Western Digital Begs Me To Install Firmware Update That Bricks My Hard Drive

The software and firmware for Joe’s Western Digital portable hard drive needed updating. At least, that’s what it kept telling him. What Western Digital failed to explain to Joe was that they needed updating so that software and firmware update could wreck the hard drive. Well, that probably wasn’t the company’s original goal, but it was the end result. Now Joe doesn’t have a working hard drive, and the company isn’t about to replace it…even when they’re the ones who bricked it.

He posted the entire exchange with support on his Tumblr, because that’s what social media are for.

I kept getting beg screens that I needed to update my WDSmartWare software and firmware, so I went to their site, followed the instructions and when my Passport HD was supposed to come back to life after reboot it went kerplooey instead. The rest is documented below…

—— June 26, 2012 ——
New Case Created – Ref # : [redacted]

Thank you for your email. Our goal is to answer your email within one (1) business day. However, sometimes due to heavy volume it might take little longer to respond.

Case Ref Number : [redacted]
Case Details : Won’t Mount After Firmware Update

—— Jul 2, 2012 ——
Dear [Joe],

Thank you for contacting Western Digital Customer Service and Support. My name is [E].

I apologize for any inconveniences, I will be more than happy to help you. please allow me to ask you few questions, do you have any important data on your drive.

If you have any further questions, please reply to this email and we will be happy to assist you further.

Western Digital Service and Support

—- Tue, Jul 3, 2012 —-
Hello [E],

I moved all of my important data off the drive prior to updating the firmware.


—- Thu, Jul 5, 2012 —-

The WD RMA site currently will not let me create an RMA due to the error: “Please choose Asset/Product only IN WARRANTY”.

Please tell me the next step to restore my product to working condition.

Thank you,

—- Jul 24, 2012 —-
Dear [Joe],

Thank you for your reply.

I apologize for any inconveniences. I will be more than happy to help you. The reason why you could not create any RMA was because the unit is out of warranty , I saw warranty expiration was in 2011, but I saw it was a passport. Please provide me with the right serial number. One another steps recover your data from the drive and let us know, we will do a hard reset.

If you have any further questions, please reply to this email and we will be happy to assist you further.

Western Digital Service and Support

—- Aug 14, 2012 —-
S/N: [redacted]
—— Aug 28, 2012 ——
Dear Joseph Parrie,

Thank you for your reply.

I apologize for any inconveniences for the delay , the e-mail gotten to us untill a while
when we find out about that, that’s why we wrote you back. As I was saying this is exactly what it was, the dive you try to register to RMA , it is out of warranty. Maybe your serial number wrong, but if you are sure that’s the right serial number it is definitely out of warranty.

If you have any further questions, please reply to this email and we will be happy to assist you further.


Western Digital Service and Support

I think what that word salad means is “your hard drive is more than a year old, so you’re on your own, pal.”

Western Digital Update Bricks my Passport, they tell me I’m out of warranty and possibly S.O.L. [Ghost in the Machine]


Edit Your Comment

  1. xspimpin says:

    If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

    • JEDIDIAH says:

      A product like this that requires a firmware upgrade should be considered defective. We’ve gotten far too used to this kind of nonsense. It’s especially bad with BluRay players. HARDware should be more reliable than this.

      This sort of release it now and patch it later mentality shouldn’t even be tolerated for games.

      • VintageLydia says:

        The reason BluRay players need firmware updates is because the DRM on the media itself is constantly changing. You can blame the movie publishers for that :/

        • kc2idf says:

          Yeah, well, the DRM as implemented on DVD and Blu-Ray is, in and of itself, a defect. As such, I’ll stand by JEDIDIAH’s comment.

          But I’ll also say that for other types of products, ones where DRM is not in play, the manufacturer needs to put effective firmware in place before shipping. If they don’t, then the product is defective. The manufacturer should take it back and install the firmware themselves, or, at the very least, accept responsibility for what happens when the let an untrained person (the typical end-user) do it.

    • fieldy920 says:

      If it ain’t broke, fix it til it is.


  2. baquerd says:

    I have a WD TV Live that bricks when I update the firmware. Fortunately, the old revisions are still available and I can flash it back to working order. It still doesn’t work entirely as advertised, but at least it gets me Netflix on the TV.

