I reviewed a Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable Drive and eSATA Upgrade Cable a while ago (see related posts for a link to the review), and I’ve been using the drive since. I replaced my Dell computer with a MacBook since that review, so I can no longer use the eSATA cable with the external disk. That’s no problem, though. The beauty of the Seagate GoFlex disks is their flexibility – you can convert your external disk from USB to eSATA to Firewire 800 simply by replacing the interface cable. Although I back up my laptop everyday, I’ve recently purchased a second Seagate GoFlex disk to use as a secondary backup just for my pictures, music files, and ebooks. Even using the Firewire 800 interface cable, copying over the tens of thousands of files that I have takes a while. My MacBook Pro has a Thunderbolt connector, and I’ve been waiting anxiously for Seagate to release a GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter for the GoFlex hard drives. The wait is over!
Most of the images in this review can be clicked for an enlargement.
First of all, what is Thunderbolt? Apple says it is “an incredibly fast input/output technology that just about anything can plug into.” Thunderbolt is based on PCI Express and DisplayPort technologies. PCI Express is built-in to all the internal components in Apple computers, so you’ll be able to connect external storage devices to your computer and get PCI Express-level performance from them. There are two I/O channels, each with 10Gbps of throughput for lightning speed. Apple quotes that you can “move data to and from peripherals up to 20 times faster than with USB 2.0 and up to 12 times faster than with FireWire 800.” Thunderbolt provides up to 10W of power to connected peripherals. You can also connect Thunderbolt video displays with these cables, but I’m not interested in that right now.
Thunderbolt also has more than enough bandwidth to allow you to daisy-chain multiple high-speed devices without needing a hub or a switch. The Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter must either be connected directly to the Thunderbolt connector on the computer or at the end of the daisy-chain.
There are no accessories or cables that come with the GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter. You get only a quick start guide and a warranty booklet. It’s bus-powered, so there’s no power cable. You’ll need to provide your own Thunderbolt cable. I went to the local Apple store and picked up a Thunderbolt cable for $49. Ouch.
Unlike other GoFlex adapters, which consist of only a plug and a cable, the GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter looks a bit like a sledge. The end looks similar to the other GoFlex adapters with the big plug and the two power lights. It measures 4.75″ long X 3″ wide X 0.75″ tall. Surprisingly, there’s a magnet near the Seagate logo that you can see in the above picture. I’m not sure what the magnet is for.
I have two Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex disks. The thicker one on the left (above) is the 1TB disk I reviewed in October, 2010. I use this 1TB disk for file transfers, temporary file storage, and the like. The thinner one on the right is a 14.5mm, thinner-profile 750GB FreeAgent GoFlex disk I bought just for my secondary backup disk.
The second picture shows two GoFlex upgrade cables. The left one is the USB 3.0 cable that came with my new thinner-profile disk, and the right one is the Firewire 800 cable that I normally use to connect my GoFlex drives to my MacBook Pro. I also have a USB 2.0 cable that came with the 1TB disk. I actually use the USB 2.0 when I need to transfer files to other computers that don’t have Firewire. I haven’t actually used the USB 3.0 adapter, because the computers I have access to don’t have USB 3.0.
The thinner-profile 750GB hard drive fits easily into the Thunderbolt adapter. It’s just the right thickness to fit evenly with the connector end of the adapter. I was a bit worried that the thicker 1TB disk wouldn’t fit.
When plugged in to my laptop, the two bars light up to show the disk is ready.
To test out the speed of my disk, I copied files both to and from the Seagate GoFlex 750GB disk. I copied a folder with three subfolders and a total of 457 items and 1.25GB of data. I also copied a single file that was 1.83GB in size. I tested the speed of the copies using the USB 2.0 adapter cable, the Firewire 800 cable, and the Thunderbolt adapter.
I first tested speeds when copying from the hard drive of my laptop to the Seagate GoFlex disk with each of the connectors. The Thunderbolt adapter is significantly faster than either of the other two adapters in both tests. Speed of writing to the Seagate disk is of the most interest to me, because I’ll be doing frequent backups to the disk.
Next I tested the speeds for copying from the Seagate GoFlex disk to my laptop’s hard drive. Again, the Thunderbolt adapter is significantly faster in both tests. I’ll be able to restore my files more quickly using Thunderbolt, should I ever need to do that.
Even though I have a script that uses rsync to perform incremental backups, it took a while to complete a backup using the Firewire 800 adapter with the Seagate GoFlex disk. Now that I have the Seagate Thunderbolt adapter, I’ll be able to complete backups in less time, meaning I’m more likely to bother doing it daily now. The Seagate disk is small enough that I can throw it into my purse when I’m out of the house. I’ll know I have a recent backup of my most important files with me, even if something happens to both my laptop and my Time Capsule while I’m out of the house.