Upgrading the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 to firmware SD1A

TL;DR: If you’re applying firmware upgrade SD1A to Seagate drives, you need to double-check the firmware actually applied properly. If the Seagate patcher doesn’t work, make sure to use Legacy mode on SATA in the BIOS, instead of the more modern AHCI mode.

So perhaps you have heard of Seagate’s little manufacturing issue with its internal 3.5-inch Barracuda 7200.11 1TB drives a while back — namely, that some drives shipping with SD15 firmware are dying horribly. I had the unfortunate experience of buying such a hard drive — the ST31000340AS — as a scratch disk for my main machine, a MacBook Pro with a mere 240 GB internal drive (a pre-unibody revision, where the HD is insanely difficult to replace).

Seagate did in fact issue a firmware update — SD1A — that supposedly addressed this issue, but of course, there’s one catch: you can’t install the firmware through an external drive enclosure. In communication with Seagate support, a representative confirmed that for those of us without a desktop tower that has a SATA bay, we’re hosed:

Unfortunately, due to the nature of firmware updates and the way external drives work, the firmware update program cannot directly communicate with the drive in the manner it needs to in order to be able to upload the new firmware to the drive. It must be plugged into an internal SATA controller in order to update the drive.

Fair enough. That makes technical sense — but of course, it doesn’t work for me. I asked whether they would handle a mail-in repair, given that I have no easy access to such a desktop. The answer, of course, is No.

I have to find a desktop, open it up, jam this baby in (possibly in place of the existing drive if there’s only one bay), update the firmware, and put everything back together. Sadly, most of my friends who still own desktops would not trust me that far.

Half a year passes, and I finally find a sucker good friend who’s gullible awesome enough for me to try this procedure on his machine. The fellow owns a nice if aging Dell Precision T5400, which comes with two SATA bays (so I don’t have to inflict undue harm onto the existing system). Since this thing can run two drives at once, I can use the first method (a Windows-based firmware updater), though I burned a boot CD for the second method just in case. I popped in the drive, fired up Windows XP, downloaded the Windows-based Firmware Update Utility, double-clicked, and thought it was the (triumphant) end. In fact, it took 3 hours of my life to find out just how deep this rabbit hole goes.

Problem 1: The lying updater

The firmware updater will give a bunch of scary warnings and then reboot the machine. It will automatically reboot to a Seagate Loader screen, which attempts to apply the patch to all eligible SATA drives. To its credit, it’ll skip the non-qualifying (i.e. non-Seagate, non-Barracuda, etc.) drives, but it’ll still try them out first. At the end of the process, it will report “firmware downloaded” and “SUCCESSFUL” or some variant thereof, and automatically reboot back into Windows.

At this point, I advise you to use the SeaTools utility to verify that the firmware update actually applied. Despite its claims, if you were on a stock setup Dell T5400 (or perhaps other models as well), this will prove that the updater is a lying scumbag. And in fact, this particular drive still reported firmware SD15, the broken one.

Problem 2: The broken Boot CD

To save both me and my gracious host (who’s starting to suspect my computer-fixin’ skills now) some time, I decided to try the boot CD method, rather than pounding my head trying to see why the updater was lying. I downloaded the boot CD from the same Seagate Support site above, burned it to disk, and tried it out.

The result is a new SelfSolved posting: SelfSolved #59: getFatBlock error when upgrading Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 firmware. In essence:

The FreeDOS boot CD reports a number of ” error reading partition table drive 01 sector 0 ” errors. This is followed by ” get Fatblock failed:0x000000e8 ” or some variant of ” getFatBlock failed : ” The FreeDOS boot process appears to stall at this stage, and does not continue to the firmware flasher program.

That was lovely.

The Solution

I chased some red herrings. I came across postings about failures in various FreeDOS-based Seagate tools. One such post mentioned that it took a long time for the boot disc to get over the “error reading partition table” errors, but I waited forever (well, 15 minutes) and the boot process did appear to be frozen / stalled. I reformatted the drive via diskpart clean, thinking that the getFatBlock and error reading partition errors were related to a non-MBR partition table (I had it set to GPT). I should have realized, of course, that the errors were completely unrelated to filesystems, despite the “fat block” to which it refers.

The actual solution is deceptively simple — the boot disc & flasher appears to handle AHCI-based SATA mode badly. The Dell I was using was set to AHCI mode, out of the three possible Legacy, AHCI, and RAID options for SATA. Apparently the boot disc simply doesn’t handle this mode correctly on the Dell machine (and may also be related to why the Windows-based updater lies). When the machine switches on, use F12 to enter the boot menu, and select Setup to enter the BIOS. Then, on the list of Drive Options, skip past the SATA drives and down to SATA options. Pick the Legacy option to use ATA mode, instead of AHCI. Once this is done, the boot disc will function correctly, and the updated firmware will be applied without incident. Remember to switch the mode back to AHCI — it’s default for reason, no doubt.

