The drive is mounted on its side. While it's fixed to the shiny black base unit, it's arranged to look like it's floating slightly above the base, giving the impression you can lift it off like an iPod from a docking cradle. You can't, which means the FreeAgent can be laid flat on your desk, a mode in which its parallelogram profile would actually look quite good, sodium glow notwithstanding.
But if the styling's all wrong, the industrial design has its moments. Seagate supplies the drive with not only USB and Firewire interfaces but the up-and-coming eSATA standard. They're not all available at the same time: the base has a screw-on panel with an eSATA connector and a mini USB socket, and there's a replacement unit in the box with two six-pin Firewire 400 ports. There are Firewire and USB cables in the box, but no eSATA line.
Swapping them round is easy enough, though while the screw that locks the panel into place is nice and large, the depth of the slot could be deeper to make it more screwdriver friendly. As it is, it's designed to be turned with no lesser tool than a US penny.
Seagate sent me the 750GB FreeAgent Pro, and with the Firewire ports plugged in I was able to connect it to my MacBook Pro and start moving data. The drive's pre-formatted for Windows users, but, to quote the packaging, "if you're a Mac person... you can reformat for Mac using Disk Utility and enjoy all those glorious gigabytes". Please.
I didn't reformat the drive because I wanted to connect it to my Windows XP machine later. In fact, it's formatted using the Windows NT file system, and Mac OS X said I didn't have sufficient permission to write to it, so I reformatted it to FAT32 for compatibility.
Next, some tests. I created a 100MB file, duplicated it nine times, popped 'em into a folder and then copied that five times to create a 5GB folder containing 50 items. This I copied first to the FreeAgent, then duplicated on the drive itself, before copying the data back. In each case, the time was averaged over three runs.
Copying over the data took 4m 32.96s, or 18.32MBps. Duplicating the data on the drive took 5m 14.57s, or 15.9MBps. So by no means unreasonable for a 7,200rpm external drive, quite quick, in fact.
I also tried Sonnet Technologies' Tempo ExpressCard add-in to try the drive's eSATA connection. Speed-wise, the results were near enough the Firewire figures as makes no odds: 18.56MBps for copying to the drive. That said duplication on the drive happened at a rate of, on average, 25.4MBps, well above Firewire speeds, which is handy if you plan to use the drive as a Photoshop scratch disk, for example.
Irresponsible design for a spinning disk
None, and I really mean NONE of these HDDs should be positioned on their sides. Not for the HDD, they can handle it, but for the impossibly narrow base.
What do think will happen if these things fall over while the disk is spinning (and they will - by nature of being portable)? Exactly, a head crash. HDD protection only applies when the disk is switched off, then the heads are moved out of the way (something we had to do manually almost 2 decades ago) so with a disk at full spin, tipping the thing over WILL spell disaster (and I've seen it happen).
From that perspective the Lacie is better if it wasn't for having an ugly habit of developing other mechanical problems - it already lies down..
Standing on edge is cute for devices without moving parts. For a device that many will use to store valuable data on such as backups, music and pictures it is, well, irresponsible.
I didn't buy it because a seemingly detachable base that's not detachable is a strict no-no. It's just an awkward shape for an external drive.
I just bought the WD MyBook - square, black, looks like a book. Doesn't seem to make a lot of sense but works in fact very well. It came with a single USB cable, connect and you go. The book is simply cute, black, unobtrusive. And very fast, got 15MB/s out of it.
BTW you should test this with a worst case scenario. I have a folder that's about 4GB but containing 200,000 small files. If you copy that, the transfer rate drops to 500KB/s... clearly, the file system doesn't like dealing with lots of small files much.
That looks like a gigantic liquorice allsort!