Unreliable disk :: Samsung Spinpoint F1 - HD103UJ - 1 TB (Tera Byte)

03 Aug 2009
Posted by Laptop Junction

No doubt, the 1 TeraByte Samsung Spinpoint F1 is one of the cheapest 3,5" TeraByte disks in the summer of 2009. The disk is aggressively promoted in Europe as super savers for around € 60,- ( approx. 86 US$) . After buying 3 disks, one Samsung Spinpoint disk only lasted for 10 days in a DELL Optiplex SX280 after it caused the infamous 2 beeps with BIOS message "No Boot disk found, press F1 to retry or F2 to for setup". The other 2 Samsung disks also have issue's. Time for some digging.

In a hurry? Read the findings for the Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ.

Reliability issue's with Samsung large capacity hard disk drives.

This is the second Samsung big disk crash within a year and it's enough - no more Samsung please. Although in this case the 1 TeraByte Samsung Spinpoint F1 SATA-II HD103UJ disk is still accessible, this boot failure points in direction of reliability issues with Samsung large capacity hard disk drives. Googling "Samsung HD103UJ review" indicate all sorts of problems. But most striking, disk failures / crashes in the first days / weeks after installation. Although these indications are unconfirmed, a pattern of reliability issue's with Samsung large capacity hard disk drives seems to emerge. With the HD103UJ being sold as inexpensive large capacity hard disk drive more evidence will most likely surface in 2009.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ postmortem

A first postmortem with Partition Recovery for DOS on a bootable CDROM produced a few clues to what has happened. At startup InitDisk from Partition Recovery reported "illegal partition table - drive 00 sector 00"

Samsung HD103UJ illegal partition table

After 15 minutes of scanning 3 partitions (Windows, Ubuntu, Data store) were found again. The original partition table had disappeared mysteriously. Next with a restored MBR the system still didn't start. Partition Recovery for DOS was started again and detected a corrupt Windows boot record. Great - what a mess!  So what did happen? In any case, it resulted in a destroyed MBR and the boot sector of Windows damaged! And this was not a one-of occurrence, the same mysterious wipe happened 3 times in a time-frame of 4 weeks after a clean shutdown of the system. Somehow something happens during start up. And all this with a near virgin Windows XP Pro SP3 install on a DELL Optiplex SX280. After restoring a drive image with Norton Ghost the system booted again, as-if nothing had happened.

SMART health / performance logging for hard disk drives

Most hard disk drives have SMART health monitoring. So directly after this failure, DriveSitter was installed to log SMART attributes. So far the drive had 42 operational hours on the clock with 53 restarts. All SMART health attributes were ok, but more was about to happen leading to more suspicion.

ESTOOL - HUTIL, Samsung's disk drive analysis tool

Samsung has its own Hard Disk Drive analysis tool, known as the Samung Drive Diagnostic Utility, ESTOOL or HUTIL.

Samsung Harddisk Utilit -ESTOOL V3.00e

It's available for free on the Samsung support website. After burning the bootable ISO version on a CD, the SX280 was started ES-tool V3.0e. Naturally the quick diagnosis without the extensive surface scan produced no results. ESTOOL V3.0e came with the message: "[NOTICE] Your HDD  has no error !!!" - mind the exclamation marks.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ start-up testing

Anyhow time for a bit of testing. The Windows Start up folder in the Start menu was modified to automatically restart the SX280. This created an endless reboot loop to see whether the 1 TByte Samsung Spinpoint F1 SATA-II disk could be trapped with another mysterious wipe of the partition table. The SX280 spend a whole day of booting - the Samsung Spinpoint F1 couldn't be tempted to show a reliability flaw.