The “error reading partition” messages were completely red herrings. They appear whether you are in the right SATA mode or not, and does not appear to affect the operation of the firmware updater or the boot process. It should not take very long to get to the flasher on this particular setup, so don’t wait on that message too long — it’s a good sign something’s not quite right.

In the end, I did recover my $100 hard drive, and the confidence of my peer in my mad hardware skillz (actually, quite non-existent).

Discussion

In the end, I’m quite appalled at Seagate. This sort of failure shouldn’t have happened, of course. Once it did, Seagate should have offered to take back and replace broken drives — the data I had on there was non-critical. I would have been perfectly willing to pay shipping costs to get a fixed replacement through mail-in service. I should not have been forced to search my social network for a person willing to let me tear his desktop computer apart, for a dubious and unsure firmware update procedure that fails mysteriously. I spent an additional 3 hours tracing mystery failures, for which the error messages were rather useless. Without my trusty iPhone and access to the Internet, I would not been able to solve this problem. How should I have known what “getFatBlock failed” means?

This little episode has convinced me to never buy a Seagate drive again — I simply cannot afford the time and energy for these sort of firmware upgrade adventures. While I was looking for a desktop to tear apart, I bought a Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB drive instead. Another $100, but at least I had a scratch drive for my work.

The moral of the story: Seagate, you are the worst storage vendor I’ve had to work with so far. I hope this record is not broken in the future.

18 Replies to “Upgrading the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 to firmware SD1A”

  1. About a week ago I had to send my ST31000340AS in for replacement due to total failure. In the past I seem to recall having to describe the failure.
    This time the question of what kind of failure I had wasn’t ask in the online form.

  2. I SUFFERED DIFFERETWAY WITH SEAGATE I ONCE SUFFERED IN1990 WITH UNDETUCTED IN BIOS.THE SECOND NOW WITH FIRMWARE PROBLEM OF ST3500620AS BARRACUDA 7200.11. I WILL NO LONGER BUY SEAGATE. ITS A NON STSANDARD THAILAND JUNK.I LOST ALL MY PRECIOUS DATA WHICH IS NOT RETRIEVABLE
    RAMADOODAN

  3. Many, many thanks !!!
    Your AHCI tip solved my problem. Why shouldn’t we find this information on Seagate’s website? They even have the guts to charge you more than $1000 to unbrick their own crap. Seagate? Never again!

    1. happy to be of help 🙂 we’re definitely agreed here. this kind of guidance should have been part of the install instructions, and Seagate should have been more proactive in repairing the broken hardware/firmware they shipped.

  4. ditto – 820AS firmware upgrade would freeze on loading freeDos, after switching to legacy ata the firmware update went without a hitch. Many thanks!!!

  5. I fully agree with autor of this post. I used Seagate for more than 15 years, many drives (small on $86DX PC 40 Mg up to 1TB drive), many of my friends used it too. And it’s one conclusion for this: 8/10 drives were broken due to different reasons over time (overheat, freezing, electronic problem, etc). In the same time we use also a WD HDD, and it’s still working.

    I’m not prefering a single firm of hdd, but due to lot of year using different drives I can say one: Seagate hdd it’s not good choice for stability. Only WD will last long.

  6. Thanks for posting your problem and solution. I was actually trying to run the Active@ KillDisk from a Boot CD and had the same getFATblock error. The machine I’m wiping the hard drive on is a Dell as well. I went into the BIOS, changed the SATA mode and presto, it worked! I’m now happily on my way to wiping the hard drive! Thanks again for taking the time to share your experience so thoroughly, you saved me a lot of hassle and heartache. Not only that, I also learned to avoid Seagate in the future, you rock man, thanks!

  7. I fully agree with autor of this post. I used Seagate for more than 15 years, many drives (small on $86DX PC 40 Mg up to 1TB drive), many of my friends used it too. And it’s one conclusion for this: 8/10 drives were broken due to different reasons over time (overheat, freezing, electronic problem, etc). In the same time we use also a WD HDD, and it’s still working. I’m not prefering a single firm of hdd, but due to lot of year using different drives I can say one: Seagate hdd it’s not good choice for stability. Only WD will last long.

  8. Thank you for the tip. Temporary switching sata from ahci to ide in bios solved the problem I was having getting the updater running for me.

    1. Wow, I’m amazed that this is still a problem. I actually made a complaint to their support personnel about the issue just after writing this post, more than two years ago. I suggested that their documentation was incomplete, and that they did not cover this very confusing problem about SATA modes causing firmware update failures. Lots of other people have had this issue, and are wasting hours because of Seagate’s incomprehensible error messages. Apparently they didn’t do anything with this information.

