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Panther/FireWire drive issue: more firmware updates; public statements, frequently asked questions; more

Panther/FireWire drive issue: more firmware updates; public statements, frequently asked questions; more

We've been covering problems between OS X 10.3 Panther and FireWire drives since Panther was released. We continue our coverage of these issues with a full report today. In addition to general updates on the issue, we've provided a list of frequently asked questions about the problem, along with the answers that we're able to provide at this time. We also discuss our own experiences, and a discount on data recovery services.

More firmware updates Several drive manufacturers have announced new or updated firmware updaters for affected drives. Lacie has released a new updater that updates LaCie d2 FireWire 800 and Big Disk FireWire 800 disk drives to the latest firmware (v1.05). In addition, Addlogix (formerly CompuCable) has provided an update to the "latest Oxford922 firmware that will resolve the HDD enclosure issue with MacOS 10.3 - Panther." Addlogix also announced that they "have been actively working with the resellers to recall drives with the outdated firmware to ensure product reliability."

Drive manufacturers stick to the "official" line Despite concerns -- both on MacFixIt and other sites around the Web -- that this bug may not be confined to FireWire 800/Oxford 922 drives, or at least that there are other issues with FireWire drives and Panther, many drive manufacturers, when asked about Panther compatibility with their products, are simply repeating Apple's official position. For example, Reader Michael Lettini forwarded a statement from ACOMData:

"Our drives work fine on Panther, only need to worry if your drives use Oxford 922 chipset or 1394b (FireWire 800). Ours use FireWire 400 and an Initio chipset."

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS Below are a number of questions we have been receiving about this issue. We have tried to answer them to the best of our knowledge at this time; however, we continue to research these issues and will provide more information as it comes in.

Does the issue occur for everyone using the "affected" drives? As we have mentioned a number of times over the past week, the problem is clearly not being experienced by everyone. We continue to receive positive reports from readers who have been using their FireWire drives since Panther was released -- some of them drives that are indeed supposed to be affected, according to Apple and drive vendors -- with no ill effects. That being said, if your drive is "officially" at risk, we urge you to visit the manufacturer's Web site to see if a firmware update is available. There's no reason to play with fire if a fix is available to you.

Does the problem happen immediately or over time? A number of readers have asked whether or not drive corruption occurs immediately. In almost all reported cases, the drive corruption occurs when the Panther computer is restarted with the FireWire drive connected and mounted. Sometimes -- as in the case of one of our own drives here at MacFixIt -- this corruption occurs on the first restart with the drive connected after installing Panther. However, according to reports we have received, as well as messages posted to Apple's Discussions forums, this isn't always the case. Some users have reported that their drive appears to work fine through several restarts, but then a later restart renders the drive unusable. Until we know more about the specific contributing factor(s), we continue to recommend that FireWire drives be unmounted and disconnected before restarting your Panther Mac. There's no sense in playing Russian Roulette with your data.

Does the problem occur when connecting two Macs via Target Disk Mode? A common question over the past week has been whether or not this bug affects Macs themselves when one of the Macs is acting as an external FireWire drive via Target Disk Mode. We haven't experienced such a problem here at MacFixIt, but we have received a few isolated reports of Target Disk Mode issues. Reader Brian Sullivan writes:

"Last week I attached a Clamshell iBook to a new 12' PB via Firewire. (Held down 'T' while booting the iBook.) The goal was to copy the entire iBook hard drive to the new Powerbook. Once the transfer was completed successfully, I was unable to unmount/eject the iBook. After many attempts, we finally shut down the iBook. The result: the data on the iBook hard drive is lost, and the drive needs to be reformatted. Fortunately, the transfer worked, so we lost no data. But it was a pretty scary."

Unfortunately, with the small number of reports we've received on this particular issue, we have no way of knowing if these problems are related to the Panther/FireWire bug being discussed. In addition, the sequence of events in the above report does not seem to match up with those most commonly reported with the "official" Panther/FireWire bug. Finally, we currently don't know what chipset Apple uses for the FireWire ports in their systems; it's even possible that different chipsets could be used for different models. So, again, we recommend simply avoiding restarting your Panther Mac with FireWire drives (including Target Disk Mode Macs) connected.

Is the problem related to the hard drives themselves, or the FireWire enclosures? As far as we've been able to determine, the problem is not related to the actual hard drive used in the affected FireWire drives. Rather, the issue simply has to do with the fact that the drive is housed in a FireWire enclosure. Identical drive enclosures with different drives inside appear to be equally susceptible to damage.

