Epilogue on three 75GXP failures

Years ago I sought advice from a trusted and knowledgeable friend about what components to use in my first home-built PC. Everything worked great at first. In fact, that system still runs and gets used every so often (in spite of a few bulging and leaking capacitors). The only major issue I ever had was with… the IBM Deskstar 75GXP. Need I say more?

I believe the first instance of the tell-tale repetitive clicking followed by an error notice happened at seven months. I don’t remember exactly, but Scott probably helped me retrieve some of my data before I RMA’d it for a replacement. At that time I didn’t have any vital data on there, maybe my resume and some personal correspondence.

Although I wanted to go with a different brand after all the hassle, IBM wouldn’t refund my money; they insisted that my only option was to swap for a replacement drive.

The second one lasted five or six months, tops. This time I had been wiser and backed up my data on a regular basis. And we still have that stack of floppies somewhere, just in case I ever need to access my application to the Federal Reserve Bank or the family Christmas newsletter of 2000 (doubtful, as not much happened that year).

This time I tried to insist on a refund, not a replacement. I still wasn’t aware, however, that there was a swell of failures occurring among what would come to be known as the Deathstars of hard drives. And surely such a popular model from a respected company like IBM, highly recommended by my geekiest of friends, couldn’t fail me three times. So when the customer service rep insisted that a replacement was the best she could do, I relented.

When drive #3 arrived I saw that it had scratches around the screws, was covered with fingerprints, had been re-labeled, and wore a telling little sticker that said “SERVICEABLE USED PART”. This was good! No, I’m serious, because “serviceable” was a step up from what I’d received in the past, right? Surely this (refurbished?) drive had been thoroughly checked out, and whatever problem the others had was resolved. Besides, if I could find an accomplished hacker, I might be able to retrieve some other young family’s Christmas 2000 newsletter from the wiped platters.

Having learned my lesson, I bought a new drive to use as my primary and set this one up as a slave drive. This way I could, um… well… back up my data to it in case the primary drive failed – right. Ok, sure, that sounds so obviously absurd now – after the fact. Relying on a known failure of a hard drive as a back up for my vital data? The good news is: I have not yet needed to use the backed up files on that drive!! Good thing, too, because the “serviceable used” drive failed after about a year. This in spite of the fact that it was used only once a week, at most, to back up files from the other drive.

I had a long argument with several company reps, but failed to persuade any of them that they should send me a check. I reached that point where every minute of time and any energy spent on this cause seemed like a waste. IBM must’ve felt the same way because they were negotiating the sale of their hard drive business to Hitachi. I had errant thoughts of hurling the drive through the window of an IBM office somewhere… anywhere. But I decided to just make it a paperweight. It still sits next to my keyboard, along with a carved stone tool allegedly from the Mayan civilization in Central America. Both remind me that things change, technology fails, and whoever’s in the lead eventually stumbles.

But sometime back in 2005 I received an email from a law firm asking if I wanted to be included in a class-action lawsuit against IBM over the 75GXP. After researching the options I honestly don’t think that I signed up… but maybe I had to opt out. Anyway, last Monday I got this check in the mail for $100, which made me smile.

Comments closed
    • Palek
    • 11 years ago

    The Deathstar incident was most certainly not blown out of proportion. There were a few more details to it, though. I believe the story went something like this:

    IBM was shipping hard drives from (at least) two factories at the time. One was in Hungary and the other (that I am aware of) was in Malaysia (or was it Singapore??? It’s been a long time). just brew it! is correct in saying that the drives coming out of the Hungarian factory had the very high failure rates. Drives from the Malaysian factory, on the other hand, had no more reliability issues than any old hard drive of those days.

    The Hungarian factory was shuttered shortly after the Deathstar debacle and, while this single incident may not have been the sole reason, it most certainly was a major contributing factor to the sell-off of the IBM hard drive business to Hitachi.

    Incidentally, I owned a Malaysian-made 30GB 75GXP and it worked flawlessly for at least five years before I retired it.

    • FireGryphon
    • 11 years ago

    I had many *GXP drives (including the 75’s) and my friends did, too, and they all worked fine. They’ve since failed after many years of faithful use, but I’ve also had two Seagates and a WD (external) fail on me, so no big deal.

    • nonegatives
    • 11 years ago

    That was a pretty good payoff for a class action. Usually they offer a coupon for $5 off another of the same item.

