Tuesday, December 20, 2011

‘Intellipark’ Makes Western Digital Green Drives Prone to Early Failure. Here’s the Fix

Western Digital sells internal hard disk drives under three product lines – the high performance Black and Blue drives and the cheaper and eco-friendly Green drives targeted for home users. In order to conserve power, WD incorporated a number of features into their Green drives under the collective term ‘Intellipower’ which includes, according to their website, “a fine-tuned balance of spin speed, transfer rate and caching algorithms designed to deliver both significant power savings and solid performance.”

wd-green-drives

WD Green drives uses some basic tricks to save power such as reduced spindle speed, high density platters that packs bits closer together accelerating throughput for sequential operations, and larger RAM cache. One of the more unusual and questionable feature is ‘Intellipark’ that automatically parks the drive's head after 8 seconds of inactivity to reduce aerodynamic drag, enabling the drive to disengage read/write channel electronics to save power.

This is fine for operating systems like Microsoft Windows, which have been tuned to leave disk drives in the idle state for as long as possible. But on Linux and RAID devices, this can have serious consequences.

intellipark

On many of these systems, disk I/O operations occur more frequently, often every 10 to 20 seconds. This means that data get read, then 8 seconds later the head gets parked, and then another 2 to 12 seconds later the actuator arm is activated again to read more data. Continually parking and activating the heads causes wear and tear, potentially leading to early drive failure.

WD Green Drives are designed to last for 1 million parks or Load Cycles. But with the disk head parking every 8 seconds, drives can rack up the Load Cycle count at an alarming rate causing hard disks to fail within months.

Many users on Linux and RAID systems have reported around 80 load cycles per hour, which translates to 12,500 hours of operation or roughly 520 days before failure. In other words, less than 1.5 years of continuous usage.

For this reason, Western Digital doesn’t recommend their Green Drives to be used in RAID configuration. From their website:

WD Caviar Black, Caviar Green, and Caviar Blue hard drives are not recommended for and are not warranted for use in RAID environments utilizing Enterprise HBAs and/or expanders and in multi-bay chassis, as they are not designed for, nor tested in, these specific types of RAID applications. For all Business Critical RAID applications, please consider WD’s Enterprise Hard Drives that are specifically designed with RAID-specific, time-limited error recovery (TLER), are tested extensively in 24x7 RAID applications, and include features like enhanced RAFF technology and thermal extended burn-in testing.

Western Digital also doesn’t provide support for the Unix/Linux operating systems for the same reason. The affected models has been recognized as:

WD20EADS, WD20EARS, WD15EADS, WD15EARS, WD10EADS, WD10EARS, WD8000AARS, WD7500AADS, WD7500AARS, WD6400AADS, WD6400AARS, WD5000AADS, WD5000AARS

If you are using anyone of these drives on Linux or on RAID, you should check the disk’s S.M.A.R.T. status for the load cycles count. On Linux you can see S.M.A.R.T. data using the smartctl -a /dev/sda command. On Windows you have to use a program capable of reading and displaying hard disk S.M.A.R.T. data such as HD Tune or HDDScan.

Here is HD Tune’s report for my WD Caviar Green 1 TB drive.

load-cycle-count

The drive has accumulated 15,341 Load Cycles in 3444 hours. Dividing the Load Cycle count by Power On Hours Count, I get 4.4 load cycles per hour which is considerably safe. If you get a high figure such as 50 or more, you should consider switching to another drive or increase the time until the head is parked to a higher value. The difference between a park operation every 10 seconds and one every 5 minutes, for instance, is dramatic, both in terms of drive longevity and power savings.

Western Digital offers a utility that modifies the behavior of the drive to wait longer before positioning the heads in their park position and turning off unnecessary electronics. Download and instructions on how to use it can be found on this page.

Western Digital also offers a number of solutions for Linux users such as decreasing logging and disabling advanced power management. You can read the details on their support page.

Note: Many S.M.A.R.T. utilities including HDDScan report Load Cycle counts in hexadecimal value. Don’t forget to convert the value into decimal.

Sources: 1, 2

Related Reading:

6 comments:

  1. You are wrongly comparing Windows workstations and Linux servers, on a Linux desktop the HDD activity is in general much lower and much much less frequent than using any version of Windows.

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  2. I don't know, I'm only quoting what other Linux users have found and reported on various discussion boards. And this is not an isolated incident. There are plenty of examples on the Internet, and all affected users were either using some kind of Linux or RAID.

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  3. I have a WD20EARS-00MVWB0 and tried to solve this problem using three methods. First I tried typing in Debian Squeeze:

    hdparm -B /dev/sdb

    And it returned:

    /dev/sdb:
    APM_level = not supported

    Next I made a bootable FreeDOS USB stick and placed the widle3.exe file on it. No matter what command I would run it would return:

    VSC Enable Not Ready

    Followed by some hex codes I didn't write down.

    It also detected my Caviar Blue on /dev/sda and reported that idling was disabled (as expected). Perhaps having two WD drives is confusing it?

    The third thing I tried was disabling APCI in my BIOS, and I can only hope that did the trick.

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  4. @Haroon

    There's a wdidle3 comparable tool for Linux, and I used it successfully on my WD Scorpio Blue 1TB (WD10JPVT) to disable wdidle3.

    Cheers

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  5. Mine comes out to around 5.3 load cycles per hour. I think its acceptable as I only use Green drives for secondary storage. Incidentally, my Seagate Barracuda 7200rpm primary hard drive shows only 0.19 load cycles per hour.

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  6. I only use the blue edition of WD drives and its is for secondary storage with as Anjan said a seagate barracuda as my primary drive. I am thinking of switching them since the WD drive is rated higher performance wise. A green drive will never see my money btw.

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