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.
Similarly, you can use AutoBackup to share photos online via Shutterfly. The first time you set up the photo backup, designate which folders/photos you want uploaded to your Shutterfly account. Each time you alter a photo or add one to one of the chosen folders, the AutoBackup program will update your Shutterfly account.
The FreeAgent Tools replicates a couple of the offerings in AutoBackup. For example, clicking the Backup and Restore tab simply launches the AutoBackup software. And clicking on Internet Drive launches a browser window to the Internet Drive. But FreeAgent Tools also lets you create system rollback points, much as Windows XP does. In this case, you can manually create a restore point or set up automatic restore points in intervals of 4 hours (ranging from 4 to 24 hours). If you need to restore files, you can also use the FreeAgent Tools. Finally, the FreeAgent Tools software lets you monitor attached FreeAgent drives and offers utilities that let you adjust the drive's lights, alter the drive's sleep intervals, and run diagnostics.
Ultimately, a NAS drive that you can access remotely is a more elegant solution for true "anywhere" access to your data. The Seagate FreeAgent Pro requires you to manually connect drives for backup or have the foresight to upload the files you'll need to the Internet Drive (and you may have to purchase more Internet Drive capacity to have all your data accessible anywhere). That said, once you do set up the backup plans, it's a simple task to plug in your designated device and the backup runs automatically (the Internet Drive will be continually updated as long as your PC is connected to the Internet). For users who are daunted by the thought of opening ports or messing with DDNS, the FreeAgent Pro is a well-designed manual workaround.
For this review, CNET Labs tested a 750GB USB 2.0/eSATA/FireWire drive in USB mode. When writing a 10GB folder of mixed file types, it took the Seagate FreeAgent Pro 9 minutes, 46 seconds for a rate of 17.48MBps. Reading back the same file took 8 minutes, 21 seconds for a rate of 20.45MBps. This puts the FreeAgent Pro behind the LaCie d2 Quadra drive, which wrote the folder in 6 minutes, 7 seconds and read it back in 6 minutes, 41 seconds, but in front of the Western Digital MyBook Premium Edition. We were happy with its performance--most users will be, as well.
Though we didn't test the eSATA transfer speed (we're not yet equipped to do so), you can expect much faster speeds than what we clocked over USB 2.0. Where USB 2.0's maximum speed is accepted to be 480Mbps and FireWire 400's to be 400Mbps, eSATA's max speed is around 2,400Mbps. Unfortunately, few PC's come with the hardware necessary to use the eSATA connector on the FreeAgent Pro. If you'd like to take advantage of the fast transfer speeds, you'll need to update your system with an eSATA host bus adapter.
Service and support
Seagate backs the FreeAgent Pro with a very generous five-year warranty. Toll-free phone service is available weekdays, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. MT, or you can e-mail technical support via a Web form (though the included manual also provides a designated e-mail address) or fax. Seagate's support site offers installation and troubleshooting assistance, a download library, a knowledgebase, and a drive troubleshooter.