    • Inkling
    • 11 years ago

    By the way, I replaced the 75GXPs with a Maxtor. Every other component and configuration in the system remained the same. To the best of my knowledge my usage patterns were identical. That Maxtor is still running fine today, seven years later… well outlasting the third Deskstar, which failed even as a secondary drive… go figure.

    • swaaye
    • 11 years ago

    I have owned 2x 30 gig 75GXP drives. One died a couple of years ago, but the other is still going after 7 yrs now. Hard drives fail or are DOA all the time. 75GXP wasn’t really better or worse. I think it was just one of the earliest Intarweb-attacks! moments more than anything. Lots of rumors, hearsay, but little in the way of solid facts or info about them.

    • Jypster
    • 11 years ago

    I worked for IBM at the time in the CDT division. While there was an issue with the coating on the platters the failure rate was really blown way out of proportions. Poor installation, treatment and general carbon based errors caused more failures than fault itself but that will never be believed as everyone likes a scapegoat. The lawyers made alot of money out of this and that is all they care about really.

      • swaaye
      • 11 years ago

      nm. moved to a full post

    • swalkenshaw
    • 11 years ago

    My new favorite is the Seagate ST3250620AS 250GB 16MB cache SATA2 HDD. Out of the nearly 100 or so of these drives I have bought for resale, I believe 22 have failed. Maybe no as high of a record as the Deathstar, but it sure doesn’t look good on a small local OEM like myself.

    • TurtlePerson2
    • 11 years ago

    I hear about hard drive failures a lot, especially with laptops, but I have fortunately been unaffected. I have a drive in my machine right now that I’ve had for 2 years and it’s still humming along silently.

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 11 years ago

    I have used WDC drives ever since Connor HDD dissapeared (bougt by SEAGATE)

    I still have my WDC 20GB HDD 7200 rpm drive from back when it first came out (1999 or so)

    800MB still working somehwere
    1.2GB still working somewhere
    4.3GB still working somewhere
    13GB still working somewhere
    20, 40, 80, 120, 200, 320, 500 7200 rpm drives working in various machines that I have built for customers

    WDC is the only way to go IMHO

      • PetMiceRnice
      • 11 years ago

      I always had a good experience with Western Digital, the only hard drive that has ever failed me in my life was a Quantum 800MB drive in about 1999. I lost about 200MB of irreplaceable data too…nasty!

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      Most of my Western Digital drives failed reliably at the 36 month mark.

      I think my longest-lasting unit to date is a Seagate although some of my Maxtor parts have been long-lived.

        • just brew it!
        • 11 years ago

        Most of my WD drives are still running (some are probably 5+ years old at this point), but have gotten intolerably loud for desktop use. I’ve got a file server in the crawlspace stuffed full of noisy 80GB Caviars, which I plan to replace with a single half terabyte Seagate.

          • ludi
          • 11 years ago

          Ugh, the noise! Before WD finally started using fluid bearings, their drives always sounded like a dentist’s drill was operating in the next room.

            • just brew it!
            • 11 years ago

            Yup… hence my relegation of all of my pre-FDB WDs to the crawlspace file server. Close the hatch to the crawlspace, and you can’t hear ’em any more! They were very reliable… if you could stand the noise.

            In fact, the only WD drive I’ve ever had fail on me was from shortly after they switched to FDB. Maybe they hadn’t quite worked the bugs out yet; it was pretty clearly a spindle bearing failure. The drive would only operate if you mounted it upside down; right side up it would make horrible grinding noises, and refuse to spin up.

            Unfortunately, it was a retail drive, just a couple of months out of warranty.

          • srg86
          • 11 years ago

          My 80GB and my 500GB WD drives are almost silent.

            • just brew it!
            • 11 years ago

            The 500GB one would be new enough that it is using fluid dynamic bearings. The 80GB may or may not, depending on its age. It was their older (ball bearing spindle) drives that tended to develop serious noise issues over time.

      • TO11MTM
      • 11 years ago

      Just a thought… Western digital should probably be shorted to WD, not WDC. WDC coudl cause confusion with Western Design Center…

      • Synchromesh
      • 11 years ago

      Have been using WD drives too in fact, right now, there are only 2 nonWD drives in my system, one is a proprietary 1.8in Hitachi in my Thinkpad X40 which one can’t get in WD, another is a laptop Seagate drive I bought new in box because it was a good deal. Currently have 2x74GB Raptors, 400 SE16, 500 SE16 and a laptop 120GB in my Mini PC. Have been using WD for a long time and will keep using them as much as possible. So far, they rock!

