One year macbook pro – issues after upgrade to 500G travelstar hitachi drive – solved

I was happily surprised to find that the 500G hitachi travelstar 7200rpm / 16M cache costs only $99 at Since I had been wasting too much time deleting old stuff on my 250G drive to make room for new photos and videos, I tried to upgrade.

For that I did some google research first, and most people recommended an extra (free) software called superduper that allows to clone out the existing installation onto the (external USB chassis assumed) new harddisk before swapping the two out for each other. This was a good tip, as it made sure the cloned disk was also bootable. The process took about 5 hours, using an external usb drive bay device which I picked up for $25 over lunch at Frys.

Since I had a fairly new macbook pro 15″, it was very simple to replace the existing drive, a 5 minute job.

The first impression after swapping out the two drives, was that I almost doubled my read speed, very impressive, however then also the problems started: hangs with the colorful beachball waiting for some timeout before the app would react again.

Especially using slideshows with iphoto now provokes the problem. A disk test with the diskutil claims the drive is fine.

Turning off the motion sensor that autoparks the drive via pmset was not the solution to the problem, so I turned it back on.

This is very annoying, and I have spent hours researching all the different speculations of people on what it could be. The root cause turns out to be that the EFI upgrade to allow 3Gbps SATA speeds that apple rolled out in support of their SSD’s does create this problem for normal SATA drives that support 3Gbps. Some people seem to be able to downgrade from EFI 1.7 to 1.6 to fix the issue, and some report it does not work for them.

Others mention ftool from hitachi’s support website, which allows to disable the 3Gbps / SCC support, which was turning out to be the fix that works for me. Of course the boot image you download is useless when booted on the intel mac, for some reason the keyboard is not working, and attaching an external keyboard did not help either.

The PDF with the documentation for ftool of course only talks about how to use the tools interactive menus, but I suspected there must be a way to use it with command line parameters instead.

So I ended up copying the iso-boot image to a linux machine, mounting it, using ‘strings’ on the ftool.exe executable to discover that the command line parameters I want are: ‘/ALL /SS LOW DISABLE’.

Since you can’t just mount the iso read-write and modify it, I had to use a different opendos boot floppy image that that fits into the floppy boot area of a cdrom, and then recreate the iso with mkisofs. This caused me quite some grief and after 2 hours of trial and error between trying to get real work done  and 4 coaster cdr’s later, I finally got it to work. Funny enough the keyboard works when booting that opendos image, but only until you start ftool, then the menus again are not navigable.

And after typing it in, it adjusted the drive firmware settings and it all works now !

A dd read/write of a 10GB file about in the middle of the platter performed with about 64MB/s write, 73.6MB/s read. Not too shabby, I think the 5400 rpm drive I had in earlier was reading with more like 40MB/s.

Finally live is nice again, iphoto presentations play without interruption, and I can stop worrying about it all.