A sad little HDD sitting on a wood desk.

Other World Computing (OWC) has held a place in my Apple brain for a long time. They were where you went when you needed Apple-quality hardware that Apple itself didn't sell. Drives, memory, hubs, etc, could all be relied upon to work with your Mac. Hardware compatibility with a Mac may sound silly now, considering Apple is a $3 trillion company. Still, finding reliable gear for your Mac around the turn of the millennium took a lot of work. OWC was the only name I knew about that catered to people on Apple machines, and they offered products that just worked.

That is no longer the case.

Purchasing the drive

I've used an AirPort Time Capsule for over ten years as a reliable computer backup solution. However, as I've ventured into iOS development, I've noticed a significant change in my backup process. The size of the backups has increased considerably, leading to noticeably slower incremental backups. Backing up over WiFi was no longer an option, so I went to OWC to grab a 4TB Mercury Elite Pro that I could plug directly into my computer for faster backups that didn't clog my WiFi.

To be nice, I ordered directly from the OWC website rather than purchasing through Amazon. That would turn out to be a mistake. I ordered the drive on December 21 for a price of $212.29 (including tax). It took eight days to arrive, and Amazon could have had it to me in two. This was all over the holiday break, and I was spending a lot of time at my computer, annoyed that it was choking every hour when it tried to back up—six additional days seemed like an eternity in a world where we've grown accustomed to two-day shipping.

The drive didn't work

After receiving the drive, I formatted it and pointed to it from Time Machine. The first (and longest) backup was completed as I sat there and worked. So far, so good. The second backup never happened. Time Machine gave me an error saying it couldn't find the drive. I found that odd because I could see the drive mounted on my desktop. I used Finder to peek at what was inside, and the folder wouldn't show anything. Even ls from the terminal didn't spit anything out. It was weird.

Okay, so maybe something just goofed. I tried ejecting the drive, but it wouldn't even do that. It was in some odd uncommunicative stasis. I had to physically cycle the power on the drive for the computer to recognize it again. I went into troubleshooting mode and tried:

  • new cables
  • bypassing USB hubs
  • bypassing surge protector
  • setting "Put hard disks to sleep when possible" to Never in case the disk was disconnecting when the machine went to sleep (the disk would disconnect even when I was at the machine for hours without it sleeping 🤷‍♂️)
  • reformatting several times

No dice. Nothing would stop the drive from dropping its connection.

Chat with OWC

I jumped into a chat with an OWC rep and advised him of the things I'd done above. He was hedging towards this being an issue relating to the computer going to sleep, so he had me issue a terminal command to prevent "deep sleep":

sudo pmset -a standby 0

He agreed that it sounded like a "weird" issue, but that was all the help he had to offer.

Returning the drive

Receiving a product that doesn't work as advertised is bad enough, but OWC's return process is terrible. First, due to their lengthy delivery times, I wasn't willing to attempt an exchange on the slight chance that the drive I had received was defective. Furthermore, I was outside a 15-day window to get shipping back to them covered. So, I would have to wait over a week for a replacement and pay the shipping costs. No way.

Instead, I opted to be done with it all and get a refund. This cost me:

  • $17.65 to ship them back the drive (that didn't work)
  • $28.95 restocking fee (15%) and possibly more if they happened to lower the price before they received the drive

So, for a faulty drive, I'm out $46.63 and hours of my time. I just received notice yesterday that they have the drive, and they're processing it. This is nearly a month since the purchase, and it's still not over. I really didn't want to spend this long thinking about simple Time Machine backups. Unfortunately, it's been a long, archaic process that I will never go through again. I won't purchase from them because the alternatives are faster and hassle-free.

Final solution

Ultimately, I went onto Amazon and bought a 4TB Crucial SSD that is faster, bus-powered (doesn't need an extra power cord), smaller, and quieter for the same price. It delivered overnight and has worked flawlessly for a couple of weeks. It's also so small that I can easily travel with it, which I could never do before. The product and purchasing experience was superior, and I've learned my lesson moving forward: no more OWC.f

Written by Matt Haliski

The First of His Name, Consumer of Tacos, Operator of Computers, Mower of Grass, Father of the Unsleeper, King of Bad Function Names, Feeder of AI Overlords.