At first glance, the Seagate FreeAgent Pro looks like a NAS drive: all of the online literature talks about accessing your data anywhere. It turns out that it's a desktop drive bundled with a backup application that makes it easy to copy your data to a variety of portable devices or to Seagate's Internet Drive (the company's online storage service). We found the bundled software simple to use and although a remote-accessible NAS drive is a better device than the FreeAgent Pro for true "anywhere access," setting up such a drive may prove daunting to many users, as it requires futzing with ports on your router. The FreeAgent Pro requires some device and data juggling, but it's manageable. At $320 for the 750GB USB 2.0/eSATA version and $340 for the 750GB USB 2.0/eSATA/FireWire version, it's a good deal, too. If you don't mind the thought of messing with your router, you should consider a NAS drive such as the Maxtor Fusion. Otherwise, the Seagate FreeAgent Pro is a great device for storage, backup, and sharing.
The FreeAgent Pro family includes six members in three capacities: 320GB, 500GB, and 750GB. Each capacity comes in two versions: USB 2.0/eSATA or USB 2.0/eSATA/FireWire 400 (we reviewed the 750GB USB 2.0/eSATA/FireWire version). eSATA will give you the fastest performance, but you'll need the appropriate hardware to use that option. All capacities offer a 7,200rpm drive.
Seagate gave the FreeAgent Pro an unusually slick design. It's wrapped in a smooth, black case, and the narrow sides of the drive are trimmed in orange, which glows when the drive is powered on. Though the literature that comes with the drive talks about its "portability," the drive is a bit too heavy and unwieldy to be easily portable. It measures 7.5 inches tall, 1.4 inches wide, and 6.3 inches deep, while the base measures 1 inch tall, 3 inches wide, and 5.2 inches deep. The whole unit weighs about 2 pounds.
The drive sits vertically on the base, which houses the connector ports and power port. The base can't be detached, but in the models that include FireWire 400 connectivity, you can remove the USB/eSATA module from the bottom of the base and replace it with the dual-connector FireWire module. The drive's power button is mounted on and is touch sensitive; we noticed that you need to hold the power button for a few moments before the drive reacts.
Despite all the descriptions Seagate provides about accessing your content from anywhere, the FreeAgent Pro is not a network-attached drive. It's simply a hard drive bundled with software that allows you to easily copy your data to multiple locations, including Seagate's servers. When you first connect the drive to your Windows PC, the drive will begin the process of installing the preloaded software onto your PC. (Note: Mac users can reformat the drive and use it as normal desktop hard drive but won't be able to use the FreeAgent Pro software.) The process takes a surprisingly long time, so be patient. Upon completion, you should see shortcuts for both the Memeo Backup and the FreeAgent software on your desktop.
The Memeo AutoBackup software lets you create multiple backup tasks using a click-through guide. You start by choosing your backup location: a hard drive (presumably the Seagate drive in this case, but potentially any other connected hard drive); Seagate Internet Drive (on Seagate's servers; more on this below); a network location; a flash drive; or an iPod. You can decide how many versions you want of each file and whether you want the files encrypted; if you choose to encrypt files, you'll need to use the AutoBackup software to restore them. Then select what files and folders you want backed up. The SmartPicks window lets you choose by broad categories: My Documents, My Pictures, browser bookmarks, photos and music, and so on. Alternately, you can manually choose specific folders or designate items by file extension and you can exclude particular file types as well. Because AutoBackup is a real-time backup program, it runs only when files in the designated folders have changed or when you add a file. For detachable targets such as a flash drive or an iPod, a backup will occur the next time you plug that device into your PC.
One of the backup target options is Seagate's Memeo Internet Drive--basically online storage space on Seagate's servers. With each FreeAgent Pro, you get a free six-month trial of 500MB. Otherwise, it costs $5.95 monthly or $49.95 annually for 1GB of space and $11.95 monthly or $119.95 annually for 5GB of space. You can access the Internet Drive from either AutoBackup or the FreeAgent tools window. Both open a page in your default browser. To upload files, you can browse for them individually or use drag-and-drop; you'll need to have Java installed to do the latter. You can create subfolders within the drive, set certain folders to be shared and user permissions (read-only; read/write; read/write/delete; write-only), and e-mail files from the Internet drive. Recipients of the file receive a link that expires after 14 days or five attempts. You can also view a history: who you've sent files to and whether they've downloaded said files.