The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive is more than just a portable hard drive - it's the basis of a very versatile storage system offering huge capacities and many user-changeable connection standards, starting with USB 3.0, eSATA and FireWire 800
External storage has become a vital asset in preserving our personal digital lives. Whether it’s to backup the precious contents of our PCs or pick up the overspill of what just won’t fit onboard, the reality is that most people now need external storage.
In the home or a professional environment, this usual comes down to either network-attached storage – a server or NAS drive for pooling data over a local network – or traditional direct-attached storage, like the USB hard drive.
Direct-attached storage is typically the simplest not to mention speediest way to access data – and that’s an important factor when large files and overbrimming directories are involved.
There are several data-connection standards in common use today; plus some very interesting new technologies just emerging.
From the familiar roster we have USB 2.0, FireWire (400 or 800 variants), SCSI, and more recently, eSATA.
Just appearing or around the corner are USB 3.0 and Light Peak. And filed under ‘missing, presumed dead’ are FireWire 1600 and 3200.
With the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive though, Seagate has just about every current option covered, with potential to expand as new standards appear.
We looked at the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable 1.5TB drive. This is a somewhat rotund portable drive, measuring an unexceptional 119 x 88mm, but a chunky 22mm thick.
Various capacities are available (320GB, 500GB, 750GB and 1TB), and our sample of the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive was the largest currently offered with an incredible 1.5TB of storage.
That’s why it’s fatter than your average portable drive – inside is a single 2.5in SATA hard-disk drive, but one of the portlier 12mm-thick types, rather than 9.5mm as found in most modern laptops.
And 1500GB is an incredible capacity today for a modest notebook drive. At present, you will only find this level of portable storage in the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive – Seagate does not seem to be offering it to notebook PC manufacturers for internal use.
And to help you get all that data into and out of the drive, Seagate equips this Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive with a USB 3.0 connection as standard – backwards-compatible to USB 2.0 of course.
Or you can use the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive with FireWire 800. Or eSATA. Or even over an ethernet network.
The clever part of Seagate’s system is that you chose your preferred connector. At the bottom of the basic sealed drive enclosure lies a removable cable assembly. And this docks directly to the hard disk inside – not by some Seagate-proprietary connector, but by industry-standard SATA.
So on the base of the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive, you can just see the 22-pin SATA edge connector, inset into the drive and therby protected from casual finger prodding.
By removing the snug-fitting interface adaptor assembly (ours came with USB 3.0/2.0), you can quickly adapt the drive to your own connection needs.
The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive can be readily adapted to suit your connection needs, with interface adaptors for USB, eSATA and FireWire 800
Also available to buy is a docking station that lets you stream your Seagate drive’s video content to your TV.
The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex TV HD Media Player is a video adaptor which accepts one of these GoFlex drives and lets you play out its video files to a high-definition TV.
There’s also a NAS-like dock adaptor, the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Net Media Sharing Device, that lets you share two Seagate GoFlex drives over your local network, with a gigabit ethernet connection.
The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive is finished in a black plastic case with shiny gloss finish. As well as picking up fingerprints all too easily, it is also easy scratched. There’s no carry case in the packaging we’d advised you to pack it carefully when travelling so that it doesn’t get too marked.
Included with the drive is additional software for Windows and Mac users. For Windows, there’s the Seagate Dashboard management tool for backup and encryption, designed by content-management software developer Memeo.
For the Mac, there’s a 30-day trial version of Memeo Premium software, with a full version of the basic Backup app also included.
There’s also an NTFS file system driver from Paragon Software in the Mac software bundle, said to enable write as well as read access on NTFS Windows volumes for Mac OS X users.
This only seems to work with the connected Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive though - we still couldn’t write to our Windows Boot Camp partition with this driver in place, nor another brand's NTFS-formatted external hard drive.
Install such freebie software with caution though. We can’t vouch for the Windows version, but installing the default apps for Mac involves inserting Seagate kernel extensions and other low-level processes into the operating system, for which Seagate provides no uninstaller.
We tested the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive with both its original USB 3.0 interface adaptor, and a separately available FireWire 800 connection kit.
Windows testing was carried out on our Chillblast Antec Skeleton PC test rig, with Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R motherboard, Intel Core i7-920 and 6GB RAM. Operating system was Windows Home Premium 64-bit.
For FireWire 800 testing, we used an Apple MacBook Pro (4,1) with SATA SSD and 6GB RAM, running Windows Ultimate 64-bit and Mac OS X 10.6.5.
You Ess Bee Three
In the ATTO Disk Benchmark for Windows, the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive achieved a maximum read speed of 98.7MBps and write speed of 98.5MBps. In the CrystalDiskMark 3.0 test, we saw similar performance of 97.3MBps for both read and writes.
That’s quick – in fact, we’d wager that’s the native intrinsic speed of the 5400rpm disk drive inside the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive.
Turning to FireWire 800 on the MacBook Pro, the HD Tach benchmark showed us average read and write speeds of 65.6MBps and 24.7MBps for the quicker Short test; the Long test revealed similar read speeds of 65.4MBps, while the average write speed increased to 34.6MBps. Burst speed for both these tests was around 74MBps.
HD Tune Pro had a similar story to tell: reads and writes averaged 65MBps and 39MBps respectively.
Those are excellent FireWire 800 results, beating our previous-fastest G-Technology G-Drive mobile 500GB drive with its 59MBps read score; although that drive also does keep the record for writing speed, with its slightly faster write performance of around 50MBps in the same benchmark test.
To finish off, we tried some real-world file copy tests in Mac OS X. With a 872MB ISO test file, the Seagate drive could transfer the file to the Mac in 15 seconds, equating to a read speed of 58MBps; then was copied back to the drive in 19 secs, suggesting a good average write speed of 46MBps.
NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>