These days, buying a hard drive isn’t just about capacity. More and more consumers are taking design into consideration. After all, who wants an ugly-looking device on his desk, when a more aesthetically pleasing one will do the same job? At the same time, with the current economic climate, no one is rushing to drop major bucks on something just because it looks pretty. The FreeAgent Desk ($149.99 direct) external hard drive is the best of both worlds, an aesthetically beautiful external hard drive that won’t break the bank.
 
The Desk measures 6.9 by 1.3 by 6.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.2 pounds. It’s lightweight and rectangular in shape, and sports a cool, silver-gray finish. Its beveled front has a soft white light in the center, displayed in a series of concentric arcs that pulse when the drive is in use. As is evident by its name, the Desk is made for desktop use, but it’s still small enough that you can throw it into a bag and carry it around. Granted, you will need to carry the power cord as well—it’s not a pocket drive. The Desk will easily sit on top of a desktop PC, but for those who may need to stand it on its side for reasons of space or port accessibility, Seagate includes a convenient stand. Also included in the box are a USB cord, a product manual, and attachable feet. (The drive is USB-only; there are no FireWire or eSATA connections.)

One of the things I look for in an external drive is whether I can hook it up to a desktop and start using it within 10 minutes, and the Desk passed this test with flying colors. The drive easily uploaded its software to my PC, and I was soon able to begin moving files around. I found Seagate’s included software intuitive. A Seagate Manager icon appears on the desktop, and you are given four options when you click on it: My Drives, Backup, Sync, and Security. Under the Backup option you can “Back Up Now,” schedule a backup, or restore your data from a previous backup. (Backup is file/folder only; there’s no disaster-recovery imaging capability.) Sync has two options; clicking “Simple Sync” will automatically sync up your My Documents folder to your drive, while “Custom Sync” lets you sync any folder you choose.

The Security tab doesn’t let you lock down the entire drive, but it does allow you to set up encrypted folders on the drive. To get into those folders you will need to create a password. I would have liked Seagate to have included the ability to encrypt or password-protect the entire drive, but that isn’t possible with the Desk. In Seagate’s defense, it wouldn’t be difficult to drag all of your data into an encrypted folder—if you are as paranoid as I am.

The Desk backed up my 1.2GB test folder in an impressive 1 minute flat and restored it to my hard drive, which I’d wiped clean, in 52 seconds. Its score of 3,263 on the PCMark05 HDD test put it well ahead of most USB external drives, including our current Editors’ Choice, the FreeAgent Go. True, the Desk doesn’t come with the port protector or capacity meter of a drive like the Western Digital My Passport Elite, but most users won’t miss either one. What’s more, the Drive lacks that drive’s elite price as well. I tested the 1-terabyte version, which, at a cost of $149.99, works out to only about 15 cents per GB! Most large-capacity external drives average between 19 and 25 cents per GB. For instance, the 2TB Western Digital My Book Mirror Edition lists at $429.99, or 21 cents per GB, while the Iomega eGo Desktop Hard Drive (1TB) sells for $218.45, or 21 cents per GB. Granted, whereas the Desk is USB-only, the other drives also support FireWire and, in the case of the My Book Mirror, eSATA as well. On the other hand, those drives don’t include encryption software.

I was puzzled to find that the smaller, 640GB version of the FreeAgent Desk I reviewed also costs $149.99. At first I thought maybe there was some difference other than capacity between the products, but I couldn’t find any. If you were thinking of buying the smaller drive, you really have no reason not to upgrade. The 1TB Seagate FreeAgent Desk is a great deal for a small business looking to back up important data or a consumer looking to store home movies.

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