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Western Digital Green Drives (WD20EARS) and spin downs

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Recently I bought myself 2 new Western Digital (WD) drives for my home NAS box. Doing the good thing for the planet and not wanting massive electricity bills, I thought I’d try the recommend Western Digital Green Drives. Drives that are touted as being energy efficient compared to their WD blue and black office and server based brethren.

I personally have always opted for WD drives as all Hitachi drives I’ve had seem to make horrible noises and die quickly, Samsung always expensive and Seagate always been a bit slow.

So I ordered myself a nice pair of 2TB green drives (WD20EARS) from ebuyer.com for around £60 each.

After installing them and formatting them to ext3 there seemed to be no problems, so I loaded them with media.

The problems started to occur with streaming media. After some routing through openstora.com I found that a lot of users were suffering, especially using Squeezebox / Squeezecenter applications.

The problem with Squeezebox system is that when streaming using the source device is pinged for the next packet of music every 8 seconds. Something that is typical for most streaming platforms.

The problem is that Western Digital in all of their wisdom in the name of energy saving have the Green drives powering off and removing the reader arm from the disk platter after 6 seconds. Which sounds like a good idea in practice but what it equates to is long read/write response times in almost everything you do (which isnt usually a massive deal).

What concerned me is that the life time of the drive is dictated almost exclusively by the number of times the read/write arm moves on and off the disk platter (think stylus arm on an LP player). On a typical drive this is 10,000 movements.

Talking to some members on the openstora forum through normal streaming on their devices of music and a few films they’d used a third of the drives estimated life in a month.

Unofficially, if you trawl through the Western Digital forums they acknowledge this as a problem for most users. In fact they even produce a tool.

The wdidle3 tool is available as a free download from the Western Digital website (give it a Google). However, it comes with all sorts of warnings that you shouldnt be using it. The tool was actually designed for server racks and for stopping drives spinning down at all.

The only problem with the tool is that it is a real pain to use at all.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Download the wdidle3 tool

  2. Get yourself a spare USB memory stick, make sure to take anything off it you want to keep (we’re going to wipe it)

  3. Load up, this website (this is just the ticket that I searched for, for AGES)

  4. Download the HP recovery USB boot disk recovery software

  5. Install the software (virus scan it first if you’re paranoid)

  6. Download Windows98 DOS recovery

  7. Create the Win98 DOS USB disk as described on bay-wolf.com

  8. The USB stick will appear blank under XP or later cos the files are hidden. You can copy the other files across if you like (not really needed, but the safe option)

  9. You need to add the wdidle3.exe file (unzipped from the WD site) to the USB stick (on the top level, in no folders)

  10. Attach your WD drive by internal SATA cable.

  11. Remove all other drives from your system (unplug them). This is because the wdidle3 tool only can only “see” one drive which is seemingly randomly assigned, probably by SATA port.

For this reason you cannot do this using a USB / SATA hard drive adapter ie on a laptop

  1. Select your BIOS to boot from the USB stick

  2. Allow the stick to boot, you’ll see a wonderful long forgotten Win98 boot screen before getting to the command line

  3. Type wdidle3 /R to report what the drive’s current settings are. It’ll tell you drive’s serial number as well as a few other things

  4. To set your drive up type wdidle3 /S [time in seconds] ie wdidle3 /S 300. I picked 300 (5 mins) as a good time.

If you want help type wdidle3 /?

This tool changes the drives firmware. It will not lose any of your data or write anything onto the hard drive itself. But still, I’m not responsible for your actions, so backup anything important before hand

  1. Return your computer to normal. Return your hard drive to NAS box / desktop / laptop /whatever.

Job done. Hope that helps.

Good news is that with newer Green Drives WD as subtly adjusted the default settings to 5 mins without announcing to anyone that anything was ever wrong.