Thursday, October 26, 2006

Flash over substance - iPods failed on Everest climb

In all things technological I have always valued a product that WORKS over one that is flashy but fragile, or feature laden but unstable.

Video cards are a prime example. I love the ancient Matrox Millenium II cards. They simply work. Drivers are available under almost any OS and are stable. There are no suprises with these cards...and they never fail because they run cool enough to not need cooling fans. A video card requiring a fan WILL FAIL. Its not a matter of if, rather when -- and that's usually in about a year when the cheap Chinese sleeve bearings go bad and the fan motor burns out allowing the graphics processor to overheat and die.

My favorite disk drives are the old Seagate Elite line of SCSI drives. They're considered slow by modern standards, but they were built like tanks (9-11lb depending on the particular model) and never fail. They were not consumer grade products at any point in their production life -- the 9G ST410800N debuted just under a cool $4G's. Nope - they never found their way into ordinary PC's or even PC class servers. The Seagate Elites were built into million dollar heavy iron drive arrays by outfits like EMC. They were the top of the line -- the Rolls Royce of disk drives designed for applications where failure was simply not an option.

I can write data to an Elite and expect it to stay there and be available for a long time. I've stopped counting the number of lesser quality IDE drives I've tossed out over the years that failed. My beloved Elites just keep running day-in-day-out. I bought a big pile of them stripped from a retired EMC array many years ago for about $20/each. The cost per gig is higher than if I bought a new 200G drive, but cost per gig isn't really all that important to me - the COST OF FAILURES over time is what really matters. The Elites don't fail, and the most I could lose if one did was 9G at a time. Using this stodgy old tank of a drive makes my cost of failures much lower.

Don't get me wrong here - I use some large new IDE drives too - but I use them as cheap LAN attached backup devices for the Elites which are hauling the freight every day. The machines with the new junk get powered up only for the backups then sit powered off for quite a while until I think I need another snapshot.

So far I've never lost an Elite, but I've had some of the big cheap IDE's die.

True reliability -- there is no substitute.

Washington Post
Last year my team on Mount Everest witnessed firsthand how lousy the iPod is.

On our expedition, we brought enough electronic gadgetry to outfit an army. What broke first? The iPods. The batteries croaked, the cases scratched and the hard drives seized from the rarified air...
H/T Kuru Lounge


MikeT said...

I think I have only ever lost one hard drive before, but then I have never tinkered with these huge beasts. The upshot is that they are so cheap these days that you can afford to replace them much more easily than you could in the past. If you need to, you can even pick up a 40GB IDE for $20 now in some places.

The iPod problems don't surprise me since the damn things don't ever really seem to turn off. I've come to expect mine to just be dead if I don't leave it plugged in for a while. If there were some way to make say... a Creative Zen or Zune spoof an iPod for the purposes of using iTunes, I think I would switch.

Purple Avenger said...

It doesn't matter how cheap the drive is -- the time spent in reconstructing your stuff is what hurts.

Red A said...

Very good points.

Regarding IPods on Everest, let's understand that consumer products are designed with a quality level for normal usage. That's why they have that sweet price point consumers demand.

What sucks about IPods is the worry that your computer dies and you lose all your songs and have to re-build your library.