Yes, you can update your Mac's hard drive firmware in OS X

Some third-party drives in use by your Mac may need a firmware update. With modern Macs, we can create an ISO update disc on that installs the new firmware.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

A recent post on a storage list that I subscribe to mentioned a firmware update for a range of enterprise-level hard drives used in IBM storage systems. The issue was how idle time is being used by the drives (or misused), which causes increased wear and even catastrophic failure. Not good.

One of the storage engineers on the list suggested that this may be a problem of the disk media lubricant being pushed away from places where it should be found, causing premature wear-and-tear of the components. These drives have Fibre Channel, Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) and Serial-ATA interfaces. Whatever the reason, the firmware update fixes the problem for these IBM storage systems are found in an IBM support package.

But these are Barracuda drive mechanisms made by Seagate. Could they be needing a firmware update outside of IBM systems? Maybe. These drives have been sold in the aftermarket for upgrades inside Macs or in external drive enclosures, or in RAID systems.

So, I checkedout the Seagate support site for updated firmware and noticed that some of the SATA Barracuda ES.2 SATA drives are affected and have new firmware waiting. There's a list at the bottom of the page with a section for drives that are not affected, followed by a chart of the drives that require the firmware update.

Of course, the support page suggests customers use Seagate's Drive Detect utility to verify the drive, serial number and firmware. And naturally, it's Windows-only.

But this isn't really a problem. The Mac's System Information app can revel this information. You have to click on Serial-ATA in the Hardware section, which reveals the Device tree, including each device and the volumes. It shows the capacity, model, serial number and revision of the drive as well as many more pieces of useful information.

Seagate warns that firmware updates can be risky. But they are more confident that we can perform them "in the field."

Until recently, firmware updates for typical desktop and laptop computers were difficult and somewhat risky. This situation, in part, was based on a lack of friendly firmware download tools and operating system limitations. This situation has improved and Seagate now offers firmware updates as a routine matter for the general support of your Seagate drive.

If the firmware upgrade installation instructions are not followed properly, the firmware upgrade could be data destructive and/or render your hard drive inoperable. As Seagate does not warrant the data on your drive, in addition to regular back-ups, your data should be backed up, if possible, before upgrading the drive firmware.

Do I have to say it? Users should backup before initiating the update.

In bygone PowerPC days, Macs couldn't perform this firmware update. Now that Macs have Intel processors, this isn't a problem. At boot time, the Mac can be seen as just another Intel-based PC.

A Seagate support page named Firmware Update for Macintosh  shows how to find the serial number of the drive and then provides a pointer to the procedure of creating an ISO disc on some Apple Support page. This link is broken. Instead, I suggest you follow the article How to bus ISO images on Mac OS X Hints

The firmware ISO disc boots into FreeDOS to run the firmware updater.

Now, some Macs don't come with optical drives (or have removed them to put in a SSD upgrade). I am unsure that the ISO will boot from a USB drive. I will check into this.

These firmware updates often go unnoticed by Mac users and Mac managers. It's too much to ask for that these mechanisms could be added to a update plan, perhaps MacUpdate Desktop. Or the mechanism vendors could work together to have a standardized update system that utility vendors could hook into.

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