In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

How not to help

Earlier this year, I upgraded my Mac to Lion. With the full disk encryption available in the form of File Vault 2, I decided to encrypt both the Mac’s drive and my external Time Machine drive. Before doing this however, I bought a 3 TB external drive to store backup data for a long time to come.

The problem is the 3 TB Western Digital My Book drive can’t be encrypted. It always returns an error and aborts the operation. I tried all sorts of things to encrypt it, all to no avail. Initially, I just left it be. Lion had just come out, and I thought Western Digital would issue a firmware update to fix the problem. They did issue a firmware update, but the problem remains. I finally got serious about it and submitted a trouble ticket to their technical support people.

The answer I received came as quite a surprise.

In this case we are not able to provide direct support to this configuration on the My Book drive. However, we suggest you to format the drive as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) which is HFS+ to be Mac compatible. Once the drive is formatted then you can use the encryption of the WD SmartWare in order to lock the drive with a password. This is AES 256-bit encryption that will protect the partition on the My Book external drive. You will need to first format the drive for Mac, then install the WD SmartWare software on your computer and last you will need to set up the password.

The key, to me, is the first sentence. They’ve decided that they simply won’t support the feature I’m trying to use, for some reason. I found it curious that the Western Digital forums had no mention of the problem I have. Thinking I was the only one, contacting support about the issue seemed the best course because they could probably help. Instead, The very first sentence was a door-slam in my face.

I did more digging and eventually found my way to Apple’s own discussion forums which had multiple threads about this issue. What I found the most surprising is that the hard drives with this problem were not limited to those from Western Digital. Indeed, it seems related to the sector size of the drive, or the sector size the enclosure electronics present to the computer. In fact, Apple has acknowledged the issue and is investigating a fix, though they’ve given no estimate of when it will arrive.

The lack of any mention of the issue on the Western Digital web site discussion area is even more strange, knowing all this background. Surely others would have posted about the issue given the number who have on the Apple site. Maybe the messages were deleted? I don’t know.

Looking back to my exchange with Western Digital technical support, I’m even less impressed. Either their corporate policy is to choose to simply not support certain operating system features, or they didn’t know that Apple acknowledged the problem as theirs. Ideally, the reply to my support query would have stated that this is a known Lion issue that Apple has acknowledged, so I’d need to contact them to pursue it further, or I could install their software to encrypt the drive.

But that wasn’t their reply. In the future, I may have to reconsider the hard drive brand I choose, because I am absolutely not impressed with what Western Digital calls ‘support.’

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1 Comment

  1. Shawn

    I have heard from other forums that their support is pathetic, but their RMA process on a defective drive is stellar.

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