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SyQuest Reliability Problems

I’ve had reliability problems with 88 MB SyQuest drives recently and it seems that SyQuest is having a hard time deciding to publicize this valuable information. I believe this information is important enough to spread the word, though I have nothing against SyQuest and plan to continue to use and recommend their products.

I’d like to give you a little background information so that you know where I come from. I provide technical support and network management for an office of about 150 Macintoshes. Between two companies, I’ve done this for about six years. I have a degree in electronics engineering, and spent over five years working in a high-tech electronics manufacturing environment. In addition, I’m Apple-certified in the service and repair of Apple products. Now my story.

A little over two years ago (and within about a six month time frame) we bought 36 SyQuest 88 MB external removable drives for use with some of our Macintoshes. I won’t mention the vendor because the problems we experienced had nothing to do with anything they had control over (enclosure, power supply, cabling, software, and so on). The drives were intended to be used for specific tasks that required large capacity, high performance, and removal of the storage medium. I chose SyQuest because I’d had good experience with their 44 MB removable drives for similar needs during the three previous years. The 88 MB drives served us well – until last September. In the last six months, twelve out of the thirty-six drives suffered a head crash.

I was astounded and began searching for the cause. At first I suspected misuse, but after speaking with the users, I felt certain that they were familiar with, and had been practicing, proper usage. I ruled out inappropriate cartridges – we’d always used the SyQuest brand. Next I examined the environment. All the drives were used in the same building – a typical office environment, free from poor environmental factors such as variable temperatures, humidity, dust, and smoke. I contacted the vendor and they agreed that the rate of failure was excessive but could see no cause. None of their other customers had reported similar problems.

Then I called SyQuest to seek their opinion and advice. They asked me to send several of the failed drive mechanisms and cartridges to them for analysis. I had visually inspected each of the failed cartridges myself, and found it interesting that the marks on the platter indicating the head crash area were on the same side and in the same location on every disk. A few weeks later, I received replacements from SyQuest for the drives and cartridges I had sent them, but no explanation as to the cause. I called and talked to the engineer who had inspected my drives. I told him that I appreciated the replacements, but I needed to know the cause so that I could prevent future crashes. He asked me how the drives were used. Specifically, he wondered if we left cartridges in the drives (and running or "spun up") all day, or overnight (and weekends) with long periods when the disk potentially wasn’t accessed. Guess what – not much more than six months ago quite a number of my users began doing this. The SyQuest engineer said that "this might not be a good idea," though there has never been any prior warning.

He explained that while the drive is idle, the heads fly a few millionths of an inch away from the disk in a nominal position to provide quick performance. The heads sort of float on a cushion of air between them and the disk. Friction in the air cushion causes heat build-up, and while the heads are not moving (accessing the disk) the heat does not dissipate. Any airborne debris tends to gather on the disk in this area and after enough of it collects the head collides with it and bounces into the disk. SyQuest’s answer to this problem is the dust guard bezel you may have already heard about. The SyQuest engineer told me that the plastic bezels reduce air flow into the drive by 90 percent and should be used on all 44 MB and 88 MB drives. SyQuest has corrected the problem by changing the design of their 3.5-inch drives and the new 200 MB 5.25-inch drive to reduce air flow into the drive. The SyQuest engineer seemed worried enough about my satisfaction that he offered to send me (free) enough of the bezels to cover all of my drives.

In conclusion, if you have a 44 or 88 MB SyQuest drive, be careful not to leave a cartridge in the drive during long periods of inactivity. I also recommend that you use one of the plastic bezels. APS Technologies (I’m not affiliated – other vendors may sell them too) currently offers the bezels for $8.99 each, though I think SyQuest should give the bezels away to anyone who owns a 44 or 88 MB drive.

SyQuest Technology — 800/245-2278
APS Technologies — 800/443-4199

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