Seagate GoFlex: Portable storage goes superflexible

Seagate unveils an entirely new line of external storage solutions called FreeAgent GoFlex that sport a very flexible adapter design.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
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The new 1TB FreeAgent GoFlex portable hard drive from Seagate. Dong Ngo/CNET

For a while, it has seemed impossible to design anything new or innovative when it comes to portable hard drives other than to increase their storage space or add minor features, like an e-label, in the case of the WD My Passport Studio. As it turns out, however, Seagate has been working on another major evolution.

The company announced Tuesday an entirely new line of storage solutions called FreeAgent GoFlex that emphasizes flexibility. The new storage family includes both portable and desktop external drives. Each comes with an array of cable adapters that allow it to quickly switch to difference interfaces. With this new family, the concept of an external hard drive has changed significantly.

Traditionally, an external hard drive has circuit boards with selective built-in ports for different interfaces. These interfaces includes USB 2.0, USB 3.0, FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and eSATA. Low-end or ultraportable drives generally support USB 2.0 only, whereas higher-end and desktop drives tend to support more interfaces. However, all of them share one common shortcoming: they are stuck with whatever ports they come with.

Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex (photos)

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With Seagate's new FreeAgent GoFlex design, an external hard drive is now divided into two parts, the storage and the cable adapter. The storage part is just the hard drive itself with no circuit board. Essentially, it's like any internal SATA hard drive with a protective case. The second part is a small adapter that can be snapped-in tight on the first part to make it a complete external storage solution. The two connect via the standard SATA interface.

An adapter contains the circuit board that determines the functionality of the drive and can be designed to support different interfaces and features. Each FreeAgent GoFlex drive will come with a USB 2.0 adapter of its own and have the capability of working with any other adapters. This way, your new external hard drive can be quickly changed to support any interface or have any added features that Seagate offers.

The best thing about the new snap-in adapter design is that the adapters also work with any internal hard drives. This means you can use them as a docking station, such as the NexStar or the Ineo, in case you need to quickly connect an internal hard drive to a computer. Due to a powering issue, the laptop adapter for the FreeAgent GoFlex drive can support only 2.5-inch internal hard drives, whereas the desktop adapter can support both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SATA hard drives.

Seagate says many people planning to purchase a new hard drive consider the interface connection to be an important factor, and its new design addresses this concern. This is especially true during the transition to USB 3.0. The GoFlex cable system, or adapter, enables the GoFlex and GoFlex Pro ultraportable USB 2.0 drives to be upgraded to USB 3.0--in addition to eSATA or FireWire 800 connections--simply by switching out the cable adapter.

The cable adapter can also provide additional features. For example, the GoFlex Upgrade cable--Auto Backup adds the Auto Backup feature. Also, for the first time, Seagate will include an NTFS driver for Mac OS X on all GoFlex portable and desktop drives. This means all of the new drives will allow your Mac to read and write drives formatted in Windows' popular NTFS file system. Without this software driver, Mac OS X can read only NTFS-formatted drives.

The new GoFlex family also includes two other products, the GoFlex TV HD media player and the GoFlex Net media sharing device. The former is the upgrade to the FreeAgent Threater+, and the latter is a network storage server. Both of these devices are designed to host the storage part of any portable FreeAgent GoFlex drive. They can also host other USB-based storage devices via included USB ports.

The FreeAgent GoFlex external hard drives are available now with capacities ranging from 320GB to 2TB and prices from $100 to $200, depending on capacities and configuration. The upgrade cable adapters are priced from $20 to $40, depending on the interfaces and features they support. Check out Justin Yu's full review of the FreeAgent GoFlex portable hard drive.

The GoFlex TV HD media player and the FreeAgent GoFlex Net media sharing device will be available later this month and are slated to cost $130 and $100, respectively.