  9. I just went through this a couple of weeks ago and documented in my blog and managed to unbrick it. I also updated the firmware on a slightly older motherboard which don’t support ACHI, so that didn’t seem to be a problem for me. But in any case, great post (and cool namesake).

  10. I’m sure that you probably never imagined that your helpful write-up of your woes with these particular buggy Seagate drives would still be found to be useful to someone, even some 7 years later, but really, THANK YOU for leaving this info on the web. (I found it by googling for my drive model # of course.)

    As it happens, I have had two of the ST3500620AS (500GB) drives lying around collecting dust, (one of them with < 1000 Power on hours), and I was hoping to use both as backup drives. But I ran smartmonctl on them first, to check error counts, power on hours, etc, and it said that there were "known problems" with these drives. I found the firmware update .iso image on the Seagate site, no problem, but when I went to run that thing it refused to even do a bus scan (-or- update the firmware) claiming that it could see no "controllers" (presumably meaning SATA controllers). I guessed that maybe my motherboard just wasn't old enough, and was just about to contribute both drives to some landfill until I saw your nice write up. I tried your trick of switching the BIOS from ACPI to IDE and sure enough, that allowed the firmware update to work. (And yea, thanks to your helpful reminder, I remembered also to switch back afterwards.)

    So, you know, THANKS!!! I never would have guessed this on my own.

    1. I really didn’t think anyone would be reading this post 7 years later. I’m glad it helped you though! Good luck with the drives. They were actually good for quite a while, after the firmware update nonsense.

  11. Came @ your blog while searching SD1A.
    Wanted to know what´s in that iso/exe file……….
    I have a ST3500620AS inside an 2ndHand external LacieD2, so @ MacInfo i can´t see even the HD manufacturer and Firmwareversion.
    Crystaldiskinfo on bootcamp-win7 reports: ST3500620AS, 330 hours!!!! in good condition, firmware SD36!!!
    knowledge.seagate.com points SD15 to be the BAD FIRM for my Drive.
    So I think Lacie did this in 2009 luckily for me, and i have no creepy flashwork to do.
    Thank you very much for your detailed description – i planned i try with an outdated singleCoreWinmachine, no sata, only connecting the external usb2 box – it wouldn´t work…..don´t messed time, thanks to you 😉
    That “ms-sd1a.exe” didn´t work with bootcamp-win7 – came into some rescue or whatever mode in bios – stopped it.
    It´s very poor instructed @ seagate “knowledge”…….hope the samsung/seagate will do better?!
    Anyway that original Samsung Spinpoint drives were best-rated @ that time (have one in another D2)
    THANX

    1. Got that 500GB ST3500620AS in Lacie USB HDD Multimedia center (one of the first ones, not found this model on official Lacie site at all).
      So, HDD firmware was SD36 on label.
      Found MooseDT-SD1A-2D-8-16-32MB.iso to upgrade by HDD model name (ST3500620AS).
      Upgraded OK… to SD1A! Is it better than factory SD36?
      Then, tried to find by HDD S/N 9QM169S7 — found Barracuda11-ALL-MSSD3A.ISO with strong recommendations to update… but it FAILS! 🙁 Says model OK — Firmware BAD now…
      How can I restore factory firmware SD36 or any compatible with SD3A updater software? May be some –force keys exists?

      1. Fixed it myself!
        1) Boot into Barracuda11-ALL-MSSD3A.ISO
        2) … ESC to menu…
        3) Press Z – exiting, asked for “Turn Power Off”, but press Ctrl-C to interrupt batch script.
        4) In command prompt run exactly the following:
        FDL497A -m Moose -f MSSD3A4H.LOD -i ST3500620AS -s -x -b -v -a 20
        … SUCCESS! (Try your model name and MSSD3A8H.LOD if FAILED)
        5) Turn power off!
        6) Reboot…
        7) PROFIT!
        Options found parsing FLASH-M.BAT and this forum topic googled:
        https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/seagate-momentus-xt-owners-about-td27.1401972/

  12. Still a problem in 2018! I had a family member’s Seagate ST3500320AS drive on firmware SD81, which had a bunch of old family photos on it. One morning recently, it disappeared after being restarted. I connected it directly via SATA to my PC, and it failed to POST on the BIOS screen, which is indicative of the familiar BSY problem that these 7200.11 drives have. I used a USB to serial lead to unbrick it (instructions available online/youtube), and copied off all the data to multiple other drives when it came back to life. The family member doesn’t trust the drive any more, naturally! So he left the drive with me. Knowing that if I used the drive it would eventually brick again, I decided to update the firmware to SD1A. The .exe version of the updater wouldn’t work on this drive, even with SATA mode set to IDE rather than AHCI. So I had to dig out a USB CD drive, burn the .iso to a blank CD (found in my loft! Haven’t needed them for at least 5 years…) and booted from that, which did finally work and update the drive to SD1A. Thanks for the tip!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *