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Portable hard drives unreliable?

By spkenny · 10 replies
Jun 4, 2009
  1. I run a computer repair business, and my customers really appreciate it when coming to their homes is an option. They simply dont want to bring the tower to my home shop. As such, I thought it would be a great idea to become completely mobile, where I could carry everything I normally would need or use in a single bag to solve or repair most computer problems. This has worked very successfully, until I decided to purchase a western digital portable hard drive from ebay. Everything was fine until a couple weeks ago, when it started emitting a general clicking sound, and continuous spin and stopping sound. I hadnt even had the hard drive for 2 months yet. Obviously the last thing I wanted to hear on a hard drive (I had just backed up a customers data after reformatting their system too). Did an RMA on the thing, sent it to western digital for replacement. So in the meantime, I still needed something to back up customers data with. I bought a seagate portable Freeagent go 250 gig from walmart. Pulled it out to back up a systems files, and wont even show up when I plug it in. Listened to the hard drive up close, and sure enough its doing the same thing as the western digital drive. Just not the clicking this time. I've only had this one for a little over a week. And so, I'm in a dilemma of sorts, as what I should do about this situation. Seems to me that although portable, which is very nice, packing these skimpy portable drives in with my other gear doesnt seem to be working in terms of reliability. I'm thinking of just leaving the backing up to my laptop, then later make a second backup of the first for just in case scenarios. Bottom line: Is it just me or are these portable drives peices of crap? These dont seem very stable or reliable.
  2. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,443   +36

    I have had this happen with my WD Passport drive if it was not getting enough power from the USB port. My university has those Dell monitors with USB ports in them and whenever I connect the drive to those I get this. The USB ports in the chassis work fine though. The drive light is usually dim if it isn't getting enough power.

    Tried another USB port or cable to see if that fixes the problem?
  3. spkenny

    spkenny TS Enthusiast Topic Starter Posts: 57

    The hard drives as I explained are making the sounds and noises that a common hard drive failing would make. It was explained to me by a friend that these portable hard drives simply cannot take much shock, etc to be carried around in a bag or otherwise. Is this true? Other than that, the usb cable I am using is the same that came with the hard drive. Could it be shorting out somehow?
  4. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,729   +409

    I think you are just incredibly unlucky. Physically the actual drive itself isn't any different between an external and an internal. I would try and eliminate/minimize any movement when the drive is powered up though, so if you are moving them as they are running that could certainly cause a problem. If you aren't (and I suspect you aren't) you are just unlucky.

    It may be cheaper to build your own external if you can accept my above answer and still like the convenience of a portable drive.
  5. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Posts: 6,491   +183

    1) IMHO Never buy an external hard drive that doesn't come with its own AC adapter
    >> Translation: I find it best to NOT rely on a device which, itself, must rely on a USB port to draw all its power

    2) USB devices are not as simple as plug/play and self-powered as often assumed
    >> Understand if your USB device is a low powered USB device (requires < 100mA) or high powered (requires > 100mA. Up to 500mA per USB spec)
    >> Understand the difference between a bus powered USB hub vs a self-powered USB hub. Per the USB spec:
    >>>>> USB ports on a bus powered hub are only required to supply up to 100mA per port
    >>>>> USB ports on self-powered hubs, on the other hand, will supply up to 500mA per port

    Plugging a high powered device into a USB port on a self-powered hub means problems

    3) Rage_3K_Moiz:
    >> I think the USB ports in a dell monitor are bus powered! That's why you will have issues pluggin in a high powered USB device with them! (and sometimes even a low powered USB device)

    You might find this post, in particular, useful
    >> See How to Check USB Device and USB Hub Power Issues and Limitations

    And you might also look at these as well
    >> See USB Device Problems? Check for Windows Updates
    >> See How to Avoid Problems with USB Storage Devices
    >> See How to Check Hardware / Connection Issues with your USB Device
    >> See Troubleshoot: Windows Won't Recognize Your USB Hard Drive

    Also,you'll also find System Information Viewer tool exceptionally helpful to explore/dig into/provide info about your USB and other devices (including some USB power related info about your devices)

