A Look at Backblaze’s Toshiba Hard Drives

By | May 13th, 2015


Over the past year or so we’ve covered the virtues and vices of nearly all the different hard drives we use in our Backblaze Storage Pods. From HGST to Seagate to Western Digital hard drives, we’ve charted drive hours, plotted failure rates, reported on drive temperature and more. The one missing brand: Toshiba. We’ve had one Storage Pod filled with Toshiba 3TB drives deployed for 2 years and we recently deployed pods with 4TB and 5TB Toshiba drives. In our experience with Toshiba drives, here’s what we’ve learned so far.

A Little History

Toshiba got back into the 3.5” form-factor hard drive business in 2012, when it acquired the production assets from Hitachi as part of Western Digital’s purchase of Hitachi. This acquisition meant there would be more suppliers of 3.5” form factor hard drives than the existing two (Seagate and Western Digital). After Toshiba took over the business, the early 3TB drives (model: DT01ACA300) were dual branded Hitachi 3TB drives, model: HDS723030BLE640. While the branding is now completely Toshiba, it is safe to say that a fair amount of Hitachi technology continues to live on in the Toshiba 3.5” drives.

Our Toshiba 3TB Hard Drives

In January 2013 we purchased and soon after deployed 45 Toshiba 3TB hard drives (model: DT01ACA300). Though the current consumer channel price starts at $94.50 each on Amazon, we paid $106.73 each in early 2013. Besides the 45 Toshiba drives, we also have 10 of the Hitachi model HDS723030BLE640 drives that were the predecessors to the Toshiba drives. Given the limited number of drives for each model, a comparison is not appropriate, but here’s how those 3TB Toshiba and Hitachi drives are performing in our environment:

Toshiba vs Hitachi Drives

Our Toshiba 4TB and 5TB Hard Drives

Toshiba added 4TB and 5TB hard drives to their line over the last couple of years. We purchased and deployed 45 drives of each size in January 2015. Here are the stats to date on those drives:

Toshiba 4TB and 5TB drives

The confidence intervals are 0.0% – 48.3% for the 4TB drives and 0.3% – 72.9% for the 5TB drives. The one 5TB drive failure occurred within the last 30 days.

We also tracked the ability of the two drives to load data in the same fashion as previous observations done with Seagate, Western Digital and HGST drives. Below we’ve compared the Toshiba drives to an HGST 4TB drive:
Toshiba Hard Drives
Both drive models performed well in their respective Storage Pods. Here’s how they stacked up against some of our recent data loading observations:

Comparing Hard Drives Chart

As you can see, the Toshiba drives performed well, especially the 5TB drives.

Why Don’t We Have More Toshiba Drives?

While the data is a bit thin, the Toshiba drives do compare well to the other drives in our data center when it comes to failure rates and loading speed. There are three reasons why we don’t have more of them:

  1. Channel – When we send out a bid for hard drives, we specify the drive specs and quantity of drives we need. We receive back quotes from various resellers/distributors with pricing and availability information. For example, there are “900 Seagate 4TB drives for $134.00 each available in two weeks.” Over the past two or so years, when we’ve asked for quotes we have almost never received a quote for Toshiba drives. This could be because the quantity of drives we are seeking is not available from our resellers/distributors or the price they have to charge is too high.
  2. Familiarity – Whenever we announce a new Storage Pod version, we validate a group of hard drive models for the pod. Usually the drives we validate are familiar to us—drives we have experience with. This makes it hard for Toshiba to break into the flow, especially if they are more expensive or harder to get. We now have someone on board to test everything in an effort to build up the list of qualified drives (more on that in another post), and that’s why we have the 4TB and 5TB Toshiba drives in operation today.
  3. Maintenance – When our system detects a failed or failing hard drive we generate a work order to replace the drive that looks something like this:
    • >> Failure: Disk 0491/sdag doesn’t contain a valid partition table
      >> Pod0491:
      >> x Replace sdag (Z252A34AS) with a new 3TB Toshiba DT01ACA300
      >> x Reboot Pod0491 and re-add new sdag to sync

    The essential information is the Storage Pod ID, the drive serial number and the drive location designator. The drive location designator can be sda, sdb through sdat: 46 designations consisting of 1 boot drive and 45 data drives. Using the information from the work order, the Backblaze service technician can find the failed drive in the correct Storage Pod.

