How NOT to kill a brand new hard disk

Some time ago, I bought a new hard disk for my Macbook Pro, namely a Samsung Spinpoint M6 HM320HI. I was pretty happy with it, until I noticed a weird and annoying noise when the drive was idle. It was like a fan noise, 10 seconds long, then 5 s quite, and again.

I forced some disk activity to investigate:

(while true ; do echo test > /tmp/test ; sleep 4 ; done)

The noise disappeared.

After a short research on the web, I found similar problems of Unix users with the power saving. The disk parks the heads much too quickly, and unparks them at the first access.

THE DANGER:

Not only the noise is annoying, this constant movement of the heads is very bad for the disk itself. Using smartctl from MacPorts, I could see how fast the Load_Cycle_Count was increasing :

225 Load_Cycle_Count 0x0032 100 100 000 Old_age Always - 293

After 2h of using my computer, the counter was already at 250 (that’s 25 load cycles more than before).

At this point, I had circumvented the problem, and I just had to solve it. Under Linux, there is a standard tool to change the hard disk settings, hdparm, but it has not been ported to MacOS X yet. However, I found another tool, hdapm, distributed with its source code.

First try:

$ sudo ./hdapm disk0 max
disk0: SAMSUNG HM320JI
Setting APM level to 0xfe: FAILED: APM not supported

Supposedly, my disk does not support APM, very surprising in 2008.
To investigate further, I started up Linux (a Knoppix Live CD 5.3), and I called hdparm:

hdparm -B 254 /dev/sda

It worked !

I restarted my Mac under MacOS X, and the noise had disappeared ! Even better, hdapm now works :

$ ./hdapm disk0 254
disk0: SAMSUNG HM320JI
Setting APM level to 0xfe: Success

Mission accomplished.

I don’t know what the cause of the problem is (MacOS X ? the SATA firmware ? the Samsung drive ?), but at least my disk is now quiet, and will live (I hope) for a long time.
hdapm’s author couldn’t understand either why hdapm refused to work in the first place.

I hope this article will help other people with the same problem.

Keywords : hard drive hard disk clicking noise regular mac hdparm hdapm apm samsung power saving

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7 Responses to How NOT to kill a brand new hard disk

  1. Doug A says:

    Hi,

    Just wondering if after additional reboots HDAPM was still working for you?

    I have to reinstall it after every reboot, myself.

    I have written an extensive blog on the whole clicking HDD issue.

    http://dougitdesign.com/blog.html

    I just found your blog for the first time tonight.

  2. ocroquette2 says:

    @Doug A: interesting info that you have. Basically, I didn’t have to do anything since I ran hdparm and hdapm. I didn’t have to include them in my startup sequence, the settings are permanent and survive reboots.

    Note however that my drive is not an OEM drive from Apple.

  3. Pingback: Not Rocket Science » Mac OS X Lion First Impressions

  4. Richard says:

    This is amazing. Your first post was Nov/2008 and this is now Sept 2011. I have installed a Samsung M8 1TB hard drive and it was not doing the “click of death”, well not that I could hear but the load cycle were screaming up and the system would go into lala land regularly when doing heavy disk access. I have just had to go thorough the same sequence as you describe hdapm disk0 max wouldn’t work so
    1) boot a Knoppix live dist’n
    2) use hdparm -B 254 /dev/sda
    3) boot back to OSX Lion

    and now hdapm disk0 max works

    Thanks; but Apple after 3 years why is this still a problem.

  5. ocroquette2 says:

    I am glad it could help, and I am also surprised that the problem is stil there !

  6. Richard says:

    Well my mac book is a mid2009 MBP with
    – Boot ROM Version: MBP53.00AC.B03
    and I don’t believe there have been any EFI updates for this version.

    But of interesting note, I had a major crash last night – in VMWare my XP crashed in a big way – and I had to do a full “hold down the power button” restart.
    Following which the Samsung HD went back to the original “Setting APM level to 0xfe: FAILED: APM not supported”.
    So I had to go through the Knoppix cycle again.

  7. FranAlt says:

    2013 and the noise is still present in the MBP! hdamp solved the problem! :D

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