Is the problem related to...? We continue to receive theories from readers about what the problem "really" is. As an FYI, based on reader reports and other research, the issue does not appear to be related to: whether the drive was formatted in Jaguar or Panther; whether or not the drive was connected while installing Panther; whether or not journaling was enabled on the drive; whether Panther was installed clean, via the update method, or via the Archive and Install method; or whether the drive was self-powered or bus-powered. The only common factor we have been able to identify is that the affected drives were connected to the computer when it was restarted.

Is the problem really limited to FireWire 800/Oxford 922 drives? Apple's official position is that this problem only affects FireWire 800 drives using the Oxford 922 chipset. Oxford, the makers of the chipset, initially questioned this assertion. However, David Schloss, Technology Editor at Photo District News, recently interviewed James Lewis, President of Oxford Semiconductor, who stated, "I can categorically tell you that it's impossible for [the Oxford 911 chipset] to exhibit the same failure mechanism. So you have a different problem that is unrelated to the sole problem relating to earlier version of firmware." (Ironically, David's own FireWire hard drive, lost to what appears to be a Panther/FireWire issue, is a FireWire 400 drive from ComputerGeeks.com that uses the Oxford 911 chipset. This is the same drive a MacFixIt staffer lost to Panther, as described below.)

At the same time, reader Charles Teton forwarded a response he got from LaCie, indicating that they are still actively testing FireWire 400 drives and haven't ruled out the possibility that other drives are affected:

"Yes, we are testing with multiple Oxford based FW400 and FW800 drives on several Mac platforms; with built-in FW400 and FW800 interfaces, as well as FW400 and FW800 add-on cards; both PCI and PC Card. It takes a while to go thru these iterations. The good news is that we can look inside and see what is going on if/when something goes wrong."

We have received a significant number of reports of FireWire "drive deaths" with Panther involving drives that were not FireWire 800/Oxford 922 drives. Apple's Discussions forums and numerous other sites around the Web are also populated with such reports. We've also personally lost FireWire 400 drives since installing Panther (see below). Taken as a whole, it would seem to be a stunning coincidence if all of these reports were completely unrelated. What we suspect is that either (a) this bug isn't limited to FW800/Oxford 922 drives; or (b) there are other problems with Panther and FireWire drives that simply haven't yet been isolated and identified.

Whichever may be the case, because of these suspicions, we continue to recommend caution when using FireWire drives with Panther, regardless of the connection speed (400 vs. 800) or the chipset used.

Is the drive permanently damaged? No. Although the drives affected by this bug are "unrecognizable" afterwards, the problem is not with the actual drive's hardware; rather, it is with the drive's directory. After reformatting the drive, it should work fine. (See below about recovering data before reformatting.)

What is technically happening to the drive? Right now, no one is saying. However, from talking with drive recovery and disk utility vendors, it appears that at some point during the shutdown/startup/restart process -- either when the drive is unmounted, when it is mounted, and/or when it is checked for file system problems -- the drive's directory is getting severely corrupted. So much so that drive utilities are generally unable to repair it. We continue to investigate this issue, and hope to have more information soon.

Is my data recoverable? Although readers have reported varying degrees of success in recovering data from affected drives, some have been completely out of luck. Those that have been successful have used techniques such as connecting the drives to Macs running Jaguar or OS 9, or installing drives internally instead of connecting them via FireWire. Others report some success with Prosoft's Data Rescue X; on our own drive that was lost (see below), we were able to use Prosoft's Data Rescue X to recover some files, but not all. Some users even report that after being unable to recover data on the damaged drive using Data Rescue X, they used Disk Utility to erase the drive -- NOT using any special options, such as zeroing data -- after which Data Rescue X was successful at retrieving at least some data. Since "erasing" a drive in Disk Utility doesn't really erase it, but instead just deletes the drive directory and creates a new one, the data should be mostly untouched. However, we recommend against this procedure except as a last resort.

We asked John Christopher, a Data Recovery Engineer at DriveSavers -- the company has worked with a few drives damaged by this problem -- about the possibility of data recovery using commercial utilities. His reply:

"I would say there is likely a chance of recovery with commercial utilities. However the dangerous part comes when these tools are used incorrectly. Any disk utility that can perform a fix-it routine may damage whatever directory remnants are on the drive and could complicate further recovery attempts. The safest path to take is to attempt to recover the data to a secondary hard drive."

We actually lost both primary and backup data last week, on two different FireWire drives (one drive backed up the other -- let that be a lesson to us). As mentioned above, we were only partially successful using Data Backup X. Because this data was critical, we ended up sending one of the drives to DriveSavers. They were able to recover the critical data, although they were surprised at how badly the data on the drive was damaged. So we can recommend their services to those users who have lost vital data and haven't been able to recover it. See below for a discount offered to MacFixIt readers.