    One thing to remember is that the hard drives in Storage Pods are mounted vertically and very close together. To confirm that you have located the bad drive, you match the serial number displayed on top of the vertically mounted drive. HGST, Seagate and Western Digital drives all have the serial number of the drive on the top end of the drive. Toshiba drives do not. Instead, on the end of a Toshiba drive is what we think is a production code or something similar. You can see this code in the header image of this post. We do not know if this code is unique.

    Because the codes on the end of the Toshiba drives do not help us, we rely on the drive location designator (sda, sdb…sdat) to locate the failed Toshiba drive. The trouble is that each time a Storage Pod is rebooted, the boot drive can be first (sda) or last (sdat) in the drive sequence. This means we have two possible physical locations for the failed Toshiba drive. We remove the drives one at a time, check the serial number on the side and replace the failed drive when it is found. This puts a little extra wear and tear on the good drives as well as the backplanes, and lengthens the maintenance time by a few minutes.

If the Toshiba drives continue to demonstrate low failure rates and solid performance, we are willing to live with slightly longer maintenance times for replacing failed Toshiba drives. We recently were able to order 100 of the 4TB drives from our channel although the process was a bit cumbersome. We will probably not order any more 5TB drives as the market seems to be quickly advancing to 6, 8, and soon 10TB drives. Also, the cost per terabyte for the 6TB drives is already nearly as low as it is for the 5TB drives.

In summary, initial observations indicate that the Toshiba drives are good, but the MD04ABA400V and MD04ABA500V models are hard to find in quantity. As we deploy our recently purchased 4TB Toshiba drives over the next few months, we’ll let you know if anything interesting happens.

Andy Klein

Andy Klein

Director of Product Marketing at Backblaze
Andy has 20+ years experience in technology marketing. He has shared his expertise in computer security and data backup at the Federal Trade Commission, Rootstech, RSA and over 100 other events. His current passion is to get everyone to back up their data before it's too late.
Category:  Cloud Storage
  • blahblahblahblah

    I’ve got 16 of the 3TB (DT01ACA300) in a FreeNAS 9.10 system since ~2 years. We’ve lost 6 drives so far, the latest 2 yesterday. Assuming “zpool status -v” showing a drive as UNAVAIL is correct.

  • a b

    One Question: Unlike all other HDD manufacturers, why doesn’t Toshiba list the drive’s spec for: MTBF and Load/Unload values for their X300 drives ? I’ve attempted to obtain this info from Toshiba Japan as well as their international affiliates, all of which confirm this info is not disclosed by Toshiba. When asked why, their response was they feel this specification is not necessary for consumer HDD’s. I am hopeful Back Blaze can look into this further as this non-disclosure is quite concerning. If the actual MTBF is say 500K and the load/ unload is 100K…wow this would be a huge concern considering the present norm is 1,000,000 and 300K respectively. Pls express your concerns or forward your inquiry to Toshiba: [email protected]

  • Sasa B

    Your data is very valuable for me. I have used the WD40EFRX for a few years (without any failure) since all of my ST3000DM001 drives died. Now, I am considering a switch to MD04ACA400 or because of the 30% price difference, but I am not yet sure if it would be a smart choice.

  • Brew Pub

    I purchased a 3Tb external Toshiba. Biggest piece of garbage I have ever owned. Lost so much data with this thing. It died within months of purchase. I didn’t bother replacing under warranty. It already cost me tons of files once , why would I want to go through that again. Since then I have come across many people who have had the same issue with the 3Tb externals. I can’t speak for any of their other drives but I know Toshiba will never be in my house again.

