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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  • Aikouka - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    There is a 120mm fan running air over the hard drives in question and there is an actual space in between the drives... they are not literally sitting on each other.

    The case is a Lian Li PC V2000B which has room for 10 HDDs in a 5x2 array. Optimally, I tried to leave an empty (HDD) space between each drive, but this was not entirely possible, so I had to not give them extra "breathing room."

    While my spiel is technically purely anecdotal at best... I have similar WD drives that are working just fine and the one that was producing file read errors and hanging on reading files was the one that sat directly above the Seagate "Inferno." It is probably good to note that the WD drive was also one of their "Green" drives, which I assume also has lower temperature thresholds given that its a 5400RPM drive.

    I still do run other Seagate drives in my PC, but I believe that they have that extra "buffer" between them and other drives now.
  • pcfxer - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    Get some sexy hot-swap drive-bays for the 5.25" external slots. That way when you *need* the hot-swap compatible drive ccontroller you are set to show off your ZFS awesomeness.
  • mewgirl - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    There is a brand called i/O that lasted as long as I had it until it was stolen, never gave a single error, and connected properly to every computer I plugged it into, without having to go into disk manager, run commands, etc., to plug in. And MOST BENEFICIALLY it didn't come with any files on the disk. So (I don't remember the size of it), if it was a 300GB drive, then, when I plugged it in, it ACTUALLY SAID 300GB. It didn't even say 299.7. It said 300. If I remember correctly there was a scattered file or two on it, but I didn't think they were programs (but could have been wrong - notice I didn't even know what the double-cord was for at the time), and they didn't try to initiate themselves. But all it took to delete them was to hit "delete". And then it was listed as a full 300GB drive (or whatever size it was).

    Although, that particular brand name is a bit hard to Google. This was back when Google was actually a search engine, about 2 years ago (as in, it had other products, but the search engine actually worked?), and it took a while to find their website then. Which was done to find out why it came with an extra USB plug on the cord... one of those drives that has two USB plugs so you can plug in both if using only one makes it slow. AND it warns about overheating "only use both if you're having trouble". ANOTHER thing that is never done by other companies.

    Then the Target closest to my dad;s house stopped selling it and I could never find it again.
  • loekf - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Call me biased, but I have used several WDC MyBooks and they never let me down. They have more room for ventilation. A few weeks I had this drive (2 TB) and after one day I had seen enough.

    Poorly designed, never wanted to go into standby/sleep mode and overheating.

    Yes, you can disable the sleep mode, but then IT IS ALWAYS spanning when attached to your PC and Windows up and running. Even when you power-down your PC and you leave the drive connected to the mains, the drive is so stupid to power up again by itself.
  • ricamiller - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Why couldn't you just remove the hard drive from the case and insert it into something like a Thermaltake docking station with esata?

    There's no enclosure so wouldn't this solve the heat problem?
  • Drag0nFire - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Yeah, this confuses me too. But it's not just Seagate. All external manufacturers are doing it, from big names (Seagate, Samsung, WD) to off-brands (Fantom, Cavalry). Market factors push for a drive that is small (no space for air ventilation) and cheap (no money for quality metal materials to radiate heat).

    I recently had to RMA a Samsung HDD for this reason. Small package, no ventilation. It would heat up to 55C and then the SMART would register read/write errors. And this was a "low-power" 5400RPM drive!

    I bought a WD green drive in an enclosure. Doesn't solve the heat problem, but those drives are pretty hearty and I'm using it only for backup. If I were to use it more extensively, I think the only solution is to buy a HDD and enclosure separately.
  • designerfx - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    because they're too busy marketing external drives as the next best thing, when people don't realize how horrid most external drive solutions are when it comes to temperature.

    Not only that, but it's a humorous double win for HDD manufacturers (and double loss for consumers). They're charging you *more* than to buy it with an enclosure , and it will burn out years faster! double win as far as money goes.

    2TB internal: $100 now. 2TB External - $125-150 (enclosures are a piece of plastic that costs them next to nothing to manufacture and they are usually priced at 25-50).. Not only that, but if the enclosure doesn't support USB3 or Sata2, you might lose it (even if the internal hard drive supports it).
  • jjzeal007 - Thursday, September 16, 2010 - link

    Remember Google's study of 100,000 SATA/PATA hard drives in its data centers?

    One conclusion: There isn't as much of a correlation between drive temperature and failure rate as might be expected... excessively cooled drives actually failed more often than drives that ran a bit hot.

  • Wolfpup - Thursday, September 16, 2010 - link

    Yeah, I'm just baffled by how products like this keep getting released to the public by tech companies. That's COMPLETELY unacceptable.

    What's nuts is in every other way it seems perfect for what it is! I was interested in buying one until getting to the heat issue
  • taltamir - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    engineers can only point out problems and solution, management then decides NOT to implement them to save money.

    In the xbox RROD, the xbox scratched disks, and many other cases there are documentations showing that the engineers pointed out the problem and devised a solution... management decided its not worth the money and that they know better.

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