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Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB USB Device Not Recognized Error

Mark Edwards
08-02-2008

In August 2007, I bought a Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB. Out of the box I thought this was probably one of the best products I had ever purchased. The simple setup instructions and operation meant I had my new drive up and running within about 2 minutes.

This is an awesome product, until it stops working!

My first hint of trouble was a real show stopper.

I came back from a week long holiday and powered up my PC only to find that the Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB was not available in the drive listing. After a few fruitless searches I tried rebooting and turning the power on and off to the Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB.

Windows reported a USB Device Not Recognized Error and further told me that this device had malfunctioned.

At this point things took a turn for the worse.

I tried the device in different USB ports thinking the port might have been the problem. To no avail.

I tried a different PC to see that this was not related to the setup on my machine. Once again with no success. In all cases, Windows reported that the USB device had malfunctioned and that the USB Device was not recognized. Actually it reported that the USB Device was not recognised (with an s in recognized as I am in Australia).
Now I actually believed what Windows was reporting. So I turned to Google.
A quick search revealed I was not the only one to have this problem. A large number of users reported similar problems.

In hindsight, the design is flawed in the Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB. It is cooled by convection rather than a fan, yet the only holes in the case for airflow are at the bottom of the enclosure. There is no way for the hot air that builds up in the box to escape. As a result, the enclosure chipset and or the hard drive get cooked. This happens more quickly if the drive is used often.

My first solution was to call a data recovery service in Brisbane. On hearing the problem they quoted $99 for a quote and $1800 to give me a list of recoverable files. Yikes! It wasn't worth that much to me.

Back to the product reports.

I read through people's experiences with the product and found two distinct groups within the population.

Group one had the same error as me.

Group two had either write delay errors or similar, including whining and clicking noises coming from the drive.

Needless to say, the group two problem was probably terminal.

I suspected that my drive was probably OK but the enclosure was the problem.

With a bit more seraching, I found a user who had the same conclusion as me. I employed his solution.

Step 1: I ordered two Antec MX-1 Actively Cooled SATA HDD Enclosures and one Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200rpm SATA II drive.

Step 2: [Warning: this step will void your warranty!] Break open the Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB case. There is no way to open it without destroying it. The best way to get in I found was to pry open the case at its seam at the top then next to the LED. It came apart fairly easily and it is relatively safe to do this as the drive itself is wrapped in a perforated metal casing.

Step 3: Unplug the drive from the enclosure and pry off the perforated metal casing. At this point you have the hard drive ready to go in its new home.

Step 4: Throw the rest of the broken stuff from the Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB in the bin where it belongs.

Step 5: Install the drive in your new enclosure.

Step 6: Plug it in and power up.

Step 7: Hold your breath!

In my case, it worked fine and the new drive is quite happy in its new home.

I didn't take any chances though. I installed the second drive in the second enclosure and copied the contents of the original drive onto the new drive. Now if either one fails I can simply throw in a new hard drive and keep on going.

Total time involved was about an hour and the enclosures cost $95 each. Sure beats spending $1899 on data recovery!

It appears that Seagate have discontinued the Seagate FreeAgent Desktop USB 500MB.

If you have one, take some active steps to save the drive before it gets fried!

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