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RK

1 year warranties one IDE HDDs - a no confidence vote?

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As most people here are probably aware, Maxtor, Western Digital and Seagate recently reduced the warranties on their hard disks by two thirds.

This is most likely a financial move - save money, since average consumers do not look at the warranty on the products they buy.

But it is also demonstrating that the largest HDD manufacturers have no confidence in the technology they manufacture - otherwise it shouldn't be necessary to reduce the warranty. Indeed many HDD manufacturers boast about their reliability, so shortening their warranty can only mean that they are lying to consumers. Unlike first generation IDE hard disks, which were horribly slow but lasted for ten years or more, current generation "technologically advanced" HDDs appear to be designed for obsolescence and failure in as little as 12 months.

Is this a sign of a general move by the IT industry to throw-away hardware, analog to the Microsoft's attempts to introduce software rental? What about the EU, where 2 years is the minimum period for a warranty?

I'm hoping for a backlash, but I doubt there will be one.

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That's the funny thing. There are two ways to look at a warranty reduction: purely financial (i.e. no "true" difference in reliability) or that there really is a reliability issue.

I know each drive that's sold has a certain amount of its profit set aside for warranty costs. Shortening the warranty period, in theory, should reduce this "frozen" money, making things look better on your financial report if you're a public company.

It gets a little fuzzier since you have certain fixed costs involved with providing warranty service, regardless of how many drives you actually have to service. I'm not sure how it all washes out, though I'm sure an accounting major could explain it! ;)

The odd thing is I *know* we haven't been designing drives any differently (at least, I haven't been told to do so!) so they have planned obsolence. It's still been pounded into our heads you design for 3 year warranties. Since the same designs (from what I can tell of ourselves and our competitors) are used in both the 1 year warranty products and the 3 year warranty products, then logically, there shouldn't be any difference in reliability.

I still think it completely bites that the industry has decided to go this way; as a consumer, this certainly doesn't look good. It's only because I design the parts that go into the drive that I know how long they'll really last; this certainly isn't something the average consumer has access to when deciding which drive to buy, no?

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So does that mean that I should expect an IDE hard disk to last, on average, no more than three years?

BTW: Which HDD manufacturer do you work for, presuming your contract actually allows you to say that?

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Typically, component design life is 5 years minimum. This is pretty common in the IDE field. I'm not sure if components aimed for the SCSI market also have 5 year design lifes or not, as I have no experience there.

What I've noticed is the typical drive can be expected to outlive your PC. Industry surveys show that the typical IDE drive is more reliable than the typical IDE drive from several years ago (DataStorage magazine indicates this quite often).

My understanding of life testing (at the drive level) is you simulate the usage pattern for the target market (POH and usage patterns are different between IDE and SCSI, for example, or desktop PC vs. Tivo system) and let the drives run for an extended period of time. You then multiply the number of hours the drives survived by some acceleration factor if you ran the test under high heat/humidity conditions.

Once the requisite number of hours is met, you may or may not keep the test going to determine design margin. As I don't work in reliability testing, but in component design, I am rarely involved in drive life testing. I would hope HDD makers do tests to determine margin, but I can't be sure.

BTW, I'm not expressly forbidden to mention where I work, just that I make it clear that "my views do not necessarily reflect those of my employer" and stuff like that. :) I just prefer to keep my employer's name anonymous since most of us in the industry shuffle between competitors. ;)

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After being a victim of the IBM GXP drives where I lost some irreplacable data (pictures), I admit this has an effect on my confidence in their hardware. Actually, after the GXP fiasco, I've invested most of my storage money on enterprise SCSI drives because of their MTBF. Although it may be a bit irrational the actual warranty itself doesn't matter as much to me as I value the data much more than the hardware but the MTBF and the manufacturer's confidence in their product does. I've probably gone a bit overboard as I am assembling a RAID 5 array for my SCSI drives and even my IDE storage I run in RAID 1, lol.

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A few comments:

1) While I think IDE design is pretty rugged (i.e. more reliable than a few years ago), I wonder if setting the bar lower on warantees will mean more corners are cut in the never ending price battle. I don't want a $30 IDE drive if it's designed to last only a year. My data and my time are worth far more than that.

2) With IDE drives nearly as fast as SCSI, the SCSI market has really taken a beating. There's not much performance difference anymore and with 3 versus 5 year warantees, it's hard to make a case on that front too. Thus, price has been a bigger issue and, SCSI, for the first time, has had to compete on that basis. 18GB 15K SCSI drives for under $200??? Holy cow! Just a few years ago, I was paying "just" $900 for a 9GB 10K SCSI unit (and that was on sale!). Most drive manufacturers make both IDE and SCSI disks (WD being the exception), so you have to wonder if they're doing it to create more of a reliability differentiation and pump new life into limp SCSI sales (perhaps with Seagate being the exception here, since their SCSI sales seem strong).