Who is to blame? This is of course the big question. We've heard from both sides -- Apple and drive manufacturers -- and many readers have chimed in with their own opinions, as well. Apple claims that the problem is due to the firmware on affected drives -- Apple invented FireWire, so they should know the official specifications, right? It's been argued that these FireWire chipsets weren't 100% compliant, but that previous versions of the Mac OS (and Mac OS 9, for that matter) were simply less sensitive to out-of-spec hardware. So perhaps Panther requires "more compliant" FireWire devices. This isn't an unreasonable idea, as we've seen a similar issue crop up with Panther and RAM.

At the same time, some drive manufacturers claim that the issue is clearly with Panther. After all, Apple has proven that they can provide an operating system that works fine with all of these drives -- they did it with earlier versions of Mac OS X, and even with many of the Panther betas. Shouldn't Apple simply "fix" Panther so that it works with all drives?

The truth may be that both sides are partly at fault, but until we get more facts, we aren't going to "blame" either side. What matters is that a significant number of users have been adversely affected, and who is to blame is clearly less important to these users than who is going to help them. For those users who have drives made by vendors who have provided firmware fixes, this discussion is somewhat academic?they've already been provided with a firmware update that "fixes" their drive. However, what about users who have drives from other manufacturers? What about users who "built" their own FireWire drives using a bare drive and a third-party FireWire enclosure? Apple may or may not be correct in asserting that the problem is with the drives and not with OS X -- we don't really know -- but it doesn't seem realistic to expect every hard drive vendor, and the makers of generic enclosures, to provide firmware updates for those drives and enclosures, meaning that a lot of users are going to be left wondering if it's ever safe to use their FireWire drives again.

For these reasons, we continue to hope that Apple provides an update to Panther that "fixes" this problem, regardless of who is actually at fault. If it turns out the problem really was with the drives, and not with Panther, then Apple looks even better for taking care of their users.

 

Reports of problems with earlier versions of Mac OS X One consequence of the Panther/FireWire problem being so public over the past week is that MacFixIt has been receiving a significant number of reports of similar problems, including data loss, with FireWire drives under OS X 10.0.x, 10.1.x, and 10.2.x. Such issues appear to be unrelated to the current Panther problem, but they do make us wonder if FireWire support in OS X isn't quite as mature as we had always assumed.

MacFixIt experiences As we previously mentioned, a drive used by a MacFixIt Editor -- a 120GB Western Digital hard drive inside a FireWire 400 enclosure using an Oxford 911 chipset -- was damaged by what appears to be the exact same sequence of events as the publicly acknowledged Panther/FireWire bug: the drive mounted and functioned properly when connected to the computer running Panther, but after a restart, it was unreadable. The machine in question was a day-old Power Mac G5 Dual 2GHz with a brand new installation of Panther. (The drive was connected to the G5's FireWire 400 port.) Panther's Disk Utility could not repair the drive. We connected the drive to a Mac running OS X 10.2 Jaguar, and ran Alsoft's DiskWarrior on it; DiskWarrior was forced to scavenge the drive to rebuild the directory, but the resulting directory was missing over 90% of the files that were on the drive before the incident (so we elected to leave the drive untouched). We even removed the drive from its FireWire case and installed it internally in a Mac running Jaguar and OS 9; neither OS could access the drive's contents.

Out of curiousity, we performed an experiment this week using another of our own drives, a SmartDisk FireFly 5GB portable FireWire 400 drive. We connected the drive to the G5, and it mounted and functioned properly. We ran Disk Utility and Disk Warrior on it, and it appeared to be healthy. Finally, we used Panther's Disk Utility to erase the drive to make sure we could rule out drive problems if something happened. After erasing, the drive again worked fine, as we were able to unmount it, disconnect it, reconnect and mount it, and copy and delete data from it. We then restarted the G5 with the drive connected. After the restart, the drive no longer functioned; OS X gave the same "unrecognizable" error, with the options to Initialize, Ignore, or Eject, as the previous "lost" drive. Perhaps this isn't the same exact issue as the one Apple has publicly acknowledged; however, even if that's the case, this clearly wasn't "expected" behavior.

DriveSavers discount After working with our drive and recognizing that many users affected by this Panther/FireWire bug have lost important data, DriveSavers is offering a 20% discount on their data recovery services for those users who have been affected. The offer will remain in effect until the end of the year. (We previously mentioned a $10 discount on Prosoft's Data Rescue X, redeemable by ordering directly from Prosoft and entering coupon code PAN911 at checkout.)

Comments? Send us an email at Late-breakers@macfixit.com.

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