    • level101

      Keep in mind they run the drives in a well controlled environment. And as for external drives(HDD’s only) there is a pretty big problem with them, and that’s shocks they receive especially when running. Don’t know about the 3.5 disc’s but the 2.5 have a low tolerance to shock. I switched from seagate to toshiba about 3 years ago and i have 6 2tb units, which run 24/7, in a small home server used for active/instant backup in all network connected devices and for media center and the last time i checked all of them were ok. I destroyed three toshiba 2.5 drives, one on my work laptop and two portable drives, but that’s not because of faulty drive but because of the “hammering” they got from negligence on my part. I use only ssd’s for anything thats portable now because of that. In my opinion and experience toshiba has better generic hdds than seagate, comparing price/GB/years of service.

      • Brew Pub

        if you look online the 3Tb external has notorious failure rate. I am not knocking Toshiba as a brand per say , they have made many great things. But hey , even Ford made the Edsel ya know. I babied that external drive , I was able to retrieve some items with a recovery program I eventually found online and also managed to somehow make usable just about 1Tb of storage space on it. Why the other 2Tb is still a brick I don’t know. I am a little tech savvy but I wont claim to be a wiz by any means , I basically learn by having to fix stuff myself when things go wrong , I’m cheap what can I say lol. But this particular model is full of issues. It happens to every company in just about every industry eventually. I have no doubt that had I purchased a different Toshiba model I may have had a great experience. But man that was a hard lesson in never trusting one drive with your data , back up , back up back up is my new motto now with anything.

  • elliot

    So…. you are able to narrow down the drive to two adjacent possibilities… what if you were to use a magic marker, and put some ink on the drives with an odd serial number? That wouldn’t take any time… And if you alternate odd/even/odd/even, then… you can find your failed drive on the first try.

  • YoMismo

    Well thanks to dis article i bought 2 Seagate 3GB Desktop Drives and 1 Toshiba 3GB Drive, Today both seagate 3GB fail just after the 1 year warranty from my supplier, and with in 1 week apart, and the toshiba do its at 52% performance in SMART Statistics… has about 6 more months of use…

    • PeteB

      Your few drives are statistically meaningless.

      • YoMismo

        May be but it hurts that one day you have youre info the next the drive does not work.

        IF changeing HDD every 2-3 years to avoid dataloss due to HDD failure. than seagate is not the HDD to go to.

  • Yuki_Sakuma

    17 days power on time (brand new) and suddenly my 1TB external Toshiba showed hundreds of bad sectors and health below 10%

    • PeteB

      Single drive = statistically meaningless.

  • David

    Warning! Toshiba’s warranty results in you getting funny money at their store instead of getting a working hard drive. From their warranty

    ” Toshiba may, in its sole discretion, provide a refund or one-time credit for the replacement value of the original Product, redeemable at the ToshibaDirect.com Web site (www.ToshibaDirect.com). This is your sole and exclusive remedy for breach of warranty.”

    I’ve had two of the 5TB models fail on me in 5 months, and both times Toshiba has only offered credit at their store. The store has NO internal 5tb drives!

    Stay away from these drives at all costs

  • Baylink

    Would it be a bad tradeoff of labor to just label the end of the drive? Either with a metallic sharpie, say, or P-touch?

    • Baylink

      [ reads more comments ]

      I see that it would. Nevermind. :-)

  • Alton

    At this very moment, my computer is stalled (no disk activity but can surf the web) due to an 153 error caused by what I suspect is a bad Toshiba hard drive. In the past few months, I purchased 5 Toshiba 5TB hard drives from my local Micro Center to replace my aging mismatched Seagates, WDC and HGST drives. Out of the 5, I already have 1 failed drive with less than 1,000 hours of operation – drive is experienced the click of death and became inoperable. With the 4 others that are still in the system, all of them have reallocated sector count error displayed in SMART. And if my suspicion is correct, 1 more Toshiba drive will become inoperable very soon so that will leave me with only 3 drives left.