    • scoosdad says:

      The first time that happened with the WDTV boxes, mine was fortunately offline at the time and I escaped having it bricked. After that I blocked ‘support.wdc.com’ in my router and it stopped begging to be updated since it can’t phone home.

  3. nicless says:

    Man, I hate it when they can’t reply to my email because it gotten to them untill a while.

  4. deathbecomesme says:

    I can see if his HDD was like 3 years out of warranty not replacing it. But if it’s only a year or less out of warranty they should do the guy a solid.

    • sqlrob says:

      If it’s because of a firmware update, IMHO it should be ALWAYS handled by the company, regardless of warranty status.

      • deathbecomesme says:

        I don’t think so. My girlfriends bluray player needed an update but I told her not to run it since it’s out of warranty. I told her what might happen. That thing is like 5yo. You’re saying they should replace it if I ran an update one day and it bricked it?

        • sagodjur1 says:

          If it’s their update, yeah. Especially if you ran the update because they bugged you to do so.

          If a car manufacturer tells you to bring your out-of-warranty car into the dealership’s repair shop for a procedure they recommend, they better damn well pay for the repair or replacement if their procedure stops your previously functional car from working.

          • Costner says:

            The problem here is everyone would just call in and claim the drive stopped working while they were upgrading the firmware even if that wasn’t the case.

            Considering such upgrades are not mandatory, I have to say unless this is a problem impacting more than just one user and assuming this is just a random failure… the responsibility lies up on the user who opted to upgrade. Sort of a “do this at your own risk” type of issue.

        • Bort says:

          Yes, if i break your door by slamming it as hard as i can i can’t say well its out of warranty you should have bought brand Y instead because they are more durable

        • sqlrob says:

          The only exception I would grant is if they had a way for the consumer to recover from a broken flash.

        • nishioka says:

          If it’s an official firmware update targeted to that piece of equipment, the company should absolutely be on the hook when the update goes wrong. You break it, you fix it.

        • Flabbergasterisk says:

          They aren’t obligated to of course, but really should anyway just for customer service’s sake. Hard drives and bluray players are less expensive to replace than customers, and for like $50 this story could have been about how WD stands behind their products even in situations where they don’t strictly have to.

      • and_another_thing says:

        In 2006, I purchased an HP desktop. The bundled tools pushed me to do a BIOS update. In my naiveté, I allowed it to proceed. After that, the fans ran full blast. Tried to get the old BIOS, which I had not taken steps to preserve. HP wouldn’t supply it online, but offered to repair it under warranty. It came back with the same broken BIOS version and same fan behavior. From there onward I could not get past people with strange accents whose job seemed to be saying “no”.

    • Anachronism says:

      You take your seven year old out of warranty car to the dealership. Hey, there is a recall on it.

      You leave it with them to take care of the recall.

      When you come to pick it up, is it reasonable for the dealership to say “yeah, we installed the new recall parts. It doesn’t run any more. Feel free to buy a new car from us or pay to have your busted-ass car towed off our lot…”???

      If you don’t think this is an appropriate response, I would be very interested in what you see the difference is.

      • Costner says:

        If he would have sent his hard drive to WD and had them perform the upgrade, then I think your analogy would be valid. However, he decided to handle it on his own, and it wasn’t mandatory… so any number of things could have gone wrong. Number one, he could have lost power or disconnected the drive while it was still in the process of updating. He could have had a lightning storm or power surge occur at the same time which caused the failure… who really knows.

        Since he opted to perform an optional upgrade himself, he is ultimately responsible unless this is an issue that is impacting many drives rather than just one random event.

    • kc2idf says:

      I think this is probably not relevant. If it was working, and they have him update the firmware, and then it isn’t working, I think it is safe to say that the firmware update caused the problem and should be the manufacturer’s responsibility, since they were so insistent on a firmware update, warranty be damned.

  5. InsomniacZombie says:

    It’s nice to know the Western Digital service department has such a mastery of the English language.

  6. mrbucket says:

    I’d say try to kick it up the ladder and see if you can get some restitution cos their recommended update broke it, that being said you can +1 me to every other comment that said “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”

    The only time I update firmware is if it gets me more features, better performance, or prevents a bricking (as was the case with a pair of 500gb hard drives I had a few years back).

