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


View All Comments

  • Pastuch - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    I am very confused on why the 3tb drives were not released as OEM. People looking for this kind of space are not looking to put the OS on that drive.

    Why not release the 3tb drives now, let us create GPT partitions in Windows and use the storage space. I need 12 terabytes ASAP! I would rather 4 drives instead of 6. Hopefully WD catches up soon.
  • Bytales - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    I didn't knew long heat means performance degradation in such a way that it reaches the jaw-dropping 1mb/s.
    In these cases, flash ssd seem to have the advantage. However, we still have to wait until ssd become more capacitous than hdd, to the point that creating a hdd is no longer worth it.
  • loekf - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Get a Western Digital MyBook 3.0, they only come in 1 TB and 2 TB flavours, but these keep itself cool. After copying 700 GB of data, temperate was steady at 43 celsius. Reply
  • mewgirl - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    Except, don't, because they require a separate plug, are absolutely humangous (literally, about 3" in DEPTH!), and will last about 2 weeks. Reply
  • dragunover - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Seagate is terrible. In my own experience, it's been the only hard-drive out of many to fail. By far, I've had at least 4 Hitachi, 4 WD's, and a Samsung and none of them have failed. Then again, there's also the user-reported failure rates which report Seagate among the top...
  • MrSpadge - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    Hey Anand,

    you're doing a really great job on SSDs, but heres one paragraph I really disagree with:

    "... and sequential performance is actually down from the 2TB drive due in part to the fact that we've got a smaller cache and generally less performance optimized drive with this external 3TB unit compared to the 2TB internal drive. Over USB 3.0 we actually get much better sequential performance apparently due to some additional buffering done by the USB 3 controller."

    You're running into some bottleneck here using the internal SATA for the 3 TB drive. Was it in IDE mode? Or maybe just SATA1? If you take a look at the performance over capacity using this SATA port I bet you'll see a straight line at ~120 MB/s until about 1.5 TB and then a drop similar to what you're showing on the page "Performance vs. Capacity".

    The reason is simple: on that page you're showing the drive hitting performance >120 MB/s over the entire first 1.5 TB using the USB 3 connection. This test is a sequential test over the entire drive, so ne pauses in between. Were this speed due to a buffer it had to be at least 1.5 TB big. Otherwise what you're seeing here is the real sequential performance of the drive.

    And HDD caches influence real world benchmarks, but do not influence such sequential tests (think of it: even 64 MB are filled in just 0.5 s for such a drive, afterwards it's just plain "write them as fast as you can").

    Best regards,
  • Rloew - Friday, October 1, 2010 - link

    With some minor modifications to the MBR and FIlesystem code, the bare Hard Drive can be booted from without EFI and used in DOS and Windows 98SE. The USB 2.0 Interface can be used in Windows 98SE with a couple of Patches. Reply
  • Agent24 - Monday, October 18, 2010 - link

    It makes no sense, unless they just didn't think to test what might happen to the drive temperature when stuck inside that little box and made to write data (who does that?)

    If it was cost, then that's stupid.

    I expect these are quite expensive already, being new and 3TB. What's an extra $50 or whatever to get a decent case with some proper cooling vents or even a fan?

    I definitely wouldn't buy one of these, not until they made a better case, and even then, I want to see the reliability of the drive itself.
  • The Sorcerer - Saturday, December 25, 2010 - link

    On the 2 paragraph, 4th page you said:
    "While you can plug a SATA power cable directly into the drive, the enclosure prevents you from sticking a SATA data cable in there - not without trimming away part of the plastic surrounding the cable’s SATA connector at least."

    You don't need to trim it. The SATA cable from the Asus boards are slightly thinner connectors. You should be able to do it. I've done it on the Seagate GoFlex 500GB PRO review:

    Infact, when you run Crystal DIsk Information even when the drive is connected via USB mode, it detects the model but it will show that its scaled down to SATA 150 (I got a USB 2.0 as a sample).

    Just my 2 cents :).
  • infoage2000 - Monday, July 21, 2014 - link

    I have (or had) this 3 TB drive, and three months later it has died. The error; drive needs formatting. So in hopes it was the enclosure I bought a USB to SATA tester and have confirmed it is the drive. I knew better not to stray from the 1 and 1.5 TB drives which have always been reliable. The one lousy time I don't have backups for two directories I copied over....shaking my head in disgust. Reply

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