      • NeXus^
      • 11 years ago

      All my seagates still work fine. I’ve purchased 2x 40gigs, 1x60gig, 2×80 gigs, 1x120gig seagates.

      I only own one WD drive.. the incredibly noisy 75gig raptor ๐Ÿ™ Works fine, but what a terrible noise it has always made in comparison to my silent Seagates! (Raptor performance = lotsa noise!)

    • IntelMole
    • 11 years ago

    I rememeber reading about this story many times, but I don’t ever recall a definite cause of the problem being discovered.

    Anyone?

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      I heard that it was due to QC issues at their Hungarian factory. I don’t think I ever heard anything more specific than that.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 11 years ago

    I thought after Hitachi bought them everything was all good. NOPE!. I recently purchased a Dell server for work with 4 500GB drives to run in RAID 10. I unboxed the server and once it was setup, turned it on to do the install. I got 3!!! click of deaths from the drives. I laughed because I honestly could not believe it. 3 doa out of 4 it was really surprising. Keep in mind, these were the Ultrastar drives made for SERVERS! these seem to be the default drives for Dell servers.

    I know it seems like something out of sysadmin lore but honestly it happened and again I only laughed because I could not believe it.

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      This is at odds with my experiences with Hitachi drives over the past few years. Maybe the system got dropped at the factory before it was boxed up… IMO 3 out of 4 drives DOA points to some sort of external cause.

        • draksia
        • 11 years ago

        I would venture to say that server experience a huge shock load some where during shipping.

          • just brew it!
          • 11 years ago

          Assuming the server was properly packed, I don’t think you could shock it enough during shipping to damage the drives unless you physically broke the box open. Most drives are rated for several hundred Gs of non-operating shock. In order to get that kind of acceleration, you’d pretty much need to drop the unboxed system (or the bare drive prior to system assembly) onto a hard surface.

    • kurt-o
    • 11 years ago

    I still have one of those old 75GXP, its currently running in my Windows Home Server. I’m amazed that after 7 years it still works.

    • indeego
    • 11 years ago

    Up until last year I had a machine I built with one of these puppies. Never a problemg{<.<}g

      • The Swamp
      • 11 years ago

      I still have a 20GB 60GXP in my tech closet. I’m pretty sure it still works, although all of the other ones I bought at the time are now long dead. They were really nice drives, too. Very fast and quiet. To this day, IBM still won’t admit there was a problem. I talked to someone at Hitachi a few years ago, and she too would not admit there had been a huge problem with the IBM Deskstar line. She said she never heard of it. Yea, right.

      I did have a lot of problems with Quantum drives around 2001. At one time, they made pretty solid stuff. I don’t know exactly when they went to crap.

      Are the Hitachi drives of today any good? I’m guessing they are better, but do they have higher than normal failure rates?

        • srg86
        • 11 years ago

        I too have a 60GXP and it’s still running quite happily in my second machine, I got it originally in 2001.

        • just brew it!
        • 11 years ago

        I’ve been quite happy with the newer Hitachi drives. I’ve used ’em in several builds over the past 2-3 years, and all are still working flawlessly.

        The only hitch I’ve hit with them is that the newer SATA models don’t have a jumper to downshift the interface to 150MB/s. You need to run a tool from Hitachi’s site to switch the drive to the slower interface speed. If you’ve got an older 150MB/s SATA 1.0 controller that doesn’t play nice with 300MB/s SATA devices (VIA 8237 southbridge… *cough* *cough*), you find yourself in a nice Catch-22 situation since the tool can’t talk to the drive to change the interface speed! (You need to connect the drive to another system first and run the tool to change the interface speed, then move the drive to the system with the problematic SATA controller.)

        • barich
        • 11 years ago

        Anecdotally, I have purchased only Hitachi drives with a couple of exceptions since the 60GXP, and the 60GXP itself was the only one that failed. The RMA replacement for it still worked the last time I tried it, though it was retired from regular use long ago.

        At the moment the oldest Hitachi drives I have in systems that I actually use are a Deskstar 7K250 and a Travelstar 7K60. Both of them are from 2003, both of them have been running most of the time since then, and both of them are still going strong.

    • herothezero
    • 11 years ago

    Oddly enough, I built a metric shitton of machines with these drives back in the day, and I can’t say that I’d ever replaced a single DeathStar. Maybe I was just supremely lucky.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Geez, some “friend” you have there.

