The FreeAgent drives come in a variety of colors and form-factors. There are models for Windows desktops, Macintosh desktops and portable computers (“FreeAgent Go”). These units can be docked in an optional docking station (“DockStar”) which provides access to the storage over the Internet. The device used in this review is the FreeAgent Desk for Windows.
Capacity: 500 GB, 1 TB, 1.5 TB, 2 TB (1 TB model reviewed)
USB 2.0, up to 480 Mb/s
File Types: Windows – NTFS; Macintosh – Mac OS Extended Format
Inexpensive. The 2 Terabyte model sells for around $150.00 US.
Attractive and sturdy enclosure.
Easy to setup.
Comes with optional automatic backup and encryption software.
Includes a 5-year warranty for home use.
Includes nag-ware which can be turned off but leaves traces.
Some users can’t boot with the drive connected.
Automatic Updates can’t be switched off.
Seagate FreeAgent Installation
Connecting the Seagate is a snap, and simply involves plugging the power supply into an electric outlet and connecting the USB cable between the drive and a computer. All recent versions of Windows (XP and above) will “see” the new drive.
The installation programs are on the drive itself, as are the user guides (in multiple languages) and the warranty policy. The unit carries a 5 year warranty, but note that commercial use is not covered.
Installation of the software is optional, the drive will work fine in Windows without it. The software does have some very nice features however, like automatic backup, encryption, and syncing files between a computer and the drive, or even between computers.
One annoying feature of the software installation is the fact that it loads a resident program which pops up a message offering on-line data backup and retrieval with a product called “Carbonite.” This nagware can be removed with Windows’ “Add and Remove” interface, but even then traces were left in the registry. Cache Cleaner removed them.
Accessing the FreeAgent Drive in Windows
The FreeAgent drive can be used in Windows (without using the Seagate Manager software) through the normal Windows Explorer, or any Windows software that reads and writes files. Windows will assign the FreeAgent drive a letter just like an internal hard drive.
A problem arose when I tried to restart the PC with the FreeAgent drive connected to the USB port. The computer simply froze during Power Up. Other users have reported that disabling “legacy USB support” in the system BIOS resolved the issue, but this did not work for me. It is likely that a BIOS update would help. In the mean time, I have to power up the computer with the drive dis-connected, then plug in the USB cable once Windows is running.
Using Seagate Manager
The software consists primarily of the Seagate Manager, which will launch itself at the end of installation, or can be launched from an icon in the notification area of the task bar. The first run will guide the user through setting up automated backups, perform an initial backup, and set some other configuration options. The following list outlines the major functions of the Seagate Manager Nsoftware.
My Drives: Settings, drive status, and testing options.
Power Settings: adjust idle time before drive goes into power saving mode. Default is 15 minutes.
Test: perform a non-destructive read / write test of the drive.
Drive Lights: turn on or off the drive LED lights (default is ON).
Check for software updates.Automatic Backup: Setup daily backups.
Edit backup plans (folders, file types, and schedule).
Delete backup plans.
View backed-up files. This just opens an explorer window on the files on the external drive.
Restore files. Choose from up to 10 previous revisions of a file, or just drag the most recent version in an explorer window.
Sync: Automatically keep files on the computer and on the drive up to date. Can be used to facilitate keeping files the same across multiple computers (requires connecting the drive to each computer separately).
Simple: just keeps the “My Documents” folder up to date.
Custom: select the folders and file types to synchronize, and choose whether to sync automatically or on demand.
Security: Create encryption folders for safely storing confidential files. Just choose a password, and drag and drop files into the encryption folder to encrypt them, and drag them out (to an explorer window or the desktop) to decrypt them.
Seagate Manager Usage Notes
The backup utility will not back up certain files, notably, operating system files. That means the software is not suitable for making complete copies of an installation, also known as “ghosting” a system. For this, a good option is Macrium Reflect. Note that using the normal Windows Explorer, any files can be copied to the FreeAgent drive.
By default, all file types except operating system files are backed up at 10:00 PM daily. Other file type options include media files only, and a customized setting where any files can be included and/or excluded by type. The schedule can be modified by specifying the time, and the specific days, that the backup will occur.
In “Settings” there is an option to enable or disable automatically checking for software updates. Regardless of how I have this set, my firewall reports that the “Seagate Toaster” application tries every day to connect to the Internet to look for updates.
One thing to note about the encryption feature of the software is the fact that it does not require the password for decrypting files if the drive is connected to the same computer it was when the files were encrypted, and the same user is logged in. This confuses many new users who assume that the password should be required at least once per session. If this behavior is desired, there are many free encryption options for PC users, most of which would work fine with these drives.
Using the FreeAgent on Other Operating Systems
I re-tested this drive with a PC running FreeBSD using the default driver for NTFS. This works fine for read-only access, but writing to the drive is not possible. I then installed NTFS_3G (Community Edition), an NTFS driver for Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and Mac OS X. With this, the drive was fully supported. The only feature unavailable with this driver is UNIX-style access control. The person mounting the drive has full access.
There are versions of the FreeAgent drives specifically released for Macs, which use the Mac OS Extended Format. The Windows versions can be used on Mac OS X 10.3 and above in read-only fashion, however, the NTFS-3G driver mentioned above will apparently let these drives be fully utilized on Macs as well.
Overall Recommendation for the Seagate FreeAgent Drives
The price, attractiveness, and utility of these drives and software over-ride the one major drawback, which is the inability of some users to boot their machines while connected to these units. For me this was not a major concern, since my plan is to connect the FreeAgent drive to a Network Accessible Storage (NAS) device anyway, making it accessible to anyone on our internal network. I give this drive a thumbs-up.