Samsung Spin-up time fluctuations

One possible clue to the Samsung Spinpoint boot failure that emerged is ambient temperature. The DELL SX280 is started in outdoor temperatures. It was about 16 degrees Celsius that morning, normal operation is guaranteed from 0 to 60 degrees Celsius (32 - 140 F) according to Samsung. Startup currents can peak in colder conditions when the spindle bearing has a tighter fit. This leads to higher start-up currents drawn from the power supply. Thinking along that line, quick 'cold weather' test was performed. The harddisk sat a few hours  in the fridge of 8 degrees Celsius. After it was left for a while to avoid condensation to shirt circuit the controller PCB. The Samsung Spinpoint was started @ 12 degrees Celsius (53 F) internal temperature and it ran without a problem. However SMART reported a deterioration of SMART Spin-up time attribute, meaning it takes longer to reach 7200 RPM than normal.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 1Tb Spin-up Time Graph

The Spin-up Time dropped from 81 to 65, a drop of 11 normalized points. (A high value is better, indicating  Spin-up times closer to it's normal Spin-up time value.) The SMART DriveSitter panicked and predicted a drive failure (TEC date - Threshold Exceeds Condition) in the first week of August and advised immediate replacement preparations. During continued testing the Spin-up Time bounced back again. Later the drive showed repeated behavior in cold weather (10 - 15 Degrees Celsius / 50 - 59 F).

Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ high temperature

Triggered by another TEC date (Threshold Exceeds Condition) report, immediate focus was on internal drive temperature. A 2nd Samsung Spinpoint F1 disk was connected through an USB 2.0 - SATA-II external drive enclosure. This disk was connected for reference, it's doing nothing just sits there. With an ambient temperature of 25 degrees Celsius (77 F) it managed to heat itself up to a whopping a 47 degrees Celsius (116 F). The high temperature triggered Drivesitter to report a new TEC date.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 1Tb Temperature doing nothing at 22 degrees Celcius

Already noticeable by hand, the Samsung Spinpoint F1 produces a lot of heat. In an external USB2.0 drive enclosure it seems wise to some form of cooling to prevent it from failing through heat. At the same time a Seagate 1Tb ST31000528AS harddisk in the same enclosure and conditions reached about 38 Degrees Celsius (100 F). The Samsung spindle motor produces a lot of heat and seems to have issues in colder conditions.

The Samsung Spinpoint HD103UJ 1TB hard disk is also sold in USB2.0 external drive enclosures called the Samsung Story Station. Apparently the drive enclosure is made of a solid aluminum with a heat dissipating design. A 1.5TB version of the Samsung Story Station is also released. One thing is for sure, the Samsung Story Station needs cooling badly. With high ambient temperatures (> 30 degrees Celsius / 86 F) this hard disk is bound to fail - most likely - with a huge amount of data on it.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ mechanical noise

Right from start all 3 HD103UJ disk drives made the same raw mechanic noise during start-up. It seems the heads are moved in quick succession in repeated short bursts during a time-frame of about 3 to 5 seconds.
First thought is a read failure same as can be heard with CD / DVD drives unable to locate the data tracks.

The occurrence of the raw mechanic noise is consistent, it's always there for all 3 disk drives. In rare cases the same noise can be heard in operational state. Although there's no evidence of failure (yet), the sound only doesn't really produce much confidence in the reliability of the HD103UJ. This noise in combination with spin-up time fluctuations and heat generation gives the impression the Samsung HD103UJ need more power to do it's thing than compared to a rather silent drive like the Seagate ST31000528AS. Which is also a 1 TB SATA disk drive, although a bit more expensive.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ - SATA-II 3.0 Gb / sec interface

The Samsung Spinpoint F1 user manual has a peculiar statement in it. It seems the SATA I/II speed negotiation procedure of the Samsung spinpoint F1 doesn't work properly.

Samsung Spinpoint HD103UJ SATA II incompatibility

Samsung's note on SATA-I and SATA-II
In some rare cases SATA 1.5Gb/s hosts can not establish SATA interface connection with SATA 3.0 Gb/s devices due to interface protocol issue's.
In this case you should switch your drive to SATA 1.5Gb/s speed with a software which we are providing via www.samsunghdd.com.

