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Fixes Available for Some Panther FireWire Troubles

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When a new version of an operating system is released, we expect to run into bugs or incompatibilities that didn't get shaken out during the testing phase. Unfortunately, a particularly nasty problem has surfaced: Mac OS X 10.3 Panther can, in certain circumstances, completely destroy the data on an external FireWire drive. Disk recovery utilities such as DiskWarrior and Norton Disk Doctor have reportedly been incapable of resurrecting the disks.

Last week, Apple identified a problem with FireWire 800 drives using the Oxford 922 bridge chipset with firmware version 1.02. Based on anecdotal reports on the Web, restarting the Mac with the drive attached triggers the problem; Apple recommends that you immediately eject and disconnect any FireWire 800 drive connected to a Mac running Panther.

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The situation has provoked a flurry of firmware updates and finger-pointing. Drive manufacturers such as WiebeTech, LaCie, Other World Computing, and FireWire Direct have released firmware updates for their products (unfortunately, firmware updates are vendor-specific, so contact your drive's vendor). You must install the firmware update using a Mac running an older version of Mac OS X.

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In response to Apple's announcement, Oxford Semiconductor issued its own statement, pointing out that the problem lies in Apple's implementation of FireWire in Panther and not the 922 chipset, since Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar systems aren't affected.


In addition, users are reporting that the problem is not limited to FireWire 800 drives; a fellow Mac author was bitten by the problem using a FireWire 400 drive with the Oxford 911 chipset. For the time being, we recommend keeping Panther away from any FireWire drives until this issue is resolved. If you must use an external FireWire drive in Panther, be sure to mount the drive manually after the Mac has started up, and dismount it manually before restarting. And for goodness sake, make sure you're backing up carefully, preferably to CD or DVD, or over a network.

If you were unfortunate and did lose data to this problem, there's at least some hope of recovering your critical data. We've heard from several sources that Prosoft Engineering's Data Rescue X has had some success in recovering files, sometimes after erasing the disk with Disk Utility (which just clears the directory, scary as that seems). Jay Nelson at Design Tools Monthly also tells us that Prosoft is offering $10 off to people suffering data loss due to Panther; use code PAN911 when ordering.

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Alternatively, our friends at DriveSavers tell us they've been successful in recovering data from drives that experienced this problem. Better still, DriveSavers is offering a discount to customers who have lost data as a result of the specific Panther and FireWire 800 issue. If you plan to send your drive in to DriveSavers or a similar company, do not attempt to restore data using disk utilities; that could exacerbate the problem and make it less likely that your critical data will be recovered. (I can personally recommend DriveSavers, which once helped me recover a failed hard disk; see "DriveSavers to the Rescue" in TidBITS-495).


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