    • Joel H.
    • 11 years ago

    I remember writing on this story back in the day, and my then-boss chiding me. I got told that I was buying into a bit of hype and probably making noise over nothing, because he had no fewer than 6 75GXP drives, and all were in perfect condition.

    Five months later, every single one of his drives had died. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Deli
      • 11 years ago

      then what happened! i wanna know when ppl get pwned.

        • Joel H.
        • 11 years ago

        Well, I got him to give me a photo of all six drives in the trash, but not much else. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • clone
    • 11 years ago

    I remember when they started dropping with regular abandon usually within 1 year of purchase….. at the time a group of friends and I had all purchased computers some of us were using RAID arrays and the Deathstars had won all the awards for speed so we all bought them.

    2 of mine were the first to go, then 1 replacement died making it 3 and the news was getting worse so I sold both replacement drives and never looked back.

    out of my group 13 out of 14 deskstar drives failed, I have a 13.7 gb drive that still runs like a very old and worn champ but all of the 75’s are dead.

    after the dead deskstars a few friends switched to fujitsu FDB drives…… they too failed routinely although their replacements are still running to this day.

    other hard drives that seem to fail routinely although much longer lived at just shy of 4 years are the old Maxtor slimline 20gb’s to 40gb drives.

    • Firestarter
    • 11 years ago

    one 40gb GXP60 still churning

    I’m going to preserve it and sell it in 50 years as ‘a famous example of what was once known as ‘electronics”

    • Valhalla926
    • 11 years ago

    About a year ago my brother bought a lot of used computers to salvage for parts (master tinkerer, in fact, he got 3 working computers from the lot, including the one I’m on now). One of them had a DeskStar hard drive, and out of boredom, I crossed out the “sk” and wrote in “th.” I didn’t know I had been right.

    • P5-133XL
    • 11 years ago

    I still have six 45GB 75GXP’s in service and none of them have given me any trouble whatsoever… Now WD 120/250GB drives seem to die with consistant regularity though.

      • LiamC
      • 11 years ago

      Mark, Mercutio will hear you even here. Wash your mouth out. WD indeed…

      Actually, I went WD after my flirtation with Death Stars (all bar one failed), and a goodly percentage of those WD’s failed (no where near as bad as IBM though). At least their RMA service is excellent. Still liking Samsungs at the moment, though I have had to replace one (DOA).

        • P5-133XL
        • 11 years ago

        Maybe, but I speak the truth: I bought six 45GB 75GXP’s and I still have six and they still all work just fine. One the other hand 1/3 of all the WD (120/250/500GB) drives I’ve purchased have died.

        Beside, Merc doesn’t visit any more, so I’m not too worried.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    I think 75GXP was the victim of trying to outstrip the competition at this time, no matter the cost. IBM had placed too much faith in its at the time, immature yet technically superior platter density technology.

    • kilkennycat
    • 11 years ago

    Now you know why the IBM Desk Star very quickly became known as the Death Star. I had 2 60Gbyte that both failed after about 2 years – 2 of the only 3 hard-disks amongst my rather large number that have ever bitten the dust. The third was from Maxtor, who had developed a very unenvious reputation long before Seagate got hold of them.

      • moshpit
      • 11 years ago

      Seagate did Maxtor some good I think, I have one of their 320Gb drives that are a relabeled 7200.10 from Seagate and it rocks.

    • Ragnar Dan
    • 11 years ago

    I don’t recall getting any notice about this suit, but since I generally have a negative view of lawsuits I usually skim over such plaintiff lawyers’ notices and pitch them, as I did with the several memory lawsuits and some other one whose product I can’t recall off hand.

    And I keep getting idiotic stock lawsuits, too. Gah, these lawyers are tiresome, and the legislators who enabled them are worse than deplorable.

      • jobodaho
      • 11 years ago

      He has them in the article already under “need I” and “say more”

        • Krogoth
        • 11 years ago

        Heh, my bad.

        I had to use a combination of google and TR’s Time Machine to find them. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Steel
    • 11 years ago

    I think I own the only good 75GXP drive ever made.

      • Willard
      • 11 years ago

      I too had one that lasted nigh on 7 years, then *kaboom*.

      • NeXus^
      • 11 years ago

      My 40 gig IBM deathstar still lives in Amsterdam with my brother.. even tho I live in Australia ๐Ÿ™‚ It survived some overheating and clicks of death, all it needed was a good formatting ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thought the computer it is in no longer gets used!

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