Seagate’s been in the hard drive business for donkeys years and recently we were sent one of their relatively new (2010) FreeAgent GoFlex 320GB portable external hard drives for a review. Their main selling point? – Its the ‘World’s most upgradeable hard drive’, we’ll see in the quick review below what they actually mean by that.
Available in metallic silver, black, blue and red depending on your choice of memory capacity (up to 1.5TB), we’ve got the lowest capacity 320GB version. Our first impressions were that it comes with the typical rather high-maintenance-but fancy gloss paint, especially our black one but to hold, it weighs just 150g. Like our Iomega Prestige portable hard drive which we frequently use here at GadgetLite, its not too fiddly, the only other accessory you need is the adapter and USB cable to get started. We’ll be talking more about the advantages of its adapter below.
It isn’t the thinnest portable drive you’ll ever see, and it isn’t thinner than your iPod Touch but its not too far off at just under 14mm as our 20p coin demonstrates.
The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex ultra portable drive houses a 5400 rpm 2.5″ hard disk, this is instead of the newer, faster but usually more pricier 7200 rpm hard disk. If you read earlier, Seagate boasts its new line up of GoFlex portable drives to be the world’s most upgradeable, this is explained mainly by its interchangeable interface adapter not because its drives are ‘futureproof’ as such.
As you can see in the photo above, the pictured USB 2.0 interface connection adapter which came out of the box is made of two parts, a universal connector for all GoFlex drives and at the other end a cable which offers the possibility of an upgrade for greater file transfer speeds. So essentially what Seagate have done with its GoFlex family is given them all the same connection adapter but made it universally fitting for a range of different cables, this means if you opt to buy a specific, dedicated cable upgrade kit, for example Firewire 800 kit for your Macbook Pro, you just need to plug in that cable but use the same drive as normal.
Its considered to be ‘most upgradeable’ simply because of this, the current available options for upgrade are USB 3.0 eSATA and Firewire 800 – this is only if you’re unhappy with USB 2.0’s transfer speed and need to shift large files quickly. Frankly, the downside is you’ll probably find yourself carrying both cables as we reckon USB 2.0 will still be the most compatible across whatever machines you’re looking to hook up with for a number of years to come.
If you stick to the USB 2.0 which comes with the drive, theoretically you’d get a transfer data speed of roughly 57 MB/s. However, due to the mechanical nature of the drive and transfer protocol of USB 2.0, the transfer speed won’t hit that upper limit, although it may come close.
So let’s test out some transfer speeds, we did a quick comparison with our Iomega Prestige portable drive which is too a 5400 rpm 2.5″ hard disk but with 500GB capacity. We tested the drives on the same USB port one by one on our MacBook Pro using Xbench, and here were the results.
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 320GB
Iomega Prestige 500GB
As you can see in the screenshots above, there were barely any noticeable differences between the Seagate’s and the Iomega’s performances. Unfortunately we couldn’t test the USB 3.0 cable kit we were sent as we only had our MacBook Pro as our testing platform but based on other reviewer’s benchmark results we were able to see the following improvement in transfer speeds:
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 500GB (USB 2.0) Benchmark
Linear Read (Begin): 32.1 MB/s
Linear Read (Middle): 31.6 MB/s
Linear Read (End): 32.1 MB/s
Random Read: 31.5 MB/s
Buffered Read: 29.7 MB/s
Average Read Access: 23.13 ms
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 500GB (USB 3.0) Benchmark
Linear Read (Begin): 81.3 MB/s
Linear Read (Middle): 66.7 MB/s
Linear Read (End): 39.5 MB/s
Random Read: 64.2 MB/s
Buffered Read: 83.8 MB/s
Average Read Access: 22.12 ms
As you can see, using a USB 3.0 interface adapter / cable does at least double transfer speeds but from the testing above, it would be difficult for us to imagine how using the upgrade kit could allow you to receive up to x10 faster speeds than USB 2.0 (as claimed by Seagate).
Seagate Dashboard and Memeo Instant Backup – is it any good?
If you’re a Mac user, we wouldn’t advise you to dig into using Seagate’s included Dashboard backup solution software as Time Machine on Mac OS X works just as well if not better. If you’re a PC user, the drive will already have prompt you automatically to install Seagate Dashboard and therefore start running Memeo Instant Backup when you first plug in (if not, its setup files can be located within the drive itself).
Essentially Seagate Dashboard comes from Memeo, unfortunately, with your purchase of the GoFlex drive, you’ll only get a free license to the full Memeo Instant Backup and not Premium Backup, Memeo Sync, Memeo AutoSync, Memeo Share and Memeo Send, all of these are trial only.
As for the features of Memeo Instant Backup, here’s a quick summary…
- Secures backed up files and protects privacy with powerful encryption.
- Schedule backup.
- Restore entire drive or individual files.
- View at-a-glance drive statistics, including available capacity.
When we started it up for the first time, it started to backup based on our customised setting (complete or selected folders / drives) and worked as a background device, doing a complete backup 1:1 copy which we selected including all open files. Immediately after the backup, you can eject the drive, however, Instant Backup will continue to be running in the background monitoring changes that you make to your drive / folders. This is different from Time Machine for Mac which has the same feature but only runs when your drive is plugged in, in contrast Instant Backup will constantly do this in the background without taking away too much of your system’s resources.
The next time you are connect your drive, only those changes that have been made are saved and used for creating a new backup and thus it won’t need to take as much time as it did the first run. In case something gets lost or a file gets damaged, its also possible to restore the files by simply dragging the chosen file from the backup. If the backup at some point gets too full, the older files are automatically deleted. The majority of backing up during our testing ran in the background without any annoying prompts, in fact, we just needed to plug it in and continue writing our review, it was that simple to use.
Seagate offers the FreeAgent GoFlex 320GB ultra portable external hard drive here in the UK with a pricetag of £69.99, which is at a relatively high end of the portable drives’ normal price range considering it only boasts 320GB capacity. You also receive only a 2-year limited warranty to protect against factory defects, nothing outstanding taking into account what you’re paying.
Despite this, you can see in this review as we have highlighted, a number of excellent features which are not normally found or done brilliantly from other brands. From our benchmark testing, you’ll have noticed that just the drive alone with a standard USB 2.0 connection, the portable drive performs at a similar speed to other brands (in this case, our Iomega Prestige) but the advantage of buying a FreeAgent GoFlex family drive kicks in as soon as you resort to an upgrade kit specific for your machine. Though number-wise, we were disappointed that didn’t see a performance improvement as significant as what Seagate had claimed, we were still pleased with the results.
- Slim, small highly portable design
- Universal interface connectors which are used across the current GoFlex family of portable drives
- Offers the possibility of upgrade for greater transfer speeds
- High maintenance glossy design if you opt for any of the colours except silver
- Pricey for the capacity you’re getting, but a definite bargain if you can find it at a discounted price
- Unable to reach anywhere near the claimed transfer speed with the upgrade kit