    Good show on backing up your data BEFORE attempting the update though, next time buy a Seagate (flame on!!!) :)

    • scoosdad says:

      No flames needed at all. Western Digital has a history of bricking people’s hardware through faulty firmware updates being pushed out. Their WDTV product for example.

  7. redskull says:

    Somebody likes 9gag.

  8. polishhillbilly says:

    Same thing happened to me. But I have been seasoned by dealing with AT&T. My passport was replaced, after receiving my hard drive from me first. Just be polite, but lightly assertive.

  9. ReaperRob says:

    I make my own external drives at home. It’s not hard, or very expensive.

    • Costner says:

      I’ve done that three or four times with old laptop drives. Buy a $8 enclosure – install the drive… no special software required. I did also buy a WD external drive because the software did all the system backups on its own and I didn’t need to think about it, but the primary reason I bought one is because it was a great deal at the time.

  10. do-it-myself says:

    Reminds me of the time HP told me I needed to buy a new all-in-one because the latest update took away the ability to scan in the software. Thank goodness for windows fax & scan!

  11. Lyn Torden says:

    Sue them for refusing an implied warranty on the firmware itself.

  12. ja says:

    This is why I don’t update firmware until I find at least 5 people who have done it successfully with the exact same product.

  13. KTrenholm says:

    I never liked products like these because of exactly this kind of situation. Back when I did tech support these things were a constant headache.

    Give me a simple internal drive in an enclosure with no attached apps or anything built onto it.
    To be fair I guess if those built in backup tools are helpful to you to each his own.

    WD should be helping him with this. This wasn’t a defect with the drive to be covered by warranty. This is a problem with their firmware that was released and used in they way they intended. They should absolutely have to deal with any unforeseen consequences or bugs.

  14. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Hmm. I have a WD external drive but it’s kind of old. I don’t think it needs updates. I’ve dropped it and it still works. I just plug it in and drag stuff off and on.


  15. Abradax says:

    Am I the only person that started out laughing at the email chain?

    —— June 26, 2012 ——
    New Case Created – Ref # : [redacted]

    Thank you for your email. Our goal is to answer your email within one (1) business day. However, sometimes due to heavy volume it might take little longer to respond.

    —— Jul 2, 2012 ——

  16. ovalseven says:

    WD’s replies are more entertaining if you imagine them with James Spader’s voice.

  17. nandhp says:

    > WDSmartWare

    There’s your problem.

  18. Owl says:

    Anyone else notice that [Joe]’s name wasn’t [redacted] in the 8/28 email? You’re slippin’ up, Consumerist.

  19. Andrew says:

    I will say that when your drive IS in warranty they handle it quite well.

  20. Razor512 says:

    take the drive apart and try to RMA the drive inside, the external drive has a 1 year warranty but often the drive inside will have a 2-5 year warranty, ( I was able to get my external drive working by doing this.

    and a way to avoid this in the future is to never buy a external drive, simply buy the enclosure and then buy a hard drive separately.

    I got lucky because the drive has never been registered before (since it came with the enclosure) and the build date was still within the warranty time (if you do not have your receipt they will often base the warranty on the build date)

  21. dullard says:

    Call Western Digital corporate headquarters in Irvine, CA. (949) 672-7000.

    • NorthAlabama says:

      finally, someone with a decent suggestion, thanks.

      this is clearly wd’s fault, and they should make it right for the customer, or stop supplying software that asks users to make updates that render their equipment inoperable.

      if the update isn’t needed or necessary, then the software should not have suggested it, period.

  22. bassbeast says:

    I’m sure Joseph Parrie is thrilled you redacted his name almost throughout the article.

  23. quail20 says:

    Firmware update for an external hard drive? I’ve never, ever had an external hard drive require a firmware update. Yea, there’s been driver updates. But never a firmware update. What kind of junk is Western Digital pushing?

    I wonder if he’s confusing the crapware programs that come preinstalled on most external drives these days — backup programs meant to entice you to pay for the ‘better’ upgraded version.

    BTW, doesn’t anyone know their English grammar anymore? Reading those emails made me cringe.

  24. Joseph Parrie says:

    Resolved! Thanks, Consumerist!