Each time a new standard is developed, users who have hard drives with old connections are left with slower transfer speeds, and the realization that they'll have to spend hundreds of dollars to upgrade to a newer model. Seagate looks to alleviate that problem with its new GoFlex line, which let consumers upgrade just the connector for far less than it costs to buy a new drive. The FreeAgent GoFlex Pro ($149), as the first one we've tested, offers decent performance plus the assurance of long-term use.
Seagate's GoFlex Pro is small, sleek, and black with silver accents. Measuring 4.9 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches, the drive will easily slip into a pants pocket when a connector is detached. At 6.4 ounces, the GoFlex is considerably lighter than the Iomega eGo USB 3.0 drive (8.7 ounces), but the latter drive is made out of aluminum and built to withstand drops from 51 inches.
In order to make its drives future-proof and more flexible, Seagate changed the connection on the drive itself. Instead of a USB, eSATA, or FireWire port, the drive has a proprietary connector; in order to hook it up to a computer, you must attach one of its connectors (sold separately, natch). Versatility comes at a price: the USB 3.0 connector alone (which we used for our tests) costs $29.99, while a kit with an ExpressCard adapter costs $79.99. A FireWire 800 cable costs $39.99, while eSATA is a relative bargain at $19.99.
The Pro model we tested comes with both a portable USB 2.0 connection as well as a desktop stand, which sits the drive upright when docked. We like that with the USB 2.0 connection, the cable itself can be replaced with a standard USB cable; sadly, that's not the case with the USB 3.0, eSATA, or FireWire connectors. The desktop stand, which has a rubber bottom to keep it from sliding, has four indicator lights on its front, letting you know how full the drive is.
Like other drives, the GoFlex Pro comes with a helping of utilities for backing up files and securing your data. Seagate uses Memeo's streamlined app, which lets you back up files to the drive online, through network-attached storage, or even an iPod. You can encrypt files (AES 192-bit), keep multiple versions, and choose what files you want to back up. A status bar shows how much data you've backed up, and how much space is left on the drive. Memeo's app also lets you sync files and share them with others.
One nice thing about the GoFlex Pro is that the drive doesn't need to be formatted specifically for a Mac or a Windows machine unless you want to use Apple's Time Machine utility. However, Memeo's automatic backup software only works with Windows.
Seagate backs this drive with a strong three-year warranty.
Despite having a 7,200-rpm hard drive, the FreeAgent GoFlex Pro wasn't the fastest in our tests. In order to measure its speeds, we connected the drive via USB 3.0 to a Lenovo W710 workstation. Writing a 4.97GB folder of multimedia to the drive--the test we consider the most important--took 2 minutes and 11 seconds, a rate of 38.8 MBps. That's slower than the Iomega eGo USB 3.0 (41.7 MBps) and the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 (41.7 MBps), but slightly faster than the Buffalo MiniStation Cobalt (36.6 MBps). The Seagate drive fared better when reading the same folder; it took the GoFlex 1:06, a rate of 77.1 MBps, which was slower than the LaCie drive (89.3 MBps), but faster than Iomega and Buffalo storage options; both checked in with transfer rates of 63.6 MBps.
When transferring large individual files, the Seagate again fell in the middle of the pack. We copied a 1.66GB MPEG-4 from the drive in 19 seconds, a rate of 89.4 MBps. That was 2 seconds slower than the LaCie drive (99.9 MBps), but 5 seconds better than the Buffalo MiniStation Cobalt (70.8 MBps). Still, the Iomega drive copied the file in a blazing 6 seconds, a rate of 283.2 MBps. Copying the file back to the GoFlex Pro took 27 seconds (62.9 MBps), which places it right between the LaCie (26 seconds; 65.3MBps) and Iomega (28 seconds; 60.7 MBps) drives.
Since external hard drives are generally limited by the bottlenecks of the transfer technology, it's nice to see an approach that won't leave you stranded when something better comes along. However, some may find it difficult to stomach paying $149 for the Seagate GoFlex Pro, then paying another $30 to buy the USB 3.0 connection. Once Seagate starts selling the drive with the USB 3.0 dock included, it will make more financial sense. While we prefer the Iomega eGo USB 3.0 drive for its durability, performance, and lower price, we like what Seagate is doing with the GoFlex line, and hope it continues down this path well into the future.