Monday, 29 October 2007

Western Digital "click of death": nVidia's fault?!

After our nVidia chipset graphics card exploded a few weeks ago, we just suffered three live hard-drive failures. One was an old laptop drive and the other two were both 250Gb Western Digital Caviars in two separate machines (one Linux and one Windows) both hosted by nVidia nForce chipsets on Asus A8N-SLI S939 Premium motherboards.

Hard drive problems are always terrifying. In this case, we had several theories about what might have gone wrong. The symptoms in both cases were the drives starting to click. This problem is lovingly referred to as the "click of death", after the famous ZIP disk problem. The death of the HD in the Windows box gave us a heads-up about the imminent demise of the identical HD in the Linux box so we at least managed to get a totally fresh backup from that box. Of course, the major pain is actually reinstalling Windows and all of your software rather than getting the data copied off a backup (even if you do lose a couple of days work!). As my glass is half full, I see blitzing the Windows XP Professional install as an opportunity to address its utterly shameful reliability, which had gradually deteriorated over the period of 14 months to an average unladen up-time of only 3 hours compared to a laden up-time of 9 months for our identical Linux box!

Researching the hard-drive problem turned up several interesting leads. Like all HD manufacturers, Western Digital have a brand tarred by tales of doom. Interestingly, the IBM Deskstar series (since taken over by Hitachi) acquired such a bad reputation that it is referred to as the "Deathstar" series. In fact, we have reverted to using two old Deskstar drives here and both have worked much more reliably than the Western Digital, which makes me lean towards buying a Deskstar from Hitachi as a replacement and lean away from believing the negative reviews about them. Like any highly-competitive market, search results are inundated with suspicious reviews by "Bob" who gives one manufacturer five stars and all others only one.

Perhaps the most interesting lead turned up by our research is the fact that nVidia's SATA support for their nForce chipsets has remained broken since the nForce 3, rendering drives inoperable and even silently corrupting data, both under Linux and under Windows and on a variety of hard-drives from (at least) Western Digital, Maxtor and Hitachi. Coupled with the fact that their nForce chipset is temperature intolerant and their GeForce graphics chipset is cooking Asus' fanless nForce chipset on our motherboards, you've got yourself cause for concern. Even if we had opted for the higher-specification "Deluxe" model than includes a chipset fan, apparently these are notoriously unreliable.

So, after the failure of two identical Western Digital hard-drives in different machines, we find ourselves more disgruntled with nVidia than anyone else!

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