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The FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-portable is an upgrade to Seagate's excellent FreeAgent GoFlex Pro that increases the storage amount to 1.5TB, making it the largest single-volume portable external hard drive to date. The drive is also the first in the GoFlex family that supports USB 3.0 out of the box. Other than that, the drive shares Seagate's GoFlex family's superflexible detachable adapter design, allowing it to instantly change the types of connections it supports.
The GoFlex Ultra disappointed us a bit with its comparatively low USB 3.0 performance, unfortunately, though it was still really fast in our tests. However, even with this shortcoming, at around $250 for 1.5TB, it's still one of the best portable external hard drives on the market.
|Drive type||2.5-inch external USB hard drive|
|Connector options||USB 2.0, eSATA, USB 3.0, FireWire 800|
|Size (LWH)||4.71 by 3.5 by .87 inches|
|Capacity of test unit||1.5TB|
|OSes supported||Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista, 7), Mac OS 10.4.6 or higher|
|Software included||Memeo Instant Backup|
The GoFlex Ultra comes in the exact same physical shape, size, and color as the GoFlex Pro. On the inside, however, it has two major improvements. First, it comes with 1.5TB of storage, while the GoFlex Pro has just 1TB. And second, out of the box, the Ultra includes a USB 3.0 adapter. Even though GoFlex Pro also supports USB 3.0, it comes with USB 2.0, and you'll need to pay another $40 or so to upgrade it to USB 3.0.
Like all drives in the GoFlex family, the Ultra comes in two parts: the hard drive and the adapter. The hard drive is basically just a 2.5-inch internal hard drive housed in a plastic chassis. On one side, the drive's housing has a small opening to reveal the internal hard drive's standard SATA female connector. The adapter part has a male SATA connector and a mini-USB 3.0 port. These two parts can be snapped onto each other and fit tightly to form the GoFlex external hard drive. The drive comes with just one mini-USB 3.0 cable, which serves both as a data and power cable.
With this flexible design, the drive can support connection types other than USB 3.0 simply by using other adapters, though these, unfortunately, cost extra. However, as USB 3.0 currently is the fastest peripheral connection for external hard drives and is backward compatible with USB 2.0, it's unlikely that you'll need to buy other adapters. However, if you bought eSATA or FireWire adapters to use with the previous GoFlex Pro drives, you can use them with the GoFlex Ultra, too.
We really love the innovative, flexible design; it means you can use the hard drives and the adapters interchangeably when you have multiple GoFlex portable drives in the house. Or you can use just one drive with multiple adapters, which is an ideal scenario for an environment with multiple computers that have different types of peripheral connections. For example, you can use a USB 3.0 adapter with one computer and a FireWire adapter with another. You then can conveniently move the hard-drive part around and leave the adapters attached to their respective computers at all times.
Another great thing about this design is the fact that these adapters can also be used with any internal 2.5-inch SATA hard drives, even those not made by Seagate. This makes the GoFlex Ultra a great investment, especially for those who work often with laptop internal hard drives.
The GoFlex Ultra drive is preformatted using the NTFS file system (Windows), but it comes with a software driver that allows Macs to read and write to NTFS. This is similar to the FreeAgent Pro's case and allows the drive to be used between the two platforms without having to use FAT32, which limits the maximum file size to less than 4GB (unsuitable for storing high-def content).
Seagate boasts the GoFlex Ultra-portable as a perfect companion to the its networked media player, the GoFlex TV, as it can store up to 60 high-definition movies. And as to prove this, the company even partnered with Paramount Pictures to include 21 movie titles preloaded on the drive. These are popular titles such as: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Star Trek," "Ghost," "Shooter," "G.I. Joe," and so on. Unfortunately, these movies are not free, and you'll need to purchase and activate them before you can play them back using a computer or the GoFlex TV.
The GoFlex Ultra is the second portable drive that comes preloaded with movies, following the FreeAgent Go. Each movie costs around $10 to $15 to unlock, which is somewhat expensive. If you don't want to buy the movies, you can simply delete them from the "Movies" folder on the hard drive to restore the occupied storage space.
The GoFlex Ultra comes bundled with Memeo Backup software that you can choose to install. The software is rather limited in its local backup functionality and comes bloated with many features that try to coerce people into buying premium services. For this reason, we would recommend using third-party backup software with the drive.
Unlike the GoFlex Pro, which was only tested with USB 2.0, we tested the GoFlex Ultra with both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 and experienced mixed results.
In USB 2.0 tests, the Ultra excelled, topping our charts in the read test with 41.9MBps. In write it was also the second fastest at 28.8MBps, just a tad slower than the 29.8MBps of the Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus.
It was a different story with USB 3.0, however. While the GoFlex Ultra was still fast, it was less so than the average of the other USB 3.0 external hard drives we've reviewed.
In the write test, the drive scored 78.8MBps, significantly faster than the 69.9MBps of the Buffalo Cobalt, but also far slower than the 106.6 MBps of the WD My Book 3.0. Note, however, that the My Book 3.0 is a desktop external hard drive. Among laptop external hard drives, the GoFlex Ultra was the second fastest in the write test, slightly slower than the 86MBps of its predecessor Seagate BlackArmor PS 110 USB 3.0. In the USB 3.0 read test, the GoFlex Ultra registered 89.7MBps, making it the second slowest on our charts.
It's worth noting, however, that while it was comparatively not the fastest, the drive is still a very fast external hard drive, merely because USB 3.0 is far superior to any other existing type of peripheral connection for external storage.
Service and support
Seagate backs the FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra with a two-year warranty, which is one year shorter than what it offers for the portable version, the GoFlex Pro. This is a little disappointing, especially because Seagate often offers warranties of up to five years for other products. Seagate's Web site contains a comprehensive list of forums, knowledge bases, driver downloads, installation help, and FAQs to help you troubleshoot your drive. The company's technical support is also available via live chat, e-mail, and phone from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. PT weekdays.