3) Since WD doesn't make SCSI drives anymore, one would think they would want to keep their 3 year warantees to keep stealing market share from SCSI manufacturers. I would guess that the potential market of SCSI to WD IDE would outweigh the gains in having less product returned.

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Guest Eugene
A few comments:

Thus, price has been a bigger issue and, SCSI, for the first time, has had to compete on that basis.  18GB 15K SCSI drives for under $200???  Holy cow!  Just a few years ago, I was paying "just" $900 for a 9GB 10K SCSI unit (and that was on sale!).

Not to change the subject, but I see many readers state over and over that SCSI has become more price competitive with IDE. Is that really the case though? I haven't actually done any research and calculation, but in the same "just a few years ago" scale one could compare, say, the WD1200JB (120 GB 7200 RPM) to the Maxtor DiamondMax 2880 (11 GB 5400 RPM).

Off the top of my head, the ratio between reduction in price for comparative gains in capacity/performance/whatever when SCSI and ATA seems roughly even if not in ATA's favor.

Perhaps its time for a more in depth price comparison over time. I can think of a couple readers who would rattle off such a post ;)

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The price of SCSI drives have dropped (along with all the other computer's parts) but I still think that capacity to capicity SCSI drives are still alot more expensive than the IDE drive, especially if you consider the cost of the controller...

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A few comments:

3) Since WD doesn't make SCSI drives anymore, one would think they would want to keep their 3 year warantees to keep stealing market share from SCSI manufacturers.  I would guess that the potential market of SCSI to WD IDE would outweigh the gains in having less product returned.

Well, if WD is trying to steal market share from the SCSI market without actually having to develop a SCSI drive (and the attendant R&D costs involved), that could explain why they came up with the JB series. True, they aren't "just as good" as a SCSI drive, but for some users it may be enough, especially if they don't need the benefits of the SCSI interface itself.

Has anyone heard what Samsung and IBM/Hitachi are planning on doing?

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Off the top of my head, the ratio between reduction in price for comparative gains in capacity/performance/whatever when SCSI and ATA seems roughly even if not in ATA's favor.

Okay, I see your point and I think it's true because ATA capacities have become enormous. The price point of the drives hasn't come down that all much. As for me, I have trouble filling 10GB, much less 120GB.

So, in my case (which may be fairly typical among computer users), an 8 or 9GB drive is plenty. Assuming I want to buy a drive today at least that big, but it doesn't have to be much larger, than my choices are 18GB SCSI or 40GB IDE (I can't seem to find any smaller SCSI or IDE drives these days). In this capacity, the high-end SCSI sub-system has dropped from $900 a few years ago to $200 now ($900 for a 9GB 10K drive, and $200 for the 18GB X15-36LP). Meanwhile, in the same time period, IDE has dropped from $150 for an 8.4GB drive to $70 for a 40GB drive. Since I'm using less than 10GB, it matters little to me that the drive can hold much more. So, from this perspective, SCSI drive prices have become relatively cheaper.

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Something to keep in mind; Only the entry level disk drives have the new reduced 1 year waranty. The enterprise class IDE drives still maintain the 3 year waranty. Also, I would assume most scsi drives will still have the 5 year waranty.

So, I don't see how this affects us adversely. You will get what you pay for. Chances are it will bring the cheap storage entry level disk prices even lower. If you want to spend a few more bucks to get a higher performance drive, it will have a longer waranty. Whats the problem with that?

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Guest Eugene
Okay' date=' I see your point and I think it's true because ATA capacities have become enormous. The price point of the drives hasn't come down that all much. As for me, I have trouble filling 10GB, much less 120GB.[/quote']

So I think the point is that there has not been a conscious effort on the part of manufacturers to close the gap in prices as many say; rather, the driving need for capacity (probably to manufacturer dismay) has ebbed and is simply not what it used to be. Sure, there are specialized applications that continue to push capacity limits, but, how much larger are today's intallations of Windows and Office contrasted with those from four years ago?

Regards,

Eugene

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Quote from AcesHigh:

Only the entry level disk drives have the new reduced 1 year waranty. The enterprise class IDE drives still maintain the 3 year waranty.

I'm inferring from your post that you work for WD and speak with authority on this. So, you're saying the JB series drives will stay at 3 years and the AB,BB,EB series will go to 1 and become less expensive?

If so, I can easily live with that. I've been using JBs in a number systems where I'd normally use SCSI (high-end employee workstations and departmental file & print servers). I would like to keep having a 3-yr warantee on these drives because I know I'll sleep better knowing the drives have been designed to last at least this long (of course, they don't always make it, but at least the design was there. FWIW, none of my JB drives has ever died, despite constant & rigorous use.). As for the BBs and EBs we put in employee desktops, I can live with a shorter warantee. All of those systems are imaged and we don't (read: "aren't supposed to") store important data on them anyway.

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Most clone computers have only 1 year warranties anyways. Looking inside your typical clone, the only thing with a 3 year warranty is the hard drive. Astoundingly, OEM Intel CPUs are only warrantied for 30 days(!) Talk about criminal!

I don't really mind, as the last poster said, having hard drives warrantied for 1 year.

The trouble is, and it's the fault of the bean counters and "management", when you, as the hard drive manufacturer, see an obligation to warranty for only 1 year, you tend to build with that in mind. In the cut-throat IDE world, I think that if they could design a drive with one less screw, they would, despite what impact this would have on reliability. [...in fact my "screw" example is an appropriate one. Take a look at pictures of some hard drives with the covers off. You will notice that in every case, SCSI drives have more screws holding down the platters than the IDEs...]

Put simply in the IDE HD market, quality will sink down to the lowest acceptable levels due to price pressues. And the acceptable level for a one year warranty is lower than for a 3 year warranty.

Bottom line, quality will be lower.

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Most clone computers have only 1 year warranties anyways.  Looking inside your typical clone, the only thing with a 3 year warranty is the hard drive.  Astoundingly, OEM Intel CPUs are only warrantied for 30 days(!)  Talk about criminal!

I don't really mind, as the last poster said, having hard drives warrantied for 1 year. 

The trouble is, and it's the fault of the bean counters and "management", when you, as the hard drive manufacturer, see an obligation to warranty for only 1 year, you tend to build with that in mind.  In the cut-throat IDE world, I think that if they could design a drive with one less screw, they would, despite what impact this would have on reliability.  [...in fact my "screw" example is an appropriate one.  Take a look at pictures of some hard drives with the covers off.  You will notice that in every case, SCSI drives have more screws holding down the platters than the IDEs...]

Put simply in the IDE HD market, quality will sink down to the lowest acceptable levels due to price pressues.  And the acceptable level for a one year warranty is lower than for a 3 year warranty.

Bottom line, quality will be lower.

I dont think thats happening... the MTBF numbers have been holding up quite good with the new models. (maxtor's new line claims a million+ hours, much more than a year)

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I dont think thats happening... the MTBF numbers have been holding up quite good with the new models. (maxtor's new line claims a million+ hours, much more than a year)

Just wait. It will. I think most HD manufacturers are losing money. Losing money tends to make cost-cutting look more attractive. And so it starts...

MTBF is a joke. Huge MTBFs didn't stop lots of IBM drives from failing recently. I didn't know they were up to a millio hours now. But if that were true, then we should hear of NO failures in our lifetimes of those products. A million hours is such a ludicrously high number that a single drive failure should statistically bring down that number dramatically.

Manufacturers should be forced to disclose how many drives have failed by model number so that users can be wary and take precautions. E.g. IBM 75GXP owners should invest $80 measly dollars for a new drive NOW and not get caught when their drives fail. It will almost certaily cost them more than $80 in lost productivity when it dies unexpectely. They can use the old IBM as a 2nd drive for quick and dirty backups.

Further, manufacturers should be PENALIZED if their drives to not live up to a reasonable approximation to their advertised MTBF. After all, companies are successfully sued for false advertising.

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The trouble is, and it's the fault of the bean counters and "management", when you, as the hard drive manufacturer, see an obligation to warranty for only 1 year, you tend to build with that in mind.  In the cut-throat IDE world, I think that if they could design a drive with one less screw, they would, despite what impact this would have on reliability.  [...in fact my "screw" example is an appropriate one.  Take a look at pictures of some hard drives with the covers off.  You will notice that in every case, SCSI drives have more screws holding down the platters than the IDEs...]

Screws are a bad example to use. SCSI drives usually have more disk clamp screws than IDE drives because they have more mass spinning at higher speeds. To counteract the increased forces under shock load, you need to better clamp everything together on the disk pack.

Most laptop drives have only a single screw holding down the platter(s). Does this automatically mean they are cheaper/more poorly built than desktop IDE drives?

While I agree that it would appear there is incentive to "cripple" your design since the warranty is only 1 year in length, that would only hold true if the 1 year family was a completely separate design/platform from the 3 year family. If, like the WD AB/BB/JB series, the drives themselves are identical, then how do you cripple one design and not the other?

Only time will tell. IMO, we'll see when the next series of platforms come out from each HDD maker. It's too late to change designs dramatically for existing products without incurring a lot of cost.

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While I agree that it would appear there is incentive to "cripple" your design since the warranty is only 1 year in length, that would only hold true if the 1 year family was a completely separate design/platform from the 3 year family. If, like the WD AB/BB/JB series, the drives themselves are identical, then how do you cripple one design and not the other?

In this case I think it's easy. The drives with the 1yr warrantee get the platters with the most defects.

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