Apple Alerts Users of Issues With FireWire Storage

Apple late Friday issued a blanket warning to OS X users of reliability issues with FireWire 800 hard disk drives.

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Following a growing number of online reports of problems when using external FireWire 800 hard drives with the recently released Mac OS X 10.3, aka Panther, Apple late Friday issued a blanket warning to users of all OS X versions.

Posted on Apples Web site, the "special message" said the company had identified an issue with external FireWire hard drives. It pointed to the Oxford Semiconductor Ltd.s 922 bridge chipset with Version 1.02 firmware as the source of the problem. "In the interim, Apple recommends that you do not use these drives. To stop using the drive, you should unmount or eject the disk drive before doing anything else," the message stated.

This problem occurs with external drives using the FireWire 800 interface. All current Macs, desktops and notebooks, come either with the older FireWire 400 or faster FireWire 800 interface, or both.

One storage vendor, WiebeTech LLC issued a firmware updater to address the issue on Friday. According to CEO James Wiebe in a prepared statement, the problem usually cropped up with older, slower Macs running the new software and when a FireWire 800 drive is connected to a FireWire 400 port.

However, WiebeTechs instructions for a fix could pose problems to users of a single Mac. The company "strongly recommends" that its FireWire 800 products not be mounted with a machine running the Panther OS, even to update the firmware. It recommended that the drives have their firmware updated on the superceded Jaguar system before reconnection to a Panther host.

However, one storage executive who requested anonymity said that "Oxford was getting a bum rap" about the problem with FireWire 800 drives. He claimed that no problem had been discovered during the usual development process and testing. "Lots of people saw this and were happy. But Apple makes little changes afterwards and doesnt seed everything back to developers. Something could have happened then."

Apple was unavailable for comment.

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