S h o r t S t o r i e s

// Tales from software development

Western Digital: Oh no, here we go again…

with 3 comments

In the middle 1990s Western Digital manufactured several hard disk models that became notorious for early failures. Unfortunately, I had a couple of them and lost some data as well as experiencing the inconvenience of removing, returning, and replacing the disks. The second disk failed when it was less than 3 months old and I vowed that I would never purchase another Western Digital disk.

For the next few years  I only ever bought IBM hard disks. A little more expensive than average but good performers and very reliable. When Hitachi bought IBM’s storage products division I stayed loyal and continued to buy the Hitachi branded products.

Last week I was building a storage server and wanted an energy efficient 2TB internal hard disk and an external 2TB disk for making offsite backup copies. Western Digital’s ‘Green edition’ disks have been getting good reviews for the past year and I decided to give them a try.

I was slightly confused by the fact that there are currently two 2TB models in the Green series. The most obvious difference between the two, looking at the information on the retailer’s web site, was that one was an OEM package (i.e. a bare disk) and one was a retail package (with SATA cable, mounting screws, etc.). The OEM version was described as ‘Advanced Format’ and suitable for Vista and Windows 7. I didn’t understand the significance of this when I made the purchase.

For the external disk, I decided to go with Western Digital again because the My Book Essential 2TB is good value and is based around a Green Edition drive.

The first problem I hit is that ‘Advanced Format’ is not some marketing slogan but refers to how the drive is formatted. Instead of 512 byte blocks, the disk is formatted in 4096 byte blocks. While Vista and Windows 7 have support for the new block size, older versions of Windows do not. There’s a utilitity called WD Align that can be downloaded from Western Digital’s web site to improve performance when using these disks on older versions of Windows.

So, the first task was to run the WD Align utility. I installed the 2TB disk in the PC and then booted from a CD containing the utility. After several minutes of waiting for it to boot, load, and run, it displayed a message indicating that there was no partitition for it to align. Ah, I hadn’t realised that the utility aligned partitions… So, I’d just wasted 5 minutes.

After creating a partition on the disk I rebooted from the CD again and ran WD Align. It’s actually a customised verson of Acronis TrueImage that moves the partition to ensure that it’s on a block boundary that minimises the performance issues that can occur when using ‘Advanced Format’ drives on versions of Windows prior to Windows Vista and Windows 7. The alignment process only took a few minutes.

In fairness to Western Digital, I think they have made some effort to inform purchasers what ‘Advanced Format’ really means. However, I don’t think that retailers have yet understood the issue and are not passing the information on to consumers. Also, Western Digital’s information is very limited as it only discusses the issue with reference to Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. What about Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 ? I can make some informed guesses but why should I guess ? For a change of this significance Western Digital should have made comprehensive information available regarding operating system compatibility.

Having sorted this problem out I was looking forward to unpacking the My Book and connecting it up. It’s just a USB external drive – how hard can that be ?

As it turned out, harder than you might think… Western Digital have taken a very odd direction with the latest My Book models. Instead of a simple USB Mass Storage interface these models also have a SCSI Enclosure Services (SES) interface. The SES interface allows enclosure data such as temperature to be passed to the PC. The downside is that an additional driver is required: the WD SES Driver.

Western Digital have also decided to use some of the disk to create a Virtual CD (VCD) image that is automatically mounted when the disk is attached. This means that, like it or not, each time you connect the disk you’re going to get an additional virtual CD-ROM device mounted.

If you Google ‘western digital vcd’ you’ll find plenty of vitriolic outpourings from some very angry and annoyed My Book owners. I sympathethise with them – it does seem astonishing that Western Digital have engineered such a heavy handed solution to the problem of delivering backup software with the disk.

Thankfully, Western Digital has created a new version of the firmware than disables the VCD. This is better than nothing but it would have been better yet if they had provided a means to remove the VCD partition and disable the SES interface.

Disabling the VCD requires updated firmware to be downloaded and installed to the disk. Then the VCD Manager utility must be downloaded and run against the disk.

If you haven’t already installed the SES driver by this stage then you’re now in a Catch-22 situation because Windows won’t be able to locate the driver. Western Digital provides a copy of it… on the VCD!

You don’t need to install the SES driver but you’ll get nagged by Windows each time you connect the disk if you don’t. I installed the driver on the laptop I was using to run the VCD Manager utility. I regretted it almost immediately. I can’t be certain that the Blue Screen of Death that occurred a few minutes later was because of Western Digital’s drivers but I’ve never had a BSOD on this PC before (it’s a laptop that I’ve used for the past 4 years) and the first one I get is within 3 or 4 minutes of installing Western Digital’s SES driver. Nice…


Written by Sea Monkey

April 2, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Hardware

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3 Responses

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  1. I feel your pain and those of all the others who are dealing with these issues. I’m actually working on a few articles based around dealing with the VCD and SES at my blog (http://gadgaticmusings.net) as well. The drive can be made to work well but takes more work than should be necessary.

    It doesn’t even work out of the box with any Linux distro I tried due to the VCD!


    June 12, 2011 at 1:22 am

  2. YOur (http://gadgaticmusings.net) doesn’t work. I am in WD My Book hell and am trying to remove not disable the rotten thing. Any advice. I have seen Acronis True Image WD edition mentioned but can’t figure out how to use it to format the drive. Also HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool – v2.1.8 has been mentioned as well. Know anything about these approaches? Would really appreciate your help. Have wasted a whole day on this.



    November 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    • OK all I can say is WOW! I am about as far from computer literate as you can be but even I have found Western Digital’s “My Book Essential” incredibly easy to fix. My goodness folks, just open up the dang drive, delete all of Westerns software gobbledegook and reformat the darn drive. Takes all of a whole fifteen minute. Quit pissin and moaning. I agree, “Smartware” sucks. DUMP IT! Drag and drop, Highlight and tell it to move, tell it to copy. Whatever floats your boat. But my gosh quit whinning!


      September 3, 2012 at 3:58 am

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