How to update the firmware of a Seagate 1.5TB drive on Mac OS X

This article is written for the benefit of other Mac OS X users that may find themselves in the unfortunate situation of needing to update the firmware on a Seagate 1.5TB drive.

Considering the purchase of a 1.5TB Seagate drive for my Mac Pro, I was aware of the widespread freeze-up problems people had started reporting several months ago. I was also aware that the problems were resolved with a firmware update released by Seagate, and assumed that if I bought one today (from Newegg) it’d arrive already up-to-date. You know what they say about assuming things.

Upon installing the drive in the Mac Pro, the first thing I noticed was that Disk Utility would time-out whenever I tried initialize it. I observed other weirdness, like strange permission problems, and the Finder not allowing the drive to be unmounted.

I went to the support area of the Seagate site, and found an article relevant to these particular problems. I used the serial- and model-checker tool on that page to confirm that, indeed, my drive was affected by the problems, and needed a firmware update. (Heavy sigh…)

I downloaded the update, and naturally found no instructions for how to apply it using a Mac OS X system. Amazingly, Google couldn’t help much either. (I did learn, though, that it’s important to download the firmware update directly from Seagate, and not Newegg, as there’s a variety of different firmware updates available, depending on your drive’s specific serial number.)

In a nutshell, I stumbled along, but found performing the update to be a simple and straightforward process. The following procedure is from memory, but should be sufficiently complete:

  1. The firmware update you download from Seagate is a .ISO disk image. Use Disk Utilities to burn this image to a CD-ROM. (And leave the CD-ROM in the computer.)

  2. Write down your drive’s serial number, as you’ll need this later to identify which drive the update is going to be applied to. (You can find the serial number of the drive using the the Mac’s System Profiler application, accessible from “About that Mac”.)

  3. Boot your Mac from this CD-ROM by starting the computer with the [option] key held down, and choosing “Windows” from the list of displayed options. (I know, I protested at the thought too.)

  4. Your computer will boot in what looks like an old DOS or UNIX mode. (I would have taken a picture of this, for kicks, if it’d occurred to me.)

  5. You’ll initially be shown the firmware update “README” file, which to Mac users will appear quite cryptic and foreign. Look for the option to escape this screen. (Escape or Exit or something like that.) I ignored the README’s advice about disconnecting all drives except the one on which I want to apply the update, and this proved fine.

  6. You’ll next be presented with a screen from which you can perform the firmware update. I selected the “Scan Drives” option, and was shown a list of drives on which the update can be applied. In my case, this was three. The drives are identified by nothing more than their serial numbers. (But you have that handy, of course, since you diligently followed step 2.)

  7. Select “Download firmware update” for the drive you want to update. (“Download” in the DOS/UNIX world means “Update” to the rest of us.)

  8. If all goes well, and you don’t happen to have a power outage while the update is happening (not a small risk in Spain, I can assure you), then you’ll be presented with the ominous-sounding message, “You must power cycle the computer to complete the update! Do NOT use CTL-ALT-DEL!”. (“Power cycle” in the DOS/UNIX world means “turn it off and back on” to the rest of us. And ignore the CTL-ALT-DEL bit; as a Mac user, you’ve been spared the need for that.)

    Just about the time you finish reading that message, a “Press any key to continue…” message will appear and confuse you, especially when you press a key, and your computer suddenly turns off. That, my friend, is power cycling.

  9. At this point, you should be able to restart your computer, with a fresh new firmware version running on your Seagate drive. After this point, I’ve had no further issues with my Seagate drive.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

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