IBM's hard drive debacle grows


— 12:00 AM on March 19, 2002

By now, most of us are familiar with the serious reliability problems with IBM GXP-series hard drives (75GXP and 60GXP, primarily). Apparently high failure rates have even spawned a class-action suit against IBM. Then there was an IBM tech's bizarre recommendation revealed last week that 120GXP drives not be used more than eight hours a day. Sites like StorageReview and VIAHardware have withdrawn recommendations of IBM hard drives.

IBM has finally responded to StorageReview's questions with a clarification of sorts:

The 333 power-on hours (POH) defined in the 120GXP data sheet is not a new spec for our GXP drives; it is consistent with what we've held our desktop drives to in previous generation drives. The 333 power-on spec is not an indication of a maximum number of power-on hours or limitation of the Deskstar 120GXP.

Our specifications indicate that the 333 power-on hours per month represent typical desktop PC usage. This assumes an 11-hour day based on a 30 day month. Users can and have successfully run the drive more than 11 hours a day and 333 hours per month; the drives have been used successfully in 24x7 environments.

IBM stands by the 3-year warranty for the 120GXP. Power-on hours will not be a determining factor in negating the warranty.

However, warranties are only so useful when your drive crashes and takes your critical data with it. To date, IBM has said next to nothing about GXP failure rates, and without solid failure rate data, it's hard to know how bad the problems are.

But as I sat here this weekend recovering data from my dad's failed 60GXP, I got a new hint at the true scope of the problem. It's called The Thread That Won't Die. Ever since Andy first wrote up a news post asking for GXP drive failure (or success) stories back in August, the comments have been coming in. Unlike most of our other comments threads, which tend to die as soon as any trace of them vanishes from TR's front page, this thing has only picked up steam over time. And the stories folks are telling are not pretty. Read through some of them and see what I mean. It's phenomenal—and phenomenally depressing.

Since I recommended 75GXP drives in this very space before all of this started, I should probably say something more. In case you haven't gotten it through your head yet, don't buy IBM hard drives, especially the ATA variety (the GXP line). I'm not sure what's more disturbing: the drives' apparently extremely high failure rates or IBM's lack of communication with customers and the press. Either way, though, IBM doesn't deserve your business. If you value your data (or your time), pass on the GXP drives.

As an alternative, I recommend Maxtor's DiamondMax Plus D740X drives. Dr. John from KickAss Gear sent along a bunch of these for us to use in testing, and I've been very impressed with them. The D740X has some of the best seek times around, which makes its performance in everyday use feel astoundingly fast. Otherwise identically configured test rigs turn in significantly higher Winstone scores with the D740X than with the 75GXP. Also, these drives support ATA/133, so they're good to go on boards with the latest Highpoint ATA RAID controllers. Those of you still hanging on to your GXP drives might want to consider a preemptive upgrade to a D740X. (Damage eyes the Damagebox warily.) There's no better excuse to upgrade than this one.

   
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