"Sleek" is not a typical descriptor for a desktop hard drive. It is the first word, however, that comes to mind for Seagate's FreeAgent Pro, one of four models in the company's new FreeAgent line of external hard drives, units that range in size from 12GB to 750GB. I looked at a shipping version of the FreeAgent Pro, the biggest drive, and was left impressed by both its aesthetics and its operation.
The US$350 drive I tested has several noteworthy attributes. One is the FreeAgent Tools software, which comes on the drive itself rather than on an installation CD. The software provides an accessible, easy-to-use interface for creating restore points so that you can roll back your PC to a previous state (though in actuality, this part just puts Seagate's face on Windows XP's System Restore feature); in addition, the software allows you to view drive information (such as serial number, capacity, partitions, and firmware version), as well as to tap diagnostic utilities and drive settings. Included too is Seagate's AutoBackup application (based on Memeo's software of the same name), which lets you schedule automated backups to multiple locations, such as a flash drive, an MP3 player, or even an online photo sharing account.
The user manuals (in multiple languages, available as a help file) and a PDF of the warranty card are also stored on the drive. If for some reason you ever need to reset the drive to its factory defaults, you can download a software-installation file from Seagate's site, or get it on CD from the company. I tried restoring the software via the download option, and found the task simple.
The FreeAgent Pro has a streamlined, upright design that is far narrower than standard-issue external desktop drive enclosures and includes a rectangular plastic base with an open space at the bottom to accommodate swappable interconnect modules. The unit I tested was bundled with a module that lets you connect the drive via either USB 2.0 or eSATA; the module screws into the drive's base easily. For about $30 more, you can buy a version of the drive that ships with both this module and another one offering two FireWire 400 ports. (Modules will be sold separately, too, but pricing was unavailable at the time of this review.)
When the drive is powered up, its top and front spine glow orange. Unfortunately, this is your sole visual indicator that the device is on, as the touch-sensitive power button on the base doesn't light up. In a brightly lit environment (with direct sunlight), I had difficulty seeing the orange strip. Also, for the drive to engage you have to hold the power button down a few seconds longer than you'd expect.
In use, the base--but not the brushed-aluminum drive case--got warm over time. Seagate says this is by design: The unit is fanless (which helps keep its noise to a minimum), and it dissipates heat through vents at the bottom of the drive. The PC World Test Center's evaluation of the drive showed it to be a strong performer. It required just 80 seconds to copy 3.06GB of files and folders from our test system using an eSATA connection, besting by 10 seconds the next-fastest drive, Seagate's eSATA External Hard Drive.
The FreeAgent Pro has a great software bundle, an unusual, eye-catching design, and strong performance. Add in Seagate's standard five-year warranty, and this drive is an attractive package.