Sunday, March 23, 2008

ST3_INVALID_PFM On Your Seagate Barricuda 7200.11 SATA Drive?

"A small number of Barracuda 7200.11 drives with firmware versions SD04 or SD14 may show and utilize only part of the available cache. Please follow these steps to ensure that your system recognizes the full cache." -- Seagate Technical Support


With that my journey for a solution to this debacle was born.

In March, 2008 I purchased a ST3750330AS 750GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 hard drive from Newegg. The drive has had a number of positive reviews associated with it, from its fast response time and overall performance to the now-atypical five year warranty from Seagate.

So I was somewhat surprised to discover upon installation that Windows XP identified the drive as: ST3_INVALID_PFM. Seeing the word "invalid" when installing a hard drive does not exactly bolster confidence, and upon taking the wise advice that Google is your friend, I discovered I was not alone.

Chances are that if you are reading this, you've joined the extended family of Seagate drive owners experiencing this problem.

There is good news and bad news about this error.

First the good news. There is no need to panic. Your hard drive is not really dead on arrival, nor has it necessarily been damaged during shipping. In fact, it's really not a hardware defect at all.

Seagate loaded a defective version of firmware onto some of these hard drives. It is not recognized properly by Windows XP/Vista or the Mac, and reports back an incorrect identifier. The drive's internal cache is also compromised by this firmware problem. Instead of using the entire 32mb of on-board cache, the drive will only utilize 16mb of cache until the problem is corrected.

I suspect the majority of those purchasing the drive will install it and simply ignore the error message and use it as-is. In my own tests, the drive worked just fine even without correcting the firmware, and should do so over the life of the drive. In my real world testing, there was actually almost no difference in performance before and after the firmware upgrade. The drive performed well either way. But you paid for a drive with 32mb of cache, not 16, so if you can't sleep knowing that your drive has bad firmware, we're here to help.

Unfortunately, Seagate has removed the firmware download from their support site, now requiring that you complete a support ticket and wait... wait... and wait some more for someone to get back to you with a link to get the firmware file. I can understand that there are probably people out there who willy-nilly downloaded and attempted to update their drive's firmware with the wrong update, or didn't read the instructions and managed to trash their drive. Make no mistake, performing a firmware update on a hard drive is more complicated than applying a software update to Windows or your Mac. If you are in a hurry and don't follow procedure, you can turn that new hard drive into a worthless paperweight instantly. And then you can stick a fork in your drive, because it's done.

My assumption is that if you've managed to land here, you will be intelligent enough to read the instructions and doublecheck whether your drive is actually impacted by this problem before you apply the firmware update. If you're uncomfortable with the procedure or are unsure as to how to proceed, I urge you to either get a friend with some experience with this kind of thing to assist you, or alternatively, return the hard drive to the place of purchase and choose a different model. Additionally, if you are hesitant about using my copy of the firmware update, please proceed with a support ticket on Seagate's technical support site and wait for their reply, which will likely take several days. You can always return here once you've gotten your own copy for some last minute tips.


Before anything else happens, verify whether your hard drive is one of those affected by the problem by checking the model number and whether the drive is running firmware versions SD04 or SD14. This information is available on the drive label, or when using the instructions provided on Seagate's Knowledge Base.

If your drive does not match the models affected or your firmware is not SD04 or SD14, then you should not attempt to flash the firmware of your drive with this update.


You have a few options here. First, you can live with the drive as-is, and it will perform just fine in its out-of-the-box condition. If you are not comfortable with the concept of updating your drive's firmware, which requires at least some moderate computer knowledge, you should consider just leaving it alone. Second, you can return the drive for a refund. Until your retailer exhausts its supply of affected drives, getting an exact model replacement will likely bring another drive from the same manufacturing lot, with the same problem. It's better to consider a different model or manufacturer if considering this option. Third, you can download the firmware update. This will correct the flaw.

If you are running under Windows XP or Vista, Seagate's firmware update is tedious, but will work for you if your computer can boot from a floppy drive or if you can burn a compact disc with the provided .ISO file. If you have Nero or Easy CD Creator, the software includes that option. If you don't, try ISO Recorder, which is available for XP and Vista and is free of charge. It worked perfectly for me.

