturer is they are having problems with the FireWire 400 drives. LaCie on Wednesday
released an OS X updater utility for their FireWire 800 customers and have setup an
email address for FireWire issues.
released an updater for their drives shortly after Apple’s statement last week and is recommending their FireWire 800 customers updates to the new firmware. Apple updated the message on their Web site yesterday with links to the various hard drive manufacturer’s Web sites, so users could update their FireWire 800 hard drives.
Mihalik explained that in Panther, Apple has changed the sequence of how the operating system communicates with the hard drive, which could explain why some user’s drive worked fine under Mac OS X Jaguar, but they may be having problems with Panther.
Some users have reported success in recovering their data using
Prosoft Engineering’s Data Rescue. Unlike disk repair utilities, Data Rescue does not write to the drive, it finds the beginning and end of a file and reconstructs it on another drive. Data Rescue also ignores partitions, which is why it’s been able to work where other utilities have not, explained Sherri Jessen of Prosoft.
“We’re getting a lot of calls — sales of Data Rescue have spiked,” said Jessen.
Apple declined to comment for this story,
beyond the statement given to MacCentral last week.
“This is not a simple compatibility error, but instead the loss of users’ personal data on external drives — often used as a means to backup data during the Panther installation,” said Tim Deal. “Apple is not going to convince users to ‘switch’ if they cannot safeguard their personal files. Apple needs to fully recognize the scope of the problem and contain it in order to recover lost confidence in the latest incarnation of OS X. Personal data is sacred, and its loss is a great source of frustration (not to mention productivity and profits) to its owners.”