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Seagate GoFlex Satellite review: Seagate GoFlex Satellite

Seagate GoFlex Satellite

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Dong Ngo
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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.

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Seagate's GoFlex family of portable external hard drives has been by far the most flexible on the market, thanks to the exchangeable port adapter design. Today, however, the company proved that it could get even better, with the introduction of the GoFlex Satellite.

Seagate GoFlex Satellite
8.1

Seagate GoFlex Satellite

The Good

Seagate's good-looking and compact GoFlex Satellite is a new breed of external hard drives that can stream digital content stored on it via a built-in Wi-Fi network. As an external hard drive, the device features USB 3.0, is relatively fast, compact, flexible, and offers uncompromising support for both Macs and PCs.

The Bad

The GoFlex Satellite supports only three wireless clients at a time, doesn't allow for Internet access, and its USB 3.0 performance could be better. The drive's included GoFlex Media iPad app takes a long time to load photos and doesn't work in the background.

The Bottom Line

Despite a few minor shortcomings, the GoFlex Satellite makes an excellent direct-attach external storage solution for anyone and a must-have for those who frequently travel with Apple's iPad.

The new device is basically a portable external hard drive, almost exactly the same as the GoFlex Pro or the GoFlex Ultra-portable. On top of that it has a built-in battery and a Wi-Fi access point that broadcasts digital content stored on it. With the proliferation of tablets and mobile devices, this added feature makes the GoFlex Satellite an instant must-have, especially for owners of the storage-constraint iPad, as long as they don't use more than three of them at the same time.

As an external hard drive, the $200 GoFlex Satellite features USB 3.0 and offered fast performance in our tests. Supporting both PCs and Macs out of the box, the drive makes a good external hard drive for any user. If you have an iPad and want to carry a large digital content library on the go, the GoFlex Satellite--with an included car charger--also makes an excellent storage extender for your tablet.

Drive type 2.5-inch external USB hard drive with wireless N access point
Connector options USB 2.0, USB 3.0
Size (LWH) 4.72 x 3.46 x 1.26 inches
n/a n/a
GoFlex Media app for iOS-based devices. .59 pound
Available capacities 500 GB
OSes supported iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista, 7), Mac OS 10.5.8 or later
Software included NTFS driver for Mac OS or and HFS+ driver for Windows.

As an external hard drive, the GoFlex Satellite is so similar to the GoFlex Ultra-portable--both in the physical look and functionality--that it would be redundant to go into details about how it works.

In a nutshell, like the rest of the drives in Seagate's GoFlex family of portable hard drives, the drive 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 with a small opening to reveal the internal hard drive's standard SATA female connector. The included adapter part has a male SATA connector and a miniUSB 3.0 port. These two parts can be snapped onto each other and fit tightly to form the GoFlex Satellite external hard drive. The drive supports USB 3.0 and comes with a miniUSB 3.0 cable, which serves both as a data and power cable. It also comes with a second separate power cable that can draw power from a USB port of a computer or the included car charger and wall power adapter. The drive will also work with other GoFlex adapters that support other connection types, such as FireWire or eSATA.

While other GoFlex portable drives always need the second adapter part to work, the GoFlex doesn't. It has a built-in wireless-N access point, to which up to three wireless devices can connect. Once connected, if the client has a full-feature Internet browser, it can then browse and stream digital content, including music, photos, and movies stored on the drive. For the best streaming experience, however, you'll need to use a laptop or most preferably an iPad. Seagate bundles the Satellite with an iPad app called "GoFlex Media"--also works with the iPhone or iPod Touch--which can do the browsing and streaming much better than via the Internet browser. The app can also download selected content from the GoFlex Satellite drive onto the iPad so that you can access them without having to use the drive, or when the drive is out of battery. Note that the downloaded content can only be played and viewed via the GoFlex Media app, it can't be integrated into the iPad's library.

By default, each GoFlex Satellite has an open Wi-Fi network with a random name that starts with "GoFlex Satellite." (You can change this later and add an encryption key via the iPad app or the browser.) All you have to do is connect the iPad to this network and run the GoFlex Media app. The rest is self-explanatory: the content is organized into categories, including Video, Music, Photo, and Documents, or you can also choose to browse them by folders. After that you can select to play/view each item individually or the selected ones, or the entire album.

The device can stream basically all content supported by the iPad including videos (H.264 video, MPEG-4, and Motion-JPEG), audio (AAC, MP3, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4), Apple Lossless, A IFF, WAV), documents (Microsoft Office, iWork, Adobe) and photos. To get content on the GoFlex Satellite drive, the fastest way is to connect it to a computer and use it as an external hard drive. For iPad users who want to carry their entirely library, just drag and drop the iTunes Music/Media folder onto the drive. The device then automatically detects and organizes new streamable content in to the respective categories to make them available to the GoFlex Media app. Alternatively, if you connect a computer to the GoFlex Satellite's Wi-Fi network, you can also upload content via the Web browser, though this way is much slower.


