Puzzled by Underperforming External Harddrive and Unexplained Activity Indicator

I'm trying to make sense of why I experience significant differences between my two Seagate external hard drives. The one is 500GB system of a few years old and the other a 2TB of barely over a month young.

The problem is that in my experience the 500GB drive outperforms the 2TB drive in every aspect.

  • Directory contents of the 500GB loads significantly faster than the 2TB when browsing with a filemanager.
  • The 500GB mounts and unmounts quickly (under 2 seconds I'd say) while the 2TB can take from 5 up to 15 seconds and sometimes even slightly longer.
  • The 500GB seem to copy more easily and reliable even for a large amount of files compared to the 2TB. Mostly the 500GB gets the job done while the 2TB starts off quick , feels like it gets stuck while copying (copying tested with DE drag-and-drop, cp and lastly rsync out of frustration), then freezes up when trying to navigate its files and directories .

Both have an indication light that turns on when it gets power and blinks to indicate activity. The 500GB shows activity during mounting, copying to/from, browsing its files and unmounting. It shows idle otherwise (mounted or not; even if my PWD of one terminal or tty is within its file system) which is fair. The 2TB also shows activity during the aforementioned operations, but for some bizarre reason when mounted it consistently shows activity every few seconds so it's never really idle.

All of this bugs me. I would really like the 2TB to be at least on par with the 500GB performance wise actually expecting improvements. I would also like the 2TB to be idle when I'm not doing anything with it. Why is there so much difference between the drives regarding performance, activity and idle?

Besides the total capacity of both drives here is some information to consider:

  • 500TB: ntfs , 62% space used, few years old
  • 2TB: ext4 , 11% space used, barely over a month young

Is there anyone that have some explanation, advice, suggestions or a way for me to improve the operation of my 2TB external hard drive? :man_facepalming:

Moved from #general-discussion:user-stories to #technical-issues-and-assistance as this is a request for help, not a user story.

  1. I assume you did those tests using the same USB port?
  2. if they have the same cable try swapping cables between the drives and redo your tests
  3. I have a Seagate 2TB drive (probably the same) and have two partitions - one ext4 and one NTFS and they seem to work at similar speeds, so either you have a cable fault or you might have to reformat??
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or you can try using xfs filesystem see if it performs better.

Can't say for sure that I used the same USB port every time. I'll do a test taking special note of it and try swapping cables as well. Thanks

It would be a let down if it turns out the problem is one of these two.

If it comes to a format I'll test it out.

Would creating a new partition table then creating a new partition specifying xfs in gparted suffice for a format?

I want to check for piece of mind

Just a thought. ext4 delays a lot of its filesystem allocation process until after the format process has completed. This will only happen when the disk is online, so if you format it, remove it, then use it later it will still be performing initialisation in the background.

This can be a caching/buffering issue. Essentially, the disk "accepts" more data than it can write, and is struggling to commit to disk.

This could be due to the filesystem having to initialise more inodes etc., could be an IO issue on your system (e.g. buggy/unshielded USB3), an issue with the disk (e.g. there may be a firmware update), or the disk is simply slow.

If this is a 2TB 2.5" disk then speeds will be slower and they will try to offset that by use of a larger on-controller cache.

If you're reformatting I'd recommend ZFS. It's pretty amazing for (Linux-native) external devices (especially for backups with zfs send | zfs receive). The only downside is that you do have to export and import it manually (unless you set up e.g. a udev rule).

Thanks for the explanation. Both the drives are 2.5". I'm not familiar with ZFS, zfs send/receive or the manual import and export you're referring to, but I'll read up on it. I'm already reading about XFS.

odd issue you have there :thinking:

if the cables and usb ports are not the problem, then you might have a faulty hdd

have you tried testing the hdd on a different machine, on windows for example?

seagate is not that reliable, i have on that broke after 30 days

and some of these 2-4TB HDDs are not what they seem... in the sense that within the enclosure there are 2 or 4, 500GB disk plates... sometimes with a memory card added for read/write speed improvements, all glued together with special firmware.
and if one of the plates is damaged then the whole drive is doomed

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How would one know when the initialisation is done?

A web search? :stuck_out_tongue:

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Is there anything unusual in your journal?
You could for example follow the journal while copying a file to the problematic drive with journalctl -b -f.
I don't think it's a filesystem related problem, but they should also show up if something's wrong.

Are your external drives only connected to USB (no power cable)?

I'm hoping for the best. Would ext4 even work with Win7?

i think not

be sure to backup important data before doing major changes
on dvd or usb stick

Unfortunately I don't know about the journal and right now I cannot test it (I'm experiencing power cuts from our national power grid).

No power cable. Only USB cable

Okay, maybe you can check it when power is back.
Just to make sure, are these 2.5" drives and are you using a desktop computer?

Another thought. The larger disk will likely draw more power (e.g. extra cache). Make sure you're connected directly to a USB port and not to a hub.

I have an 11mm 2.5" disk which refused to spin up on one laptop's USB ports.

Never connected it via hub, always directly

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Yep, me too, on a desktop though.

greeneyedcat, does it make a difference if the laptop is connected to the mains?
You could also try disabling power saving features for USB with usbcore.autosuspend=-1 boot parameter (but I think it's handled by tlp?).

I didn't notice any difference whether connected to power or not for the laptops. However, for the desktop there was a definite difference when connected to power :smile:

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