    On the other hand, I have old Seagates at over 26,000 hours of operation and WDC at over 15,000. I am really, really disappointed with these drives reliability.

    I implore that everyone to stay away from these drives for the time being.

    Drive Model #: TOSHIBA MD04ACA500

    • Donald Moore

      I have a Western Digital Re (not red) drive with over 35000 hours and not a single error. Sometimes you get a good one.

  • Brizza1982

    Very interesting. I have recently bought a 2tb Toshiba drive over the usual WD lot due to the price. this is for a WSUS library. Will be interested to see how it performs and lasts.

  • Thanks for this interesting post. In the last table, third column (titled ‘Storage in GB’) really means ‘Storage in TB per pod’, right?

  • Vectrexer

    Thanks for the write up. Interesting to me since I have a few 5TB Toshiba drives in operation for backup.

  • knormoyle

    Andy, you are missing out on the great pricing/availability of Toshiba 4TB drives, because Toshiba US comes up with it’s own part number for the same drive. I can say that because there are more part numbers for the same drives, and you’re especially missing the US retail part numbers (which is important if you’re focused on buying consumer drives)

    HDS723030BLE640 and DT01ACA300 are the exact same drive.
    You’ll also find this drive listed as HDKPC08, which is another number on the label.

    In the US, they have a special number for the US retail market: PH3300U-1I72
    If you’re buying in quantity in the US, you might want to use that number.
    You can get these for $92

    Made in shenzen, china

    three 1TB platters. That distinguishes it from earlier 3TB HGST drives with smaller platters, which were not made in china.

    You’ll see Drive Rev AAA AA00 / AB0, with both numbers on the sticker maybe up to mid 2012.
    The drive will id itself as HDS723030BLE640

    By Dec 2012, DT01ACA300 is the only number on the sticker, and it’ll say BB0 at the end of the drive rev. The firmware version is different, but maybe only because it id’s differently.
    Should id itself as DT01ACA300

    Watch out for people reselling used as new, they are reprogramming the smartctl power-on hours. You can be sure it’s new if it has the toshiba warranty.

    The 4TB is an all new design, all Toshiba. I love them (just got 10).

    MD04ACA400 (also known as the HDETR11GEA51) is made in phillipines
    It’s US retail part number is PH3400U-1I72
    These are are all the same drive. They are apparently give 800GB platters
    You can get these easily for $130

    The 5TB MD04ACA500, (also known as HDETR10GEA51), 5TB is also made in phillipines
    It’s US retail part number is PH3500U-1I72. All the same drive.

    This is the first 1TB platter design for toshiba. Five 1TB platters.
    You can get these easily for $159, heck straight from the toshiba website! (PH3500U-1I72)

    The PH* comes in a retail box, but is sometimes cheaper and more available in the US, than the OEM MD04* packaging. Same drive though.

    I agree that there has been a lot of confusion about Toshiba consumer drives with respect to part numbers and what happened during the Hitachi handoff. misinformation => profit! :)

    Toshiba US had a problem with some bad labelling of cache sizes in their literature/packaging. So don’t be confused if you see 64 vs 128M descriptions for the drives above that I say are the same.
    Toshiba has a wide variety of other enterprise drives, but you seem to like the consumer models for price.

    They also have some <7200 rpm drives, but you seem to like 7200 rpm.

    I recently did a search/writeup for myself untangling the hitachi/hgst/toshiba drives for the last few years. It's complicated.

    To add anotner twist, there apparently is another part # for the Toshiba 4TB and 5TB in Europe: PX3010E-1HP0 and PX3010E-1HQ0

  • dan

    have you guys done ANY testing with the new Seagate SMR drives? Really interested to hear about it if you have. Recently purchased an 8tb for local cold storage, is this tech a storage game changer?