Notes from Laptop-Junction:
SATA-I = 1.5 Gb/sec
SATA-II = 3.0 Gb/sec
The software is
ESTOOL formally known as HUTIL

Using ESTOOL, the UDMA speed can be set to 1.5 Gb/sec manually. In the above situation, the Samsung drive was set on 3.0 Gb/sec (SATA-II). Setting the speed to 1.5 Gb/sec (SATA-I) avoids UDMA speed negotiation. Researching the Samsung HD103UJ UDMA speed for a bit reveals a pattern of problems with older SATA-I controllers and recent SATA-II hard disk drives. And that's not only with Samsung drives.

82801FB/FBM ICH6 Ultra ATA Storage controller

Samsung ESTOOL Intel ICH6 SATA-2 identificationThe 1 TeraByte Samsung Spinpoint F1 SATA-II disk (3Gb/sec) is connected to a 82801FB/FBM Ultra ATA Storage controller, a component of  the Intel 915G chipset inside the DELL SX280. That's a bit strange, while Ultra ATA is usually associated with Parallel ATA (PATA), in stead of SATA. At the Intel website the 915G chipset mentions the 82801FR I/O controller. The Intel 82801 data sheet lists the controller as a member of the ICH6 family (I/O Controller Hub 6) released in January 2005. The number six refers to 6 logical PCI devices incorporated in the 82801. The ICH6 integrated SATA controller supports SATA-I, but also vaguely put supports "optional sections" of SATA-II. AUTO DETECTION with Samsung ESTOOL seems to indicate the Intel ICH6 is SATA-2 capable. After the 3 mysterious wipes of the partition table, the UDMA mode of the Samsung drive is set to 1.5 Gb/sec using Samsung ESTOOL V3.0.e.

Samsung Spinpoint F1 1 TB HD103UJ findings

Below the summarized findings for 3 Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ 1 Tb drives with the same production month and subsequent serial numbers:

1) The spindle motor of the Samsung HD103UJ produces a lot of heat - without cooling a high ambient temperature causes above 55 degree Celsius (131 F) disk temperatures. Operation in external USB drive enclosures without sufficient cooling puts your data at high risk.
2) Spin-up time to 7200 RPM fluctuates with low ambient temperatures indicating more (mechanical) resistance in either the spindle bearing or spindle motor. Most likely this results in higher start-up currents (Amps) were the weaker power supply will be unable to keep a steady voltage. The latter can result in glitches in the execution of driver firmware.
3) At start-up and sometimes during normal operation the Samsung HD103UJ makes a raw mechanic noise. It seems the heads are moved in quick succession in repeated short bursts during a time-frame of about 3 to 5 seconds. Raw mechanical noises in hard disks are usually a sign of trouble ahead.
4) Compatibility issue's exist between SATA I / II controllers and the Samsung HD103UJ. Although Samsung acknowledges the existence of the compatibility problem, it seems the compatibility issue is underestimated, and not only "in some rare cases". Setting 1.5 Gb/sec UDMA speed is not always the solution. There is no list available of compatible or incompatible SATA-I / II controllers which makes the purchase of a Samsung HD103UJ sort of a gamble.
5) SATA-2 controllers in combination with the Samsung HD103UJ can prove to be sporadically lethal to the partition table (MBR) and the boot record of the default boot partition. Although it's still a mystery, the phenomena is not an incident and seems to occur only at startup of the hard disk. Be warned - make sure you have backups!
6) With the aforementioned 5 issues buying a cheap 1 TB Samsung hard-disk might not always turn out to be a reliable solution. In any case,  trusting your data to a single Samsung Spinpoint F1 doesn't seem like a venture free of head aches. Using the Samsung HD103UJ in a RAID / NAS units sounds more sensible however Googling RAID / NAS configurations with Samsung Spinpoint F1 hard disks quickly reveals a plethora of other compatibility issue's.


Samsung Spinpoint F1 1 TB HD103UJ production details


Samsung Spinpoint F1 1 TB HD103UJ production details
Samsung Spinpoint Data  Value

Model number
Production date
Serial number
Firmware revision               
Device buffer size
ATA/ATAPI version
Operating temp

June 2009
S13PJDWS630512 - 13 - 14
33.55 MB    
0 - 60 degrees Celsius 
32 -140 Fahrenheit