Fiddling with Disks While iTunes Burns

April 25th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  3 Comments

So the big drama on the home front the last few days has been the death and resurrection of our LaCie Big Disk (500GB, USB2). I bought the thing less than two years ago and ran into trouble with it just over a year after I brought it home.

The problem manifested as a rapidly blinking blue power light and no drive spinup. I was pretty chill about the whole thing at the time because the LaCie was in use solely as backup. Nothing went on there that didn’t have a copy somewhere else. I called LaCie, they sent me a new power supply (the Big Disk was initially shipped with an inadequate power supply, stories about which you can find on the Macintouch LaCie page), and that fixed it.

The problem re-manifested last week after I spent several days signing on in the morning to failure dialogs from SuperDuper, which had been running nightly for 18 months without a complaint. The blinky-blue-light problem was back. So I recontacted LaCie, and they sold me a new power supply, since the one they sent me last time might have failed.

Adding to my urgency this time around was that I’d moved my music folder and some folders of RAW originals over to the LaCie and had done a few ad hoc drag-n-drop backups to my server, but hadn’t arranged for a consistent backup. So I knew that if I didn’t recover the LaCie, I’d lose some recent iTunes purchases and might not ever know how many RAW originals I’d lost.

So in went the new power supply on Tuesday morning (I’m too embarrassed to admit what I paid LaCie, which is less than 30 minutes down the road, to ship me the thing in less than five days), and the blinking persisted.

“irritable,” I twittered, “because I’ve decided to officially recognize the LaCie as dead. There … I said it … DEAD!”

But really, deciding the LaCie case that held the two hard drives inside was dead was just the beginning … bargaining is an important part of the grieving process, right? So I reasoned that I could just open the case up, pull out the hard drive inside, stick it in a firewire enclosure I keep in the closet, and be on my way.

It turns out, however, that LaCie doesn’t build things with that sort of behavior in mind. The Big Disk, on the inside, is a pair 250GB hard drives that only look like one drive to the outside world. Such is the nature of the elf magic that accomplishes this that when your Big Disk croaks, you can’t just pluck out the drives and be on your way. Only one of them seems to have the bits required to tell the OS where all the files on both drives are.

If luck had really broken my way, my music and photos would have been on the first drive, or whichever drive had the file tables. I was hoping for that as I disassembled the case and connected each drive to my other enclosure and tried to mount them. All I could mount, though, was the drive that happened to have two pristine backups of the entire iMac hard drive (weekly) and my home directory (nightly). All the unique stuff was stuck on the other drive.

Long and short, though: Data Rescue II saved my bacon. I attached the drive with all the stuff I wanted back to my enclosure, pointed Data Rescue II at it, and about three hours later everything was safely on another backup drive, then quickly recopied over to the server.

Since the only real problem with the LaCie seemed to be the enclosure, I stripped out the two drives, slid them into the server and reformatted them.

I don’t care to rail against LaCie. The problem with their approach seems to have bitten plenty of people whose comments Google has indexed.

I’m kind of faulting myself, though. I bought the Big Disk because it was sort of shiny and it looked convenient. More transparent than maintaining a server. I was stupid to commit things to it without having a good backup regimen for them, so I deserved my scare. But mostly I come out of this situation resolving to always have redundant copies, and to always make sure my backup drives aren’t sealed boxes.

As much as I hate having a server whining away in the closet, I’m much more comfortable knowing I can fix what ails it without worrying about odd little partitioning schemes or whatever. I’ve got just enough drive space stacked up in that server now to do a RAID, and that’ll put me in much better shape than I was to begin with.


  1. brian says:

    April 26th, 2007 at 6:43 am (#)

    I’ve had that same issue with lacie enclosures before. they die, while the drives are fine. i just moved our backups to a D-Link NAS, two mirrored 500GB drives inside. plus, since it runs linux, there are of course upgrades you can make to the software. a little less power draw than a full size server but with most of the functionality.

  2. Norm Margolus says:

    May 17th, 2007 at 1:07 pm (#)

    I’ve had problems with my old LaCie 500GB boxes, but replacing the power supplies fixed everything. The old model# ACML-51 power supplies used in many of their devices were under powered. I’ve heard that people who’ve had this problem have been able to get defective power supplies replaced for free by LaCie, even after their warranty has expired. (The new model# is AGCL-51, LaCie part number 710200).

  3. Rex Sinclair says:

    November 17th, 2008 at 6:38 pm (#)


    I’m having problems with my LaCie Big Disk. I’m trying to pull it apart.

    Do you know if there is a concealed catch. When I take the back 2 screws and back face plate off the front face panel and the interior slide forward 1cm and then stop dead. No amount of pulling can make it slide any further.

    I have a LaCie single disc drive enclosure (same family as this double one) and there is no catch on it.

    Please let me know if you know of a tricky little catch because I can’t see one and I am ready to try more serious force.


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