Read Lag Problems on Seagate Freeagent 1.5TB External Hard Drive on Mac OS X

This is one of those quick posts that I write hoping to save others a lot of time.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to diagnose and fix problems I have been having with my external 1.5TB Seagate Freeagent Hard Drive.  I use the hard drive as my iTunes library, which I drive FrontRow using Mac OS X 10.5 on a Mac Mini on a 1080P LCD TV in the living room.

Basically, it’s our video server.

The problem was as follows:

  • Loading Front Row, we’d easily get to the list of movies (I have about 500+ movies on the system)
  • Flipping between titles, however, there would be a 3-5 second lag before the cover art and title of the new movie would load
  • The lag would also occur periodically while scrolling
  • The light on the front of the hard drive would pulse, instead of glow straight, during video operations

Needless to say, with a video library driven by remote, this type of lag is intolerable, and makes navigating a 500+ movie library incredibly frustrating.

After doing a number of Google searches, I found reports of read/cache problems on Mac OS X and Linux with the 7200.11 drives.

Here is an official note from Seagate on the topic, and here is a community thread on the issue.  Thinking I needed new firmware, and since there was no download on the website, I resigned myself to calling technical support.

I called Seagate Technical Support, and after waiting 20 minutes, I got on the phone with a man who had never heard of the issue, had no idea how to get the firmware for an external drive, and no idea what a Mac is.

Fortunately, while he put me on hold for 15 minutes on 3 separate occassions, I had time to think.

The problem cited on line was a read issue with video, but it seemed to focus on RAID setups.  That didn’t sound like my situation.  The light was pulsing, likely because the drive was trying to lower power use.  Why would it do that?

Answer: Maybe it was overheating because I had it in the cabinet with the sattelite receiver, which is warm, and there is poor ventilation.

So, I took the drive out the cabinet, and reattached it in the open air, on top of the cabinet.

Problem solved. Video navigation is snappy, and the light no longer pulses.  Clearly, because of the heat, it was going into low power mode in some way to try and cool itself.  That would lead to lags when it spun up for a read request from FrontRow.

So, if you have a Seagate Freeagent Extreme drive, and it exhibits this behavior, make sure it’s not overheating in an enclosed space.

As a funny aside, not only did I solve this entire problem while listening to hold music with Seagate Technical Support, I also wrote this entire blog post.  The guy is *still* off somewhere, trying to find the firmware revision for my model of drive.  I’m worried that he booked a flight to Malaysia to investigate the manufacturing of this drive personally.

Oh well.  The end story:

Unventilated enclosure for hard drive, BAD.  Seagate Technical Support, TERRIBLE.  1.5 TB iTunes Hard Drive, GOOD.

Update (1/20/2009): Unbelievable.  It looks like Seagate released the firmware patch for the 7200.11 hard drives this week, and it actually bricked the drives.  Not for me.  I’m watching this thread, and I’m not installing anything from Seagate until it’s safe.