Product Review: Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable Drive (500GB)

I use a lot of external hard drives.  When I travel I generally carry three of them – two 500GBs and a 250GB.  I have gone through a lot of them over the years, including Maxtor, Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, and more, to say nothing of the drives I have put in enclosures.  Most of the ones I have are Western Digital for no good reason, but they have been reliable.  I have never thought to write about any of them, because they all do their job, and although some may be faster or slower than others none have really had features that have wowed me.  I should mention that I never use their proprietary software and I am sure if you like one or the other for backup or encryption then I am glad you are happy with it.

One of my clients handed me four 500GB Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable Drives the other day for a project I am working on, and when I unpacked the first one today I was pleasantly surprised by a few features:

  1. The size is noticeably smaller than the drives I usually carry.  My WD drives (I love them, and always have at least two of them) measure 4 7/8” x 3” x .5”.  The GoFlex (minus the SATA adapter) is 4 3/8” x 3 1/8” x 3/8”, making it noticeably smaller in the hand (although it is 1/8” wider).
  2. The connections on the drive itself are standard SATA connections, meaning I have options in how to connect it.
  3. The SATA-USB adapter (which admittedly makes it much similar in size to the WD) is detachable, and can be exchanged with connectors for USB 3.0, eSATA, or Firewire 800.

It comes with a very solid-feeling 18” USB 2.0 cable.  When I plugged it into my laptop Windows 7 recognized it and installed the appropriate drivers automatically (the box claims that it is also compatible with Windows Vista and XP, as well as Mac OS X 10.4.11 or higher).  The LED lights on the adapter are bright, and my only question is why they don’t change colours or flash for activity.

I was disappointed that the drive does not come with a case of any sort, but then the newer WDs don’t either, so that is not a mark in favour or against either drive.

Of course all of these features are meaningless if the drive doesn’t perform.  To put it to the test I put it up against a relatively new 500GB Western Digital drive that I have been using for a while.  I had an ISO file handy that weighs in at 11,376,840KB and did a straight copy – using the same sturdy USB cable.  I/O performance between the two drives was comparable with the Seagate coming in a little faster than the WD (7m05s to 7m30s) but it was more of an anecdotal test than scientific – The Seagate was cleanly formatted (NTFS) and the WD is a production drive, likely fragmented, and encrypted (BitLocker to Go).  With all of those factors considered I would assume the performance is near-identical.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not going out to replace all of my ultra-portable (2.5” external) drives with new Seagates – I replaced all of my smaller drives with 500GB drives just six months ago – but I will definitely give the Seagate a favourable BUY rating, and am glad that this project is ‘forcing’ me to use one :)

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