External hard drives. Be aware!

I’ve been telling customers for years about external USB hard drives and what great things they are to keep your essential files backed up. I still have the same opinion, but I thought I’d pass on my experiences of one of my own drives as a bit of a warning.

I bought this particular drive from OfficeWorks, but I would have had the same experience with the vast majority of retailers with the possible exception of specialist computer stores. I had bought a Western Digital 640Gb external drive at a good price (they were on special at the time) and all went fine for the first nine months until one morning I noticed that the drives weren’t appearing in My Computer and a quick check revealed that the ‘power brick’ had died completely. It was running from a surge-protected power strip so I knew it wasn’t a power spike issue. A quick Google search revealed that the model I had was very prone to this problem. The newer ones aren’t of course…

‘No problem’ I thought – I’ll just give OfficeWorks a quick call and ask what to do next. The helpful chap there said that I would have to contact W.D, either from the website or the 1800 number he gave me. I wasn’t too happy about that – after all, usually the retailer you purchase from handles the warranty procedure – but he was insistent that I needed an ‘RMA’ number before they could assist me. Of course, the phone number ended up in India or Singapore and their staff were always ‘on another call’, so I left a message after waiting for 15 minutes on hold.

After a week with no call back from them, I tried the online solution and got an RMA number – BUT I would have to send the whole thing to Singapore at my expense of course and they wouldn’t guarantee any of my data would be there when it came back (if it ever would) – not a solution for me as there was stuff on it that I didn’t have anywhere else. It’s the backup drive, why would I!!

Back to OfficeWorks I went again and was told that the model wasn’t sold by them anymore. They don’t have spare power units and even if W.D say to them ‘replace it’ – I would then be up for the difference between this one and a newer (but bigger capacity) drive. They gave me a number where I could send the old one to get the data backed up off it (he didn’t know if I would be charged for this) and so at this point I said ‘bugger it – I’ll sort it out myself’.

And this is the problem with external drives – if the power brick dies you can’t access your drive easily yourself to get the stuff off it!

As a computer tech, it wasn’t a problem for me as I simply bought an empty external hard drive box, opened the WD one, ripped the drive out, fitted it into the new box and I was back in business again in 10 minutes – but the average consumer wouldn’t know this would they?

So, the moral of the story is this: before buying a ‘cheap’ external drive just check what the warranty terms actually are – how much work (and expense) you have to go to to get it repaired or replaced if it dies under warranty. I’d also ask if the same situation applies under the ‘extended warranty’ they often try and con you into paying more for as well.

So – if anyone has an external hard drive that they suspect the power brick has died on – contact me as I can help you. A new external hard drive box like the one to the right (with a standard, easily available power brick that even Dick Smith could replace) will only set you back $30-$40 and your otherwise useless drive can be of use to you again! On the other hand, if you don’t have one already, I can include a new drive with one as well – as of April ’09 hard drive prices are: 500Gb – $130, 1Tb – $210.

So all up, one that you know will be supported by me during the warranty period (and after) may cost you a little more than a cheap one – but what price peace of mind?

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