“Engineered obsolescence” is an accusation that gets thrown at tech hardware a lot. And it’s often misapplied: Lithium-ion batteries really do wear down, especially when constantly recharged, and old software can’t keep running new applications forever. But in the case of some Western Digital hard drives, which appear to be sending out “replace me!” warnings after an arbitrary time limit even in the absence of any actual hardware faults, it might be entirely justified.
Such is the case with WD drives installed in some Synology network attached storage (NAS) devices, according to a report from Ars Technica. After running continuously for three years — which is fairly unremarkable for hard drives designed specifically for server storage — the analytics software pre-loaded in the Western Digital drives alert Synology’s DiskStation Manager interface. Alerts it to what? That the drive has been running for three years, and that’s all. The recommended action is to replace the drive…and it’s surely coincidental that this happens shortly after the three calendar years of some drives’ standard manufacturer warranty.
While the warnings can occur in absence of any other, genuine problems with a hard drive, they’re causing headaches for Synology users. Banked drives in a NAS with an active alert can’t be used to repair or expand a pool of storage from another source. So users either have to replace the drive in question — which, again, may have no error or malfunction aside from the fact that its active hours count has ticked over that three years mark — or disable the drive’s analytic system, possibly missing out on genuine alerts in the future.
And “ticked” is an accurate way to describe the reaction of Synology users all over the internet. On Reddit subs, support pages, and YouTube channels, NAS users are pouring out bowls of wrath on Western Digital and the affected product lines: WD Red Plus, Red Pro, and Purple hard drives. The general accusation is that the WD Device Analytics software (WDDA) is throwing up bogus warnings, trying to get customers to buy new replacements for perfectly functional hard drives.
Synology is caught in the middle for designing software that works with Western Digital’s warning system, in the possibly misplaced faith that it would only report genuine hardware errors. The NAS manufacturer is encouraging affected users to disable the WDDA system in Storage Manager to clear the warning and restore full repair and expansion functionality.
The kerfuffle is the latest in a series of controversies that find users accusing manufacturers of trying to artificially shorten the life of their products in hopes of selling more replacements. Printer ink cartridges often send an “empty” signal long before their reservoirs have fully run dry (a situation not helped by arbitrary DRM forcing you to buy manufacturer brands), and even Apple has been accused of slowing down older iPhones in order to juice sales. Google-powered Chromebooks have arbitrary time limits on their security updates, and Microsoft seems to be doing everything in its power to push users onto Windows 11. How much of this is truly malicious and how much is business as usual — and whether there’s actually a distinction between those two — is a matter for continual debate.