You will not be able to flash the new version of the firmware under Windows. Instead, the firmware update includes a DOS-based flash utility. I said this was going to be tedious. My computer does not have a floppy drive, so I opted to go with a bootable CD-ROM instead.

Once you have burned the bootable CD-ROM, you will need to shut down Windows.

One step of the procedure that is mentioned but easily overlooked is the requirement that you open your case and physically disconnect every drive in your computer except the Seagate drive reporting the error. The power cable was easiest to deal with for my IDE drives. Be very careful disconnecting SATA drives. The standard SATA connectors are notoriously delicate and extreme care should be exercised with no downward pressure exerted on the connector. They are delicate and the plastic connector on the drive itself can easily be cracked or broken, rendering your drive inoperative.

Once every drive other than the afflicted Seagate are disconnected, you can now power back on the machine and go into the BIOS setup menu. The exact procedure varies with the motherboard you are using (often it's the DEL key being hit several times the moment the computer is turned on, or a certain function key). The instructions that come with the firmware update may provide you with additional tips on how to get there.

You can then change the Boot Sequence of your computer to look first to the floppy or CD drive for an operating system instead of the hard drive. This will help your computer find the bootable disc you created and load from that instead of simply booting Windows back up from the hard drive. Please be sure to make a note of your original Boot Sequence settings before you change them, as you will be changing them back when finished. Also, make sure you actually save your changes to the Boot Sequence before you exit. People often just assume any changes they make are instantly saved. They are not. Your BIOS menu screen will tell you what keys you need to press to save changes, the F10 function key being among the most common.

After you are finished, reboot the machine once again and if you did everything properly, you'll see an instruction file appear in DOS mode. Read it. Don't skim or skip it. Remember, your drive is at risk if you do not follow every instruction to the letter!

Assuming you've followed the instructions, you are now at the point where you are ready to begin flashing the drive. Follow the menu sequence to exit the help file and type flash at the DOS prompt to begin the procedure.

It is critical once you begin the firmware flash that you do not power off your computer until instructed. If you do, your drive will probably be destroyed.

A Tip: You can determine whether or not you've followed procedures correctly by the responses the firmware flash software displays on the screen. If you forgot to unplug your other drives, the firmware program will try and flash the first drive it sees, which may not be the correct drive. If you see "invalid data" appear about 20-30 seconds after the procedure begins, chances are you forgot to unplug your other drives and the firmware program has zeroed in on the wrong drive. Don't worry, the firmware program will not attempt to flash a drive that it considers "invalid" for the update. But the firmware program will hang shortly after that requiring a reboot.

If the program has found the correct drive, it will identify it with the ST3_INVALID_PFM notification right from the outset. My firmware flash took less than a minute, finishing with a message requiring a power recycle (not a CTRL-ALT-DEL sequence). That means turn the power to your computer off and then back on again. It resets the drive.

Assuming all went well, remove the floppy or CD-ROM, and then power your computer off completely, so you can plug back in the hard drives you disconnected earlier. Then go back into the BIOS menu and change the boot sequence back to the way it was set originally, so that Windows will boot from the correct hard drive. If you forget this, Windows may report it has no operating system when you reboot.

Windows will now identify the drive as a newly installed device. Seagate reports that some diagnostic software tools will mis-identify the drive with newly flashed firmware as having no cache, but they claim that message is in error.

With that, you're all done!

Yes, the procedure has been tedious, but only needs to be performed once, and thank yourself for running under Windows, because Mac owners suffer a much more significant problem.

If you are a Mac owner, reports indicate that the firmware flash utility does not work under the Mac OS environment, and that has left many Mac owners looking for a friend with a PC to help them complete the firmware update. I do not have expertise with the Mac universe, but this blog is open to your comments so you can share your expertise with others who arrive here looking for help.

I can then highlight relevant comments to assist folks who are running Mac computers.

I hope this information has proved useful to you. Remember however that you assume all risks in performing this update and you are solely responsible for any problems that may occur therein.

Phillip from Rochester