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Apple aware some MacBooks contain flawed Seagate drives

Apple Inc. is acknowledging that some of its MacBook notebooks shipped with hard disk drives plagued by a manufacturing flaw that can result in permanent data loss even when used under routine operating conditions.

The issue, reported earlier this month by U.K.-based data-recovery firm Retrodata and subsequently covered by AppleInsider, is confined to Seagate 2.5-inch SATA drives that are manufactured in China and loaded with firmware Version 7.01.

The affected drives — model numbers ST96812AS and ST98823AS — are commonly found in notebooks such as Apple's MacBook or MacBook Pro, the firm says. To determine whether a MacBook has one of the affected drives, it's suggested that owners go to their Mac's System Profiler application and check the revision number under the Serial ATA listing.

If the System Profiler indicates that the computer is using a Seagate hard drive with firmware Version 7.01, Retrodata recommends backing up all data and then having the drive replaced.

The firm had previously criticized Apple as being "utterly irresponsible" for its silent stance on the matter and not immediately commissioning a recall of all systems that included the Seagate manufactured part.

While Apple has still not issued a recall or warning to customers, spokesman Cameron Craig said this week that the company is aware that there might be a problem. "We've received a few reports that some MacBook consumer notebooks may have hard drive issues, and we're looking into it," he told InformationWeek.

As part of its continued coverage of the vulnerability, Retrodata this week said it continues to receive "quantities" of the affects drives for recovery, nearly all of which display the same cause of failure — the read/write heads appear to fail mechanically, quickly causing deep scratches to the platter surface, and rendering the drives practically unrecoverable.

A Retrodata image showing a bad drive head found inside one of the Seagate drives.
Drive Flaw
The bad drive head quickly causing deep scratches to the drive's platter surface.

The firm believes the problem is the result of a manufacturing flaw, and not in the design of the drive. Nevertheless, it says any sizeable manufacturer should by this stage be aware of such a problem and issue a product recall notice, or an offer to have the drive exchanged for a suitable alternative at their own expense.

"It's Seagate's problem, but it's Apple's responsibility to address the problem, since they're providing the part," said Duncan Clarke, managing director for Retrodata. "Apple needs to own up and take action."