FireWire 800 drives with Oxford 922: Apple statement; LaCie, WiebeTech, OWC updates; Oxford statement; Taking precautions

FireWire 800 drives with Oxford 922: Apple statement; LaCie, WiebeTech, OWC updates; Oxford statement; Taking precautions

CNET staff
5 min read

Apple has posted a message to its support site stating that the company has identified an issue with external FireWire hard drives using the Oxford 922 bridge chip-set with firmware version 1.02 that can result in the loss of data stored on the disk drive.

The statement reads "Apple is working with Oxford Semiconductor and affected drive manufacturers to resolve this issue which resides in the Oxford 922 chip-set. In the interim, Apple recommends that you do not use these drives. To stop using the drive, you should unmount or eject the disk drive before doing anything else. Please check this web page for further updates."

This news comes after extensive reports here on MacFixIt of FireWire problems (not limited to FireWire 800 drives) with Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther). The Apple statement makes no specific reference to Mac OS X 10.3, though it seems obvious that the significant number of complaints from upgraders prompted Apple's investigation.

LaCie issues alert LaCie has issued a statement based on Apple's findings, stating "LaCie has learned that a compatibility issue exists with FireWire 800 drives and Apple?s new operating system release. We believe this problem affects all manufacturers of FireWire 800 drives."

The statement also reads "At this time, we have not isolated any issues with other LaCie FireWire products with their use of Mac OS X Panther. LaCie FireWire 400 products are not affected by this issue and require no special handling. LaCie products that may be affected."

According to the alert, the following drives may be affected:

d2 USB 2.0 & FireWire 800 Hard Drives and Big Disk products (serial numbers 1312xxxxxx - 1339xxxxx; serial numbers 0312xxxxx - 0339xxxxx); Shipped from April 2003 to September 30, 2003

LaCie says "Do not use Mac OS X Version 10.3 Panther with external drives attached until you follow the instructions detailed here. Caution: Data loss can occur unless you follow these directions carefully."

1. Immediately unmount and disconnect your FireWire drives from your Macintosh computer before installing Mac OS X Version 10.3 Panther, before shutting down your system.

2. Go to http://www.lacie.com/support/drivers and follow the instructions for updating your FireWire 800 drive. An updater is available immediately for users with access to Macintosh computers that can boot Mac OS 9. LaCie plans to release a Mac OS X compatible updater as soon as possible.

WiebeTech update WiebeTech has posted a firmware updater for its FireWire 800 drives, including Fire800TM desktop drives and MicroGB 800TM pocket drives.

?It has been determined that this problem between Panther and FireWire 800 drives usually occurs in circumstances involving older, slower Macintosh computers where the FireWire 800 drive is attached to a FireWire 400 port on the computer, and the firmware level of the FireWire drive is 1.02,? said James Wiebe, CEO of WiebeTech.

WiebeTech recommends that its FireWire 800 products (specifically, the Fire800 and MicroGB 800) be used only in conjunction with Panther after the firmware patch has been applied to the drives. The company's statement says "It is important that these products first be unmounted from the Panther system, then firmware updated on a Jaguar system (OS X 10.2.8 or lower) before re-attaching the drive to Panther."

As of October 31, WiebeTech is shipping all FireWire 800 products with this new firmware revision.

Other World Computing update Other World Computing also made available an update for their own drives that addresses this issue. However, like LaCie and WiebeTech, OWC references Apple's statement when saying that the updater is only for their FireWire 800/Oxford 922 drives.

UPDATE: Oxford releases statement Oxford Semiconductor, maker of the the chipset blamed by Apple as the cause of this problem, has released their own statement, in which they point out that this issue may not be limited to the Oxford 922 chipset:

"Oxford Semiconductor is actively investigating reports that certain FireWire800 drives have lost data following an upgrade to the Panther operating system for Apple computers (released late October).

"We currently believe that this issue relates to a change in the way Panther uses FireWire, which affected version 1.02 of the OXUF922 driver software. A new version, 1.05 was issued by Oxford Semiconductor to the manufacturers of external drive products in September.

"We advise end users to contact the product manufacturer to get an upgrade of software to the latest version.

"As there is currently no evidence that this issue is purely related to Oxford's 922 based drives, Oxford Semiconductor is advising all FireWire drive users to take advantage of further Panther revisions as they arise."

What to do now? The final paragraph of the Oxford statement is worth noting, since reports we've received here at MacFixIt indicate that the problem is not limited to FireWire 800 drives and the Oxford 922 chipset. In fact, one of our own drives here at MacFixIt was lost, and that drive was a FireWire 400 drive using an older chipset. Because of these reports, we continue to recommend that users running Panther unmount and disconnect their FireWire drives before shutting down or restarting.

Also worth noting is a report received by MacFixIt, and echoed by a Macworld UK article, indicating that this issue with FireWire drives was apparently present in early developer builds of OS X 10.3 Panther, but was "fixed" in subsequent builds, before popping up again in the final few builds before release.

Finally, if you've already been bitten by this bug, you've probably discovered that disk repair utilities such as Disk Utility, DiskWarrior, Drive 10, and Norton Utilities are unable to fix the drive's directory. We have had some success with Prosoft's Data Rescue X -- it was able to recover some files from our drive here at MacFixIt. However, it wasn't able to recover everything.

If you have critical data on the drive, one thing you should not do right now is modify the drive in any way. Don't try to "fix" it using one of the disk utilities above (or any other utilities), and don't try to copy files to the drive. By working with the drive while the directory is damaged, you risk overwriting existing data, losing it permanently.

At this point, users who have lost critical information due to this issue, and have not had success in using a utility like Data Rescue X to recover files, have few options. One of these options is to send their drives to a data recovery service such as DriveSavers or Data Recovery Group. We are waiting to hear more from Apple, drive manufacturers, and disk utility developers on the chances of recovering data from affected drives.

On the other hand, if your drive contained no critical information, you should be able to get it working again by reformatting it (using Apple's Disk Utility, for example). Just be aware that this will erase the drive. Also be aware of the precautions mentioned above for using the drive afterwards, since it's not clear that this issue has been adequately addressed yet.

For more information on the Mac OS X 10.3 FireWire drive issues, see Panther reports 2, 3, 4 and 5.


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