Seagate FreeAgent Pro and FreeAgent Go

Price
£95

Hard drives are a commodity; unless you're matching drives for RAID you choose the capacity you want at the best price and performance you can get. With a removable drive the form factor matters because you're going to be lugging it around. With Seagate's FreeAgent line price and performance are good and the design is better than most, but it's the bundled software that really makes the difference here.

There are three versions of what Seagate is calling the FreeAgent 'data mover'. The 12GB FreeAgent Go Small replaces Seagate's 'hockey puck' hard drive with a small square case and a fold-out USB plug; a 20GB model is on the way. The FreeAgent Go is the size of two packs of playing cards, with a split USB cable that takes up two ports to get power without reducing speed, and comes in sizes from 80GB to 160GB. You could carry either size with you easily enough and the bundled Ceedo software makes it worth bringing them along.

If you've tried a flash drive with the U3 software you probably like the idea of having your applications, bookmarks, address books, email and the things that make your PC personal tucked in your pocket. But you need an unusually large flash drive to fit real applications on instead of cut-down versions of Firefox. Ceedo gives you a second Start menu in Windows with links to your browser, email, documents, pictures, music and applications you choose to install on the drive; you can get at them on any PC you can plug into without leaving traces behind. And there's no messing about with CDs; the drivers, software and manuals are all on the FreeAgent drive and install via AutoPlay. You can also pick folders to sync automatically when you plug the drive in, so you can use it for backup, or for transporting files that you edit on multiple machines. There are free utilities than can do some or all of this, but it's nice to have the software on the drive and it's very well integrated and easy to use.

The FreeAgent Go has another advantage over flash. Copying 250MB of images to a 1GB Kingston flash stick took 90 seconds (and 37 seconds to copy the files back); that's a peak of 3Mb/second writing and 7.7 reading. Copying the files to the FreeAgent Go took less than 10 seconds (14.7MB/second) and copying back just 15 seconds (8.9Mb/second); the 10GB file wouldn't fit on the 1GB flash stick but reading and writing it to the FreeAgent Go peaked at over 21Mb/second. For that speed and for the convenience of having your environment in your pocket, the FreeAgent Go is a bargain; 160GB drives at this price are usually boxy and similarly sleek models are usually 120 and up.

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The FreeAgent Pro is bigger; 320, 500 or in this case 750GB and a sleek bronzed aluminium case (plus power supply) that you can carry in your bag but not in your pocket. It's mounted vertically on a base that takes up about as much room on your desk as a stapler, which looks good and helps keep the drive cool enough that it doesn't need a fan. A strip of amber light glows when the drive is connected and all in all it gives the stylish drives you can get from LaCie a run for their money. The price is at the top end of what you'd expect to pay for an external USB drive of this size; for an eSATA drive of this size it's the cheapest of a small selection.

The good looks are accompanied by excellent performance - again, as long as you have an eSATA port. Copying a 10GB file took less than six minutes, with the transfer rate peaking at 31.3Mb/second reading from the FreeAgent Pro and 24.9Mb/second writing too it. With smaller files it doesn't have time to get up to full speed; copying 250Mb of assorted files took 13 seconds to write (peaking at 22.7Mb/second) and 16 seconds to read at 17MB/second. That's just over 10% faster than Seagate's eSATA External Hard Drive (using the same PCI card and cable). You'll find eSATA on some new notebooks and you can upgrade any PC with a spare slot; eSATA isn't common today but you'll want to be using it in the future. The FreeAgent Pro has a FireWire connector, but it's on a replacement plate that you fit to the base. The USB speed is between 7 and 8.5Mb/second; good compared to most removable drives but a sluggard after eSATA.

But again it's the software that really makes the FreeAgent Pro stand out. It comes with a copy of Memeo's AutoBackup. Like other backup software you can pick file types or common folders, so you can have all your spreadsheet files or images backed up automatically, or pick your documents folder and not get TEMP and .INI files backed up. You can pick how many older versions of a file to keep in the backup. And best of all, you can manage all your backups and transfers in one place; create multiple backup sets to copy onto the FreeAgent Pro drive, pick the set of files you always want the most recent version of on your flash stick and tag music that you want to copy onto your iPod next time you plug it in, all from the same interface.

AutoBackup will also copy files onto Seagate's online backup service; you get 500MB on your Seagate Internet Drive free for six months, although the signup process can be confusing at first. You can pay monthly or annually for 1GB or 5GB and you can access files directly, although at 60 for 5GB a year you're paying for the convenience. Stick with the built-in tools for the best value and the FreeAgent drives will make it easy to move your data where you need it.

Verdict

FreeAgent Go is faster and more capable then a flash drive, though rather less portable. FreeAgent Pro gives you the speed of SATA on a budget, in style. For both, price and performance are good but it's the software that shines.

FreeAgent Go OS requirements Windows Vista, Windows XP Home, Professional Edition or Windows 2000 Pro Mac OSx 10.3, 10.4 read only - no software Dimensions 0.7"tall x 4.8"wide x 3.9" deep 17.7 tall x 121.9 wide x 99 mm deep Weight 6.4 oz 182g Capacity 80 or 120 or 160GB Interface USB 2.0 Spindle speed 5400 RPM Software FreeAgent Tools, Ceedo, FolderSync

FreeAgent Pro OS requirements Windows Vista, Windows XP Home, Professional Edition or Windows 2000 Pro Mac OSx 10.3, 10.4 read only - no software Dimensions 7.5" x 1.4" x 6.3" (base 1" x 5.2" x 3") 190.5 x 35.56 x 160.2 mm (base 25 x 132.08 x 76.2 mm) Weight 2 lbs 0.9 kg Capacity 500 or 750 GB Interface USB 2.0 and eSATA/FireWire 400 Spindle Speed 7200 RPM Software FreeAgent Tools, AutoBackup, System Rollback, Internet Drive

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