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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  • Quilty997 - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    I notice some posters have commented on using RAID 5 with very large disc sizes

    If you do the math using the drive specs and published bit error rates you will find that a RAID 5 array using 1Tb+ discs very soon has a probability not possibility of having a disc error when rebuilding the array.

    For this reason I went to RAID6. (using a dedicated controller to handle the parity calculations).

    Please remember that RAID arrays are not a backup device.
  • Michael REMY - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    i can't image the day, even not for my ennemy, where it comes a 3TD hard drive will fail...
    What a lost it will be !
  • mindless1 - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Why would you store valuable data on any one drive alone? Backups, backups backups.
  • JonnyDough - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Until Seagate fixes their longevity issues and can offer a five year warranty that has a better failure rate I'll be sticking with other companies like Western Digital and Hitachi. I used to love Seagate. :(
  • loekf - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Anand, did you actually review the power management features of this drive ? I had the 2 TB model.

    I noticed the same temperature issues and slowless at high temperatures. In my case I got 65 celsius as well.

    Bigger issue I found the power management features, or better said lack of or poor implementation of them. This drive is supposed to be left attached to your PC. There's no on/off switch. So it will power-on and off depending on whether you switch your PC on and whether you access the drive.

    Funny thing it will completely behaves by itself, it has its own will.

    It willl automatically power on again after you SHUTDOWN your computer and you leave it plugged into the mains.

    If you enable sleep mode, it will disable itself when it is not accessed for the specified period. But... it won't go into a sleep mode (= shutting down the drive), no it will unplug in Windows, and after a short period automatically re-insert itself. This means you will see popups or hear beeps indicating that device manager is triggered.

    This is just plain stupid and indicating it's a bad product......
  • mewgirl - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    I've never seen a drive that has an on/off switch! Except for the kind that you have to plug in separately, and that kinds of ruins the point of an "external drive" in the first place. Some public places don't even have accessible plugs, they literally put a lock on them. In other words no one would ever buy one unless they just don't know drives sometimes have separate plugs and therefore don't exhaustively evaluate the packing to ensure that the one they are getting doesn't.
  • Aikouka - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Anand, I was curious if you were going to talk about the current USB 3.0 implementation and I was quite glad to see that you did make a note of it! :) But I'm curious... do you know of any motherboard manufacturers that have a better USB 3.0 implementation on the P55 chipset? I know the P55 is literally the red-headed stepchild in regard to its PCI-E bus compared to the X58 (uses PCI-E 1.1 compared to actual 2.0 lanes, has far fewer, etc), but as an example, my ASUS P7P55D-E motherboard uses that "combiner thingy-ma-bob" to combine the PCI-E lanes for SATA 6Gbs functionality. Do any boards do that for USB 3.0?
  • loekf - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    Not sure what you mean here. I know for a fact that AMD boards with ATI chipsets use a real PCIe 2.0 x1 lane to the NEC USB 3.0 host controller.

    There is no chipset yet with native USB 3.0 support. All motherboards maker use the same NEC USB 3.0 controller. Though, it seems there are controllers from VIA around, but I didn't see them yet.
  • GeorgeH - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    They're talking about P55 and LGA-1156. AMD hasn't made an Intel-compatible chipset in a very long time, and even if they had a P55 compatible license and the desire to make one, LGA-1156's PCIe controller isn't on the chipset.

    As a side note, that's also why LGA-1336 is going to be dead soon after LGA-1155 replaces LGA-1156; the Sandy Bridge derived Nehalem/Westmere replacement is going to have the PCIe controller on die.
  • snakeInTheGrass - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    I understand saying that Seagate hasn't released this as a stand-alone drive because the PC hardware just isn't ready yet, but I was hoping they'd try it out on a Mac as well since it sounds like it should just work. It's a shame they won't sell it stand-alone and just label it 'For Intel Mac with EFI' (or hell, just sell it online with a note "For EFI machines only" label for PC users that do have working EFI or an extra internal disk) for the time being because I really don't want to buy another external case.

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