Drive hard, drive small and stay external

March 22, '09; BANGALORE: Seagate's FreeAgent family of external hard drives, includes arguably the most compact -- and one of the biggest in the business

The new generation of Netbooks, mini notebooks, Net tops -- call them what you will -- have one thing in common: very little on board storage, and more often than not, of the 'flashy' varirty, which means around 60- 90 GB at most. Upcoming operating systems like Windows 7 and new editions of office suites, can be trusted to gobble up significant chunks of this storage. So it makes sense these days to unshackle storage from the computing platform -- which could be as lean-n-mean as a smart phone.

One answer is to go external and invest in hard disk-based storage (still the most paisa-vasool or value for money gigabyte -per-rupee, compared to other storage technologies like Flash). Seagate a leader in high speed internal hard drives has launched a series of external -- and largely portable -- disk storage solutions under the brand name FreeAgent. The most compact and portable ( or should I say pocketable) is the FreeAgent Go series in sizes from 250 to 500 gigabytes . The biggest storage offerings come in the FreeAgent XTreme series, from 500 GB to 1500 GB or 1.5 TB.

We tested the biggest and smallest of them all -- size-wise -- a 500 GB 'Go' and the 1.5 TB 'XTreme'.

The FreeAgent Go is arguably the thinnest external hard drive available today, just 1.25 cms thick, 8 by 13 cms and weighing just 160 gms -- the size of a cigarette case. It seems aimed at storage -on-the-go for mobile or ultra small notebook owners, though of course, there is no reason why it will not nicely complement a standard desktop or laptop PC. To make this an easy experience, Seagate offers for the first time in the industry a convenient docking station for linking with the PC or notebook via the USB port. Just pop the drive into the dock and it "looks" like a drive of the machine. When not in use, the dock does not consume power. The software that comes with the drive helps to set up an automatic backup routine. The USB is arguably not the fastest ttechnology to exchange data -- but convenience and storage size rather than speed of transfer is the USP of this neat little product that is likely to appeal to lay users who want to store their downloads or archives of still pictures, audio or video. 500 GB should be good for some 500 hours of video ( that's 260 - 200 movies) or 7000- 8000 music tracks or some 100,000 photos.

If you want faster file transfer using a choice of connection interfaces and the higher drive performance of 7200 rpm SATA, then the FreeAgent XTreme series might be the answer. In four sizes from 500 GB to 1.5 TB, they offer USB 2.0, Firewire 400 or eSATA interfaces. Like the "Go", series the XTreme has separate offerings for Mac OS and Windows ( XP, 2000, Vista). Backup, sync and security software all, reside on the drive and kick in as soon as one connects to the PC. The 1.5 TB version costs Rs 14500 before taxes in India. ( the 1 TB is Rs 10,500 ). We make that about ten rupees per gigabyte -- which is at least one tenth of the cost per GB of flash memory -- not that flash is any where near a terabyte or likely to be in the foreseeable future.

The 320GB FreeAgent Go costs just under Rs 5000 and the 500 GB is around Rs 7,900 plus tax which makes it about Rs 12/ GB -- which is par for external hard drives these days -- even ones less compact cost as much.

So slip that half a terabyte into purse or pocket and get about for some serious storage!