I’ve spent so much of the past two years covering SSDs that you’d think I’d forgotten about traditional hard drives. All of my work machines have transitioned to SSDs, as have all of my testbeds for reliability and benchmark repeatability reasons I’ve mentioned before. What I don’t mention that often is the stack of 1TB hard drives I use to store all of my personal music/pictures/movies, AnandTech benchmark files that drive my lab and to power my home theater (yes, final update on that coming soon). Hard drives haven’t lost their importance in my mind, their role has simply shifted.

My OS, applications, page file, documents and even frequently played games (ahem, Starcraft 2) all end up on my SSD. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything else, and for that bulk data there’s no cheaper or better alternative than mechanical storage.

One and two terabyte drives are now commonplace, the former selling for $60 a pop. Recently Seagate announced the next logical step, a five platter three terabyte drive with a catch - it’s external only.

The FreeAgent GoFlex Desk is a mouthful of branding that refers to Seagate’s line of external 3.5” drives. The drives themselves are standard 3.5” hard drives in a plastic enclosure designed to mate with GoFlex Desk adapters that add USB 2.0, USB 3.0, FireWire 800 or Ethernet connectivity to the drive.

Currently the GoFlex Desk is available in 1TB, 2TB and 3TB capacities. We’ve spent much of the past week testing the latter both as a look at 3TB hard drives as well as the external device itself.

Not Just Another Upgrade

The first thing I did with the GoFlex Desk was try to get access to the drive inside. Despite the fact that Seagate is shipping a 3TB GoFlex Desk, the internal drive (also made by Seagate) won’t be available until the end of the year. That’s silly, I thought, so I went about pulling the drive out of its casing.

The drive part of the GoFlex Desk is little more than two pieces of plastic snapped together. Start to separate them and pull as firmly (yet carefully) as you can and they’ll pop off, hopefully without breaking any tabs in the process so you can snap it back together.

Inside the GoFlex Desk 3TB was a standard 3.5” Seagate Barracuda XT drive. There are rubber squares installed where the mounting screwholes are and the drive is in a metal tray, but other than that this is a run of the mill SATA HDD.

The 3TB Barracuda XT is a 7200RPM drive. The drive has a 32MB DRAM cache, which is half of what Seagate ships on its 2TB drive making it clear that the 3TB drive used in the GoFlex Desk isn’t 100% performance optimized. Seagate reaches its 3TB capacity by using five 600GB platters.

Internally the drive uses 4K sectors however it translates to 512-byte sectors before it reaches the SATA port. This means to a SATA interface the 3TB drive looks like a drive with 512-byte sectors. The GoFlex Desk docks then map the 512-byte sectors back to the 4K format. There’s obviously overhead associated with these translations but it’s not huge in most cases. The final 4K translation done by the GoFlex Desk dock means that you can partition the drive using MBR which ensures Windows XP compatibility.

Update: Seagate offered some clarification to the paragraph above. Internally the 3TB drive uses 512-byte sectors, however the GoFlex dock emulates a 4K drive to allow for a single 3TB partition to be created in Windows.

For those of you looking to buy a 3TB GoFlex Desk, crack the case open and use the drive inside your system there are some challenges that you should be aware of.

The 2TB Barrier
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  • mxnerd - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    10 years ago Seagate is all about quality. Not any more. Every retail drives ( more than 5) I bought from Seagate in the past five years gone bad before the 5-year warranty.

    The problem with Seagate drives? They are too hot.

    WD only gives you 3-year warranty for their drives, but I'm buying them exclusively now.
    Reply
  • mewgirl - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    WHY WOULD ANYONE WHO AS ANY BRAND KNOWLEDGE EVER BUY A WD EXTERNAL DRIVE??!? Reply
  • Sottilde - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Hard to believe the engineers could be thick enough to put a mesh grille on the side for looks only, without providing any actual ventilation. A major oversight IMO, especially if you tend to pound on your hardware. Reply
  • Indigo64 - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    I realize this site and its standing on the web, but Google's test results show that hard drive temp isn't a factor for failure rates - at least not in the same manner in which people get all uptight about it.

    I have a laptop at home where the hard drive runs constantly around 50*C and it hasn't ever failed on me. I have a desktop system that has drives that run below 40*C and it's gone through three already.

    "One of our key findings has been the lack of a consistent
    pattern of higher failure rates for higher temperature
    drives or for those drives at higher utilization levels.
    Such correlations have been repeatedly highlighted
    by previous studies, but we are unable to confirm them
    by observing our population. Although our data do not
    allow us to conclude that there is no such correlation,
    it provides strong evidence to suggest that other effects
    may be more prominent in affecting disk drive reliability
    in the context of a professionally managed data center
    deployment."

    Interpret how you will, but if Seagate says this drive is fine without any active cooling, then why do people need to ding the drive for this "oversight"? It's all perceived performance stats in the PC realm - if it's hot, cool it down. If it's cool, don't bother it.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    I don't have it in front of me, but IIRC the temperature range of that Google study was something like 10-50C, and they found that the sweet spot was 30-40C. 60C+ (as in this Seagate drive) isn't a "perceived" problem, it's a measurable one; re-read the paragraph where Anand found transfer rates dropping by 60%+ as the drive went into that range. Reply
  • wiak - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    ooh the irony ;) Reply
  • conwayboys - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Never ceases to amaze me why computer and drive manufacturers do not design cases with natural convection, struck me the other day at work when the IT boffins had a major crash due to a faulty fan in the server room. WTF there were three of them standing around designing a new air conditioning system for the server room. I got the step ladder and removed 4 panels from the false ceiling to allow the heat to escape into the roofspace, instant temperature drop, so why cant we employ the same thinking to computer cases and drive cases vent the top and the bottom ensuring hot air rising will pull cold air in from the bottom, obviously spillage issues with moisture getting in the vents, so the vents can be on the sides near the top with the fins slanted downwards still allowing hot air to escape. Reply
  • compuser2010 - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    32-bit Windows 7 also supports GPT. However, only for *data* disks/arrays; even if the capacity is less than 2 TB. Formatting using GPT can be done in "Computer Management."

    2 TB may seem like a huge amount of memory to some. But it is an increasingly paltry amount of memory for those who edit video (especially uncompressed) and who work with Blu-ray Discs (copying a disc to another disc, copying discs to a computer, authoring discs, leaving those disc projects on the computer for a while, etc.).
    Reply
  • Randomblame - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    oh wait that was ram... still. I could use 3tb right now but 5 platters - that's too many. I'll be waiting. My current setup is 3 500gb seagate baracuda 7200.12s in raid 0 backed up by a 2tb cuda. That way I've got only 3 platters spinning for low noise, reliability, and high data density. Though this thing uses 600gb platters which is nice I think I'll wait a bit maybe we'll get some higher data density per platter while we're waiting for microsoft and motherboard vendors to get this 2tb cap fixed. Reply
  • futbol4me - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    anyone know? i have an external 2.5" drive hanging off my apple extreme router that spins 24/7 but was wondering if newer external drives have some power savings features. Reply

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