Seagate Portable Hard Drive Aims for Flexibility and Performs Well, But It Has Awkward Design
At a Glance
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Pro 500GB
Solid, stylish-looking performer benefits from--and is hampered by--the connection module system introduced in the GoFlex series.
The FreeAgent GoFlex Pro is one model in Seagate's refresh of its portable hard drive line (desktop versions are available, too). The new GoFlex system this drive is a part of encompasses drives of varying colors and capacities ($100 for 320GB in silver or black; $130 for 500GB in silver, black, red, or blue; $170 for 750GB in silver or black; and $190 for 1TB in silver or black), connection modules, and accessories.
The unique hook to these models is that Seagate has reengineered the devices to separate the drive from the bridge board that translates the drive's native SATA to another interface connection. As a result, Seagate can offer a variety of cable modules for use with a single drive--giving you plenty of connection flexibility. Of those, only the USB 2.0 GoFlex Cable ($20) can be removed from the connector module; the rest are fixed in place. The USB 3.0 cable costs $30, the eSATA cable costs $20, the FireWire 800 cable is $40, and the Auto Backup cable (which turns the drive into an automatic-backup unit much like the company's now-retired Replica drive, using disk-imaging software powered by Rebit) sells for $30.
Another potential issue, though, lies with the module concept itself. The drive has not one, but two connections to pass through (the bridge module's connector, and then the connection from the bridge module to your PC). I found on the shipping unit I tried that the connector module could come unseated more easily than I'd expect--a risk when a drive might be sitting on an airplane tray table or the side of a couch. Another annoyance: You have to pop the module off to use it with the dock that comes with the Pro drive, for example (Seagate says a dock that accommodates the drive with the USB 2.0 module in place will be out later this year).
The GoFlex Pro (which comes with a dock and packs a 7200-rpm drive inside, instead of the standard 5400-rpm drive) costs $140 for 500GB and $190 for 750GB. In the PCWorld Labs, it performed well--but surprisingly, even though the drive ran at 7200 rpm, its performance was largely comparably to the older 5400-rpm FreeAgent Go we'd tested previously.
In our tests, we tried the 500GB drive using both the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 modules. Over USB 2.0, the drive took 145 seconds to read a 3.68GB folder of files (same as the previous FreeAgent Go), 134 seconds to read a large 3.68GB file (1 second less than its predecessor), and 155 seconds to write that large file (the same as before). The only test that appeared improved in the jump from 5400-rpm to 7200-rpm: Our file and folder write test, in which the GoFlex took 182 seconds to write that same folder of files, compared with 197 seconds on the 5400-rpm drive.
Over USB 3.0, the drive performed comparably to the 7200-rpm Seagate BlackArmor PS 110, the company's first USB 3.0 drive.
Clearly, the GoFlex portable drives perform well, and will deliver fine if you leave it plugged into your chosen module on your desk. But the design is a bit kludgy, sadly. Unless you require the modular flexibility this drive provides, competing models may make a more compelling choice--especially if you need to use the drive in a dock, and then remove it from the dock to take it along with you.