Unless you consider three interface options to be intense, there's nothing particularly extreme about the Seagate FreeAgent Xtreme hard drive. Despite its mundane nature, we still found plenty to like about this external drive. We appreciate its simple and functional design, fast performance and easy-to-use software. The drive features three connection interfaces (USB 2.0, FireWire 400 and eSATA), while keeping its price-per-gigabyte cost in line with drives that offer fewer connection options. One terabyte will set you back £150, 500GB costs about £90, 640GB is around £100, and 1.5TB is available for roughly £190.
Design and features
The new FreeAgent Xtreme is slightly smaller in size than the of Seagate's FreeAgent product line. Unlike the previous model, which only stood upright, the new drive can now work in both vertical and horizontal positions and has a detachable base.
On the front, the new FreeAgent drive has one large LED that glows white-ish light to show the status of the drive. On the back, there are two FireWire 400 ports, a USB 2.0 port and one eSATA port. The drive comes with a compact power adaptor, but it doesn't come with an eSATA cable. You only get one FireWire 400 cable and one USB 2.0 data cable in the box. There's nothing else but a well-illustrated QuickStart Guide in the box -- there's no CD or printed manual, and the bundled software is stored on the drive itself.
Preformatted for a Windows PC, the drive worked immediately once plugged in. It comes with Seagate Manage, a light software suite that includes backup, sync and security functions, all of which worked very well.
You can command the backup software to backup a recommended area of the hard drive or a set of selected folders and files. You then can create backups immediately or schedule them to run automatically. The sync function does a little more than that, by making sure that the content of one or more local folders or drives is synchronised with the FreeAgent Xtreme. This way, you can have two exact copies of the same data.
On the other hand, the security function of the software is rather cumbersome. First you need to create a password for encryption, then you need to drag and drop existing folders or files into the encryption software's virtual folder, and then you have to delete the originals. In order to open and edit files within the encrypted folder, you first need to decrypt them. The software only supports drag-and-drop encryption for files, but not a whole folder, making the process very time-consuming if you want to read multiple encrypted files.
The FreeAgent Xtreme also works with Macs, but you will need to reformat it. Mac users might want to check out the FreeAgent Deck, however, which Seagate makes especially for Mac by replacing the eSATA port with FireWire 800 ports.
The Seagate FreeAgent Xtreme's USB 2.0 performance met our expectations, though it was still a little slower than that of the SimpleTech (re)drive or the WD My Book Mirror. The drive performed significantly faster with FireWire 400, and especially with eSATa -- where the writing speed got up to 440Mbps.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
(Throughput in Megabits per second)
The drive also performed very smoothly and quietly -- it stayed relatively cool during the testing process, too.
We did notice, however, that the FreeAgent Xtreme's eSATA connections would appear disconnected after an hour or so of idling, and we had to repower the drive for eSATA to be recognised by the system again. While this doesn't affect the data stored on the drive, it's a nuisance -- especially since eSATA is the connection that shows the best throughput performance on the drive.
Really, only the handful of users with FireWire 800 ports will find the FreeAgent Xtreme lacking in the connection department. And the fact it worked quietly throughout testing is an important consideration for any drive that may become a semi-permanent resident on your desk. The fact that eSATA sometimes needs to be reset after idling is the only shortcoming we found in the drive. Other than that, it's an all-round good external hard drive that offers relatively high value in terms of cost per gigabyte.
Additional editing by Nick Hide