    /* EDIT */
    Oh! And if only just-for-the-fun-it download and run USBView to see the hierarchical topology of your USB connected devices (tho this tool only runs under Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP)

    /* EDIT2 */
    Also fyi.. for bus-powered hubs. In addition to the fact you can only expect up to 100mA power per USB port on a bus-powered hub. Also know: bus-powered hubs by spec are only required to support 4 USB ports. So also don't try connecting more then 4 USB devices to a bus-powered hub
  6. xehqter

    xehqter TS Rookie

    I guess I’m one of the lucky ones, I abuse my wd passport and it still works flawlessly. I’ve dropped the thing so many times, down stairs, pavement, on the floor, etc. The case has popped open many times. The drive also seems to park its heads on the ramp if it detects any motion while operating. Neat stuff, granted I don’t keep any mission critical data on the drive. I tend to think there are many factors which can influence failure, anything from air pressure, to bad design, to an impact at precisely the wrong time.
    My suggestion, if you don’t want to use a flash drive use an SSD drive in an external enclosure, its not cheap but if your going to carry it around its more rugged than a regular drive.
  7. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Posts: 6,491   +183

    Good points!

    And i should qualify what i said about "only buying an external with AC adapters", i meant when one wants to buy a dependable drive you want to trust with your data. Obviously, flash drives and small portables have their places as well
  8. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Posts: 6,491   +183

    Just discovered some more interesting info about USB Hubs&Power in general and the WD Passport in particular!

    First i'll point out I have a WD Passport as well. It used to belong to a friend but started flaking out on him. He was going to throw it out. I took it to "test and play" with. Which also helped start me down the learning path about USB devices, power and limitations

    I mention all this cause i stopped in a computer store yesterday. Also remember my earlier post talked about
    >> low powered USB devices (requiring up to 100mA to run) vs
    >> high powered USB devices (requiring up to 500mA to run)
    and 500mA is the most that's required per the USB spec

    So i see a Targus self-powered hub which includes 2 ports that exceed USB spec! Their hub includes two ports that will supply up to 1000mA each!

    So i bought it. And guess what. So far, on the couple occasions i plug the WD passport into the 1000mA ports, it hasn't failed yet. (I haven't tried any extensive testing yet but it's repeatable to the point of certainly worth noting!)

    AND then coincidentally i just happened to find this article from Xbit labs about the WD passport, which basically also discusses power related issues with this drive given its power consumption and the type of port you connect it to (they also particularly note if you happen to use laptops 'cuz laptop ports don't always exactly meet that 500mA spec requirement either - which,of course, can only make matters worse for in such cases)
  9. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,443   +36

    It will never fail mate, because the slot will only provide as much power as the drive needs, nothing more. Note that it says upto 1A, not 1A continous.
  10. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Posts: 6,491   +183

    yes. understood.

    But i meant it hasn't failed on the Targus so far
    1) vs. prior to now only using standard USB hubs and ports which per spec ONLY supply up to 500mA and not more
    2) the fact that WD passports appear to often EXCEED spec so standard USB high powered ports may often fail (vs. this Targus which provides power over and above spec ports on this Targus hub)
    3) And can't predict if OTHER WD passport issues might be involved (i.e. questions of mechanical reliability) which might have also contributed to failures.

    so am curioius to see how this WD drive that often failed before (cuz minimally it used OVER USB spec power) will act now

    /* EDIT */
    And between the lines reading: If someone is getting USB not recognized messages and/or disk driver failure with their external hard drive OR Sandisk U3 Cruzer flashdrives (which btw are ALSO USB high powered devices) they might try investing in this Targus hub or something that can exceed normal USB power requirements as power may be the issue with some failing USB drives
  11. hellokitty[hk]

    hellokitty[hk] Hello, nice to meet you! Posts: 3,448   +145

    They are the same as a standard hdd, except they are in a portable container. They are still rotating hdds, so dropping them or magnetizing them is still liable to damage the hard drive just like a normal drive. If it is making sounds of failure, that would be a problem.
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