Loud Seagate Drives

I don’t think Seagate has particularly had a good reputation for the noise of their hard drives, but I’m going to tell my story nonetheless.

A while ago, a 2TB WD Green drive of mine started developing bad sectors.  I performed a disk scan, which would’ve marked sectors as bad, fixed the corrupted files and hoped that more wouldn’t develop.  However, it wasn’t long before this inevitably occurred, so I went out and bought a 4TB Seagate to replace it.  Things were fine.

More recently, my 1.5TB WD Green drive came to a similar fate (it seems that all my newer drives have been failing within a few years of usage).  As it so happened, Dick Smith was running a Valentine’s day special, putting on a 15% discount on their hard drives, so I grabbed a 4TB Seagate Expansion drive for $170 (it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find the drive at any store here for under $195, so that was an excellent price) to replace the old WD.

Plug the drive in, and you’re greeted with quite an audible powering up, followed by whirring.  At first, I thought there was a fan inside the enclosure, considering the noise and that there’s breather holes (more like a mesh) on the back, but I couldn’t feel any airflow, so concluded that the whirring is actually the drive itself.  The sound is definitely quite noticeable, louder than the rest of my PC and I can easily hear it from 3 metres away.  I have a 3TB WD Elements sitting right beside it which is almost silent – I can hear the drive when it spins up, but it’s still much quieter than this new Seagate.  Another thing that’s interesting is that, despite my internal 4TB Seagate having the same model number as the external, the internal drive seems pretty quiet; it’s possible that the case is blocking some noise, but even with it open, I can’t seem to hear the drive distinctively above the other noises in the case.

Now whilst I could just get used to the noise, I don’t really want to have to make that compromise.  On the other hand, I didn’t feel like going to the effort of returning the drive and then paying more for a replacement.  So I decided to try tweaking the drive’s AAM/APM settings to see what I could achieve.  Seagate conveniently doesn’t allow you to change the drive’s AAM (or they simply don’t support it, whatever), however APM is changeable.

Most search results on ‘Seagate’ with ‘APM’ seem to be people complaining about Seagate drives making audible noises when spinning down, where they’re looking to disable APM.  I’m a bit surprised that I can’t seem to find anyone complaining about normal operating noise of these when not even being accessed.  As I’m using this only as a backup drive, I don’t mind it spinning up only when it is actually accessed, so turning down the APM value, if it would stop the whirring, could work for me.

HDParm for Windows doesn’t seem to detect USB drives (side note: interesting that they use /dev/sd[a-z] to identify drives, despite being on Windows), but I did eventually find that CrystalDiskInfo would set the APM for the drive.  Changing the default value of 128 to 16 seemed to do the trick – the drive would spin down soon after becoming idle, making the drive silent.  Success!

…except that the drive would reset its APM value whenever it lost power.  Urgh, what to do?

Turns out, the CrystalDiskInfo guys thought of this – the mysteriously worded “Auto AAM/APM Adaption” option basically makes CDI sets the APM value of the drive every now and then (okay, it’s mentioned in the manual, but it’s not exactly easy to find).  This does mean that CDI has to stay running in the background, but as I have 16GB of RAM in this machine, I’m not too worried about that.

The drive does exhibit some “weird” behaviors (well supposedly understandable but still silly) – such as spinning up before you standby the PC, then quickly spinning down.  Also, the Auto APM setting sometimes takes a while to kick in after resuming from hibernate.  As my backup routine is basically a scheduled disk sync, the drive spins up for short periods when this occurs, but it’s a tradeoff I’m willing to take.  One thing to note is that the drive seems to spin up on any activity, even reading SMART metadata; CDI, by default, polls the drive’s SMART info to check for issues, but it’s easy to disable automatic refreshing to avoid the drive whirring up every 30 minutes.

tl;dr if you’ve got a Seagate external, can’t stand the whirring, and don’t mind it being spun down when idle, install CrystalDiskInfo, turn down the APM, enable to auto APM setting, get CDI to load on startup and disable automatic polling of SMART info on the drive.


Side note: CrystalDiskInfo provides a “Shizuku Edition” of the application.  As I couldn’t find information on what the difference was with the Standard Edition, I ended up downloading both, curious over the ~65MB size difference.  Turns out, Shizuku is just a anthropomorphised mascot for the application, the size difference being mostly high resolution PNGs depicting her in the theme that comes packed in the Shizuku version (the ‘Ultimate’ version contains multiple copies at multiple resolutions – presumably ‘Simple’ and ‘Full’ don’t contain the higher resolution copies, although one wonders whether multiple copies were really necessary).  The devs even went to the effort of getting the character voiced, which means you get a cutesy voice warning you if your hard drive is about to die (assuming you know enough Japanese to take a stab what what’s being said).
Though despite my enjoyment of moe anime, I’m fine with the Standard Edition.  Hats off for the effort, nevertheless.

Side-side note: The voices from above were encoded using Opus, my favorite audio codec as someone interested in data compression.  Yay for not going MP3.  Now if only they could get those images down to a reasonable size…

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