    • Paul Bellehumeur

      Yes, i tested them. no, they are not changing the game for seagate in my evaluations. they can serve as WORM drives mostly, as performance degrades dramatically after the first write to a sector. from samsung STSHX-D501TDB usb3 externals (3-year warranty instead of the 1-year warranty for seagate expansion STEB5000100 usb3 containing same internal model) i pulled 5 seagate ST5000DM000. individual surface testing with sequential 1 GB files fill and read gave mid 40 MB/s speeds. once put together in a raid5 array on a WS2012R2 dual opteron 6272 system used for video compression, on the first write pass to the array to fill it with video files for compression the speeds were in the low 20’s (MB/s). after a few system crashes, the resynch process runs at between 5 and 10 MB/s, taking approximately 3 weeks. the other raid5 arrays i built with HGST Deskstar NAS 3.5″ 4TB drives or pullouts from Hitachi Touro 4 TB usb3 externals resynch in ~ 36 hours. that will have been my last test and use of seagate products ever unless HGST steps down to the low quality i also got from wd…

  • Matthew Gotth Olsen

    I was part of a research project internal to Best Buy in their data recovery team a few years ago that studied similar sorts of statistics with failed drives, specifically in accuracy of diagnostics. I’d love to see what sort of results you all would come up with in running various drive diagnostic utilities against these drives. One of the largest hurdles we ran into was implementation of SMART by the various manufacturers, and the consistency of firmware that runs on the drives (same model, built in different places, different firmware).

    Our sample size and models were vastly more varied than yours, which made it extremely difficult to get consistent results.

    • Basil F. Willhems

      That is a lie and you are a liar for saying it.

    • Tony Merrett

      hi any details or basis conclusion as I am studying to be technician “accuracy of diagnostics” appears to be a key question. And cost/benefit of (inaccurate) diagnostic/remedial action….thanks-a newbie so apologies if comments stupid

  • jedberg

    Why not stick a label on the side with the serial number before you install it? It makes setup slightly longer but maintenance faster.

    • The process would simply take us too long. We’re chatting with some channel partners to see if that can do it for us along the way, but it’s a lot of “time” taken away from our datacenter gang. Don’t get me wrong, if these drives have 0% failure for 4 years and are inexpensive, we’re going to hire someone just to label, but that’s not the case yet :D

      • Matt Culler

        In the end, you could probably save time and money by adding HDD access lights to the storage pods. If the drive is totally failed, it would be the one with no HDD activity light, and could be identified at a glace – this would be quicker than visually scanning all the labels, too. And if the tech were replacing a drive that had not totally failed, software could read from /dev/sdX at regular intervals to pulse the access light.

        From the sounds of it though, you’d have to scale up a lot more to reap real benefit from the change.

      • Donald Moore

        I have labeled a lot of drives. You only need the last four or five digits of the Serial Number. Less than 30 seconds per drive. At most it would take 45 minutes during the prep of the server to label all the drives. How is that so bad?
        How many servers are you loading with drives in a single day?

        • dwasifar karalahishipoor

          Technically it doesn’t have to be the drive’s serial number. Backblaze could just assign their own serial numbers to Toshiba drives, put a sticker on the end as the drive is being installed, and register that number in the maintenance system instead of the mfr serial.

          • Donald Moore

            You make it sound as if you know something about the inner workings of their system that they don’t even know.
            I have never seen a system where assigning your own serial number to a drive would help you locate that drive in the enclosure when it fails so that you can replace the drive, but I have only been supporting servers in a data-center since 1999. My experience is also limited to the way we do things where I work. If the operating system is telling you the serial number, which is what BackBlaze is doing, that is the serial number that you want to see on the drive, not some made up number.

          • dwasifar karalahishipoor

            If the OS is getting the serial number from SMART or lshw to report the specific drive, then of course you are correct. I withdraw the suggestion.

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