If you are a fan of Seagate's new, superflexible FreeAgent GoFlex Desk external hard drives, you'll probably love the GoFlex Home NAS server. It comes with either 1TB or 2TB of storage, and can also turn any GoFlex Desk external hard drive into a network storage device. It has a convenient remote-access solution and decent performance.
However, the GoFlex Home's offers only a short list of features, a difficult Web interface, a mediocre desktop application, and its built-in storage is limited to 2TB.
But for about $160 for 1TB (about $230 for the 2TB version), the GoFlex Home still will make a decent investment for those who wants a simple network storage device for their home. However, if you want more features and the capability to add more storage, we recommend the HP MediaSmart Server LX195.
Design and setup
The GoFlex Home NAS server shares a similar design with the GoFlex Desk external hard drive. The device comes in two parts: the external hard drive, which is the same as that of any GoFlex Desk drive, and the adapter/base part.
The adapter part of the GoFlex Desk external hard drive provides a direct-attach connection (USB, FireWire, or eSATA), and the adapter of the GoFlex Home NAS server provides a Gigabit network connection. It also has an additional USB port to connect more storage or a printer.
We preferred the design of the GoFlex Home's base to that of the GoFlex Desk external hard drive. It's significantly wider and therefore helps the device stay firm on the surface. Even with this wider base, the whole package remains compact for a single-volume NAS server.
The GoFlex Home comes either with 1TB or 2TB of storage. However, it works with any existing GoFlex Desk hard drive, except for the 3TB version, at least in our trials. This is rather disappointing since it means the NAS's built-in storage is limited to only 2TB before you have to resort to using its USB port to add more storage. We hope Seagate will change with an updated firmware.
It's easy to get the GoFlex Home up and running. The NAS server comes with setup software that helps identify the server in the network and map all the share folders to the computer. On top of that, it also installs Seagate Dashboard, which you can use later to customize the device.
Note, however, that you will need to have an Internet connection to set up the device as it requires you to enter a unique name for the NAS server and register it with Seagate. This name is later used to access the server remotely via the Internet. This means if you want to use the NAS server in an isolated network, it might not be possible to set it up.
This Internet-dependent initial setup is similar to that of the Verbatim Mediashare; however, the GoFlex Home's setup process is much simpler.
The Seagate Dashboard software has a fancy look with large, colorful buttons, but we didn't like it. The software, powered by Memeo backup service, seems more of a gimmick than something useful. Most of its buttons don't do what one might expect from the descriptions.
For example, there's a button called "Load Content" with the description "Quickly load files onto your GoFlex Home drive." When we clicked on it there was nothing but a pop-up window that explains that you can copy files onto the mapped network drives using Windows Explorer via drag and drop--something that everybody who has used a computer before already knows.
Other buttons do similar--rather useless--things. The "Folder View" for example, just shows the NAS server's share folders in Windows Explorer. To be fair, the software could be useful to those who've hardly ever used a computer before.
Technically, you can work with the NAS server without using the software. For example, you can get to the server's Web interface by pointing a browser to its IP address, and you can browse for the server's share folders using Windows Explorer and map the share folders manually. On a Mac computer, the server automatically appears in Finder.
The part of the Seagate Dashboard desktop software that's helpful is rather limited, and there's a huge section at the bottom of the interface to coerce users into buying premium service from Memeo.
The GoFlex Home has almost exactly the same firmware as that of the Verbatim MediaShare. Both of these devices are powered by Hipserv, a technology based on Marvell's wall-plug computer initiative. This means, similar to the Verbatim, the GoFlex Home's Web interface is also oversimplified to the point that it's counterintuitive. People will need to figure out how to use it via trial and error, as the descriptions are often inconsistent or ambiguous.
What is not ambiguous, however, is the way the GoFlex Home manages data. The server offers two types of share folders: public and private. The public share folder's name is "GoFlex Home Public," which, by default, gives everybody full access to it. The private share folder's name is "GoFlex Home Personal," to which only the currently logged-in user has access.
If you want to use a GoFlex Desk external hard drive already containing data as storage for the GoFlex Home NAS server, existing data on the GoFlex Desk will be shared as subfolders of the default public share folder.
Other than these two default share folders, there is also "External Storage" for content of the external hard drive connected to the server's USB port and "GoFlex Home Backup" that contains the backups of network computers. You can create more folders within these default shares but you can't create new shares.
Out of the box, the GoFlex Home allows for five user accounts. An admin user can add, change, and remove more users and determine whether a user has access to the public share folder. For more users, you have to opt for the Seagate Share Pro subscription that costs $19.99 a year after a 30-day free trial.
Apart from increasing the amount of user accounts to unlimited, the premium service allows for secure FTP, accessing and sharing the data stored on the server via a mobile phone, and Flickr integration. Depending on the type of data, you can view it as a photo album or play back audio and video files. You can also use the service to integrate social Web sites, such as Facebook and Flickr, with the digital content on the NAS server.
The GoFlex Home comes with a vendor-assisted remote access via the Seagateshare Web site. At this site, a user can sign in by entering the NAS server's unique name, username, and password, and access data stored on the server as well as access the server's Web interface, similar to how it is done via the local network.
We tried this out and while it worked as intended, its initial loading time was rather long--up to a minute. However, the load time depends on the Internet connection at both ends and the router to which the GoFlex Home is connected to.
The GoFlex Home can handle external hard drives formatted in both FAT32 and NTFS. Once plugged in, the hard drive's content is immediately shared as "External Storage" and its content is made available to all users.
Unfortunately, you can't use the connected USB external hard drive as the destination to back up the data stored on the server's main hard drive. This means it's not safe to use the server's included storage to store important data.
The GoFlex Home offered mixed performance in our testing. On one hand, it was the fastest among single-volume NAS servers in the read test with a score of 453.8Mbps, which was significantly faster than the runner-up, the Verbabtim MediaShare with a score of 435.1Mbps.
On the other hand, in the write test, the GoFlex registered just 152.7Mbps, which was the second slowest on our charts.
What's interesting is unlike the GoFlex Desk external hard drive, the GoFlex Home NAS server remained cool even during heavy loads.
Service and support
Seagate backs the GoFlex Home Network Storage System with a two-year warranty. Generally, we like to see a longer warranty period; however, considering that most NAS servers from other manufacturers come with just a one-year warranty, this is still relatively generous. Seagate's Web site contains a comprehensive list of forums, knowledge bases, driver downloads, installation help, and FAQs to help you troubleshoot your NAS server. 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.