2010-03-08T08_16_38

Seagate FreeAgent Go 320 GB USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive Review

While I have been amazed by the amount of USB storage that can be purchased for approximately $10 (currently the amount is 4 gigabytes), it has to be said that movie files rapidly outrun the capabilities of USB flash storage.

Furthermore, I have never had enough storage to carry out proper back ups. So, a week or so ago the time had come to buy a portable external USB hard drive. A quick survey of the options at Fry's Electronics led to the purchase of a Seagate FreeAgent Go 320 GB USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive, for $69.99.

I did not know what to expect from this device. It is small and light, the pictures on the web do not really convey how small it is. I don't know enough about drive specifications etc. to know what to expect in terms of performance. However, so far I have been very impressed. The small form factor, and the lack of a power source, other than that supplied by the USB port, do not seem to affect the unit's practical performance, in comparison with a much larger and heavier external USB drive in my possession. It is so small and portable that it isn't a chore to move this around with the laptop and from computer to computer. In addition to its size it is quiet, my larger external drive emits a constant low frequency hum, but the FreeAgent drive is very quiet.

The Seagate name and the 5-year guarantee that the device is given also reassured me.

My first test involved simply using the supplied software to back up my Windows XP laptop. This was achieved quite rapidly - much faster than I was expecting given the volume of files that were sent through the USB cable. I didn't monitor the entire process - but that the initial back up took several hours, for 40 gigabytes of data.

The back up software produces a mirror of your hard drive on the USB drive. Additionally if you remove files a number of levels of backup are retained in a 'history' directory and these can be restored from the Seagate Manager interface, if and when you decide that you need to pull something back from electronic oblivion. The installation procedure sets up a service, which the manager program uses to determine the status of the backup drive. The service is relatively unintrusive - although it seems to have a problem shutting down cleanly sometimes when I restart the machine.

After the initial back up, only files that are modified are backed up. So, after your first back up, everything is very fast.

A potential problem with this type of back up approach is that it will not be possible to restore the machine completely from a back up - if the laptop's hard drive dies completely. For one thing, the back up software skips many system files (this isn't a tool that creates an image of your hard disk). However, if a major catastrophe happens, I will be happy to reinstall Windows XP, with just the programs that I actually use, and the data files will come from the back up directories on the FreeAgent drive. (Furthermore, I will take the opportunity to not install various programs like the Microsoft disk indexing service - which appear to be doing me no good whatsoever, but are hard to remove once installed).

All in all, the software that comes with the drive seems quite good - and I have not felt the need yet to change it.

And with around 300 gigabytes available - there is enough space to back up my laptop - and store many home movies and other data files. Copying movie files onto the machine took little time again - and soon another 40 gigabytes had disappeared.

There is an interesting trade-off between complete automation of back ups and careful control of your compute resources. So far, I have let the Seagate back up software control the back ups. At some point I might switch over to an rsync or tar based approach (I use Cygwin on Windows XP). So far I have not felt the need to do so. (Using a tar based approach would let me do simple incremental back ups - which might be fun as now (at least temporarily) I have the available disk space.

So far I am very impressed with the FreeAgent.

At this rate - I might buy another similar device to store a second copy of everything off site.

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