The GoFlex Satellite's included GoFlex Media turns the iPad into a media streamer for content stored on the drive.

The GoFlex Satellite's Wi-Fi network can support just three wireless clients at a time, which is very limited. Seagate says that this can be changed later via a firmware update and the reason for this is to ensure the bandwidth for a good streaming experience. Another drawback is the fact that the device can't work with an existing Wi-Fi network, or even a wired network to offer access to the Internet at the same time. For now, iPad owners have to pick either to connect to it, and stream media, or to another wireless network to gain access to the Internet. For this reason, for now, if you want to have access to both at the same time, you'll need an iPad that has 3G support. Seagate says that it plans to make the device also work as a Wi-Fi extender via a firmware update.

Despite the added Wi-Fi network and an internal battery, the GoFlex Satellite is about the same physical size as the GoFlex Ultra-portable, and is very compact. It has a power button on a size that you need to press and hold for a few seconds to turn it on or off. On top it has two status lights, one for the wireless network and the second to show the battery/power condition.

The GoFlex Satellite can work as either an external hard drive or the Wi-Fi storage extender at a time. This is why the second power cable is necessary. It only charges the device without changing its operation mode. When plugged in to a computer using the USB 3.0 adapter, on the other hand, the drive will automatically work as an external hard drive, though it will also charge it internal hard drive this way.

The GoFlex Satellite comes in black and is preformatted using the NTFS file system (Windows). However, it comes with a software driver that enables Macs to have full read and write access to it. This is similar to the rest of the GoFlex family and adds a significant deal to the flexibility of the drive, as well as the value in terms of usage. Without the software, the only way for a drive to work with both platforms is using FAT32, which limits the maximum file size to less than 4GB (unsuitable for storing high-def content).

Performance
We tested the GoFlex Satellite both as a storage extender for the iPad and a regular external hard drive.

As a storage extender, it worked well and can stream content to an iPad that's up to 100 feet away. Obviously, the further the distance, the longer the buffering time is needed. The device works best when it's about 75 feet or closer from the streamer. We did notice that the GoFlex Media app took a long time, up to a few minutes, to do the "fetching initial data" when display photos individually. Oddly, this didn't happen with music or videos or when multiple photos are selected.

Another complaint is the fact that the app doesn't work in the background, this means you can't play music from the GoFlex Media while doing other things on the iPad, such as reading a book or playing a puzzle game. The app also crashed a few times during our trial. As this is the initial release, we hope this will be fixed via an update. It's important to note, however, that most of the time, the app worked well and as intended.

In our trials, the GoFlex Satellite's battery indeed offered about 5 hours of continuous streaming. The drive got rather warm after working for an extended amount of time, which we found normal for a device of its type.

As an external hard drive, the GoFlex Satellite offered about the same performance as others in the GoFlex portable family in USB 2.0 tests, scoring 28.8MBps and 37.2MBps for writing and reading, respectively, among the top three of the chart. In USB 3.0 tests, on the other hand, the drive, though much faster than when used with USB 2.0, wasn't as fast as most other USB 3.0 we've reviewed, registering 69.3MBps for writing and 76.1MBps for reading. Nonetheless, at these speeds, the drive will work for quickly transferring a large a mount of storage.

CNET Labs USB 2.0 external hard drive performance scores
(Measured in MB per second/Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Read  
Write  
Seagate GoFlex Satellite
32.7 
28.8 
LaCie FastKey
36.6 
28.8 
ioSafe SoloPro
36.6 
28.7 
LaCie Minimus USB 3.0
36.5 
28.7 
Clickfree C2N
40.1 
28.2 
Seagate GoFlex Slim
37.3 
27.7 
LG N1T1
24.8 
17.6 

CNET Labs external hard drive USB 3.0 Performance Scores
( Measured in MB per second/Longer bars indicate faster performance.)
Read  
Write  
LaCie Minimus USB 3.0
104.9 
87.7 
LaCie FastKey
115.5 
87.1 
Seagate GoFlex Slim
101.9 
82.4 
ioSafe SoloPro
106 
77.1 
Seagate GoFlex Satellite
76.1 
69.3 

Service and support
As with the GoFlex Ultra Slim, Seagate backs the GoFlex Satellite with a three-year warranty, which is one year longer than that of the GoFlex Ultra-portable. This is good news as the length of warranty is the most important factor for storage devices when it comes to service and support. 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.

Conclusion
The four-star GoFlex Satellite didn't receive our Editors' Choice award only because of its lack of support for Internet access and comparatively low USB 3.0 performance. Nonetheless, at its current state, the device still makes an excellent portable hard drive and a must-have for iPad owners.

Seagate GoFlex Satellite
8.1

Seagate GoFlex Satellite

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 9Performance 7Support 7