As the IBM microdrive approaches its first birthday this summer, failure reports seem to be on the rise. My own microdrive failed recently, and without warning, as it had not been roughly handled for several months. It now makes an unpleasant click-click-click sound as it tries in vain to spin up, and steadfastly refuses to be recognized by either Mac or PC.
Others appear to be having similar experiences. Tony Ranze, Director of Photography for the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group, posted this message to the D1 Discussion List this morning:
Microdrives are dropping daily at our newspapers. Boxed two of them up yesterday for a repair trip back to Microtech International. Talked to Microtech yesterday to secure an RMA number for service and was informed that it might be three to four weeks before they can repair of replace the drives.
If I hear one more staff shooter crumbling about his Microdrive I am going to offer them all up for trade (the drives not the shooter). Each of our nine shooters at The Ledger in Lakeland has one Microdrive and two Lexar or Sandisk 128 mb cards. I stopped purchasing IBM Microdrives last year when I decided that it was better to have more cards with less memory then it was to have less cards with more memory.
I will be purchasing two or three Lexar 128 mb 8X cards each months to replace the 15 Microdrives that our shooters use just so I don't have to hear any more complaining about the Microdrives.
In contrast, Gerhard Strobl recently offered this, also on the D1 Discussion List:
My personal estimate is that less than 0.5% of all people using Microdrives together with a D1 (and PJ's in turn are a really small part of the overall Microdrive market) have ever experienced any problems with [the D1-microdrive] combination.
It's just that complaints about the same single problem instance by the same people over and over again makes a certain impression in discussion lists, but doesn't actually change any failure rates. This is a phenomenon seen with many products and discussion forums and in many cases; the whole thing turns out as physical HW problems (such as a specific broken USB drive owned by somebody).
Strobl makes an excellent point: it can be extremely difficult to determine from anecdotal evidence, such as that offered on Internet discussion forums, whether a product like the microdrive is really showing chinks in its armor, or whether a small but vocal minority is skewing the perception of the product.
By comparison, I've consulted to 8 different D1 photo departments over the winter that have outfitted photographers with IBM microdrives exclusively, or nearly so. One paper was drowning under a tidal wave of microdrive hardware failures; the other 7, at least up to the time that I visited, had not experienced anything other than the typical formatting problems and a microdrive failure here and there. When I wrote Selecting a CompactFlash Card for a Professional Digital Camera back in February, I put forth the suggestion that for maximum ruggedness and reliability, Flash RAM cards were the optimum choice. At the same time, however, I indicated that the microdrive could probably be considered too, since based on my consulting work, and feedback from colleagues I trust, that IBM's miniature hard drive was holding up pretty well.
In the face of what appears to be an increase in microdrive failure reports, however, I'd welcome new feedback from both Kodak/Canon and Nikon D1 shooters. How are your IBM microdrives holding up? How many do you or your organization own? If/when a microdrive failed, what caused the failure (if known)? Were important images lost? Please send me a message detailing your experience with the IBM microdrive, positive or negative. I'll post a sampling of responses in the next couple of weeks.