• Price When Reviewed: 81 . 88 . 115 . 88

  • Pros: Excellent design across both models; XTreme offers high performance; flexible choice of connections.

  • Cons: Desk for Mac model no faster than rivals; Windows software buggy with eSATA connection.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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Seagate’s revamped FreeAgent range of external hard drives includes both desktop and portable versions. We looked at two variations of the same desktop model. Both have connections that let you access your data more quickly than using traditional USB 2.0 and FireWire connections.

The FreeAgent XTreme targets both Mac and Windows users with its 3Gbps eSATA port, while the FreeAgent Desk for Mac looks to Apple owners with its slower 800Mbps FireWire 800 port. Both also offer connection over USB 2.0 and FireWire for maximum flexibility.

We tested the 640GB version of the FreeAgent XTreme drive, and the 1TB version of the FreeAgent Desk for Mac. The former was tested connected to a Windows PC with an eSATA port using Simpli Software’s HD Tach, which is Windows-only. The FreeAgent Desk for Mac was tested with data copy tests while connected to an Apple Mac Pro.

The FreeAgent XTreme

For the FreeAgent XTreme connected over eSATA, HD Tach reported a burst speed of 100.3MBps, and a read speed more than double that when connected via FireWire – and three times the speed of USB 2.0. For comparison, we ran the same tests on a Buffalo DriveStation: results were only slightly slower for HD Tach, which reported a 96.7MBps burst speed, an average read speed of 71.4MBps.

The drives are hardback book-sized boxes that can sit flat on your desktop or upright, supported by the snap-on stand. A light on the front panel slowly pulses light and dark when there’s drive activity.

This feature can be turned off with a setting within Seagate Manager, a collection of tools for managing the drive and backing up (and restoring) data or synching files between machines. Seagate Manager offers unexceptional tools and refused to see the drive when connected over eSATA, as we were using a third-party eSATA board, not a port directly connected to the motherboard.

Mac lookalike

The FreeAgent Desk for Mac is designed to complement Apple’s aluminium design. Time Machine-ready and formatted for the Mac right out of the box, it fits well with Apple’s minimalist aesthetic – for example while an LED indicates when the FreeAgent Desk is on, it doesn’t blink to denote drive activity.

The FreeAgent Desk drive turned in respectable scores in our time trial tests. It got through the 1GB copy test in a speedy 36 seconds – about 13 per cent faster than its portable 250GB FreeAgent Go cousin, but about four seconds slower than Western Digital’s popular My Book Studio Edition, which is also aesthetically tuned to the Mac platform.

The FreeAgent Desk’s FireWire 800 duplication and low-memory Photoshop tests came in at 48 seconds and 1 minute and 13 seconds, respectively, putting them on par with other hard drives we’ve tested.

The FreeAgent Desk for Mac

When using the bundled FireWire 800-to-400 adapter cable, our duplication test came in 36 per cent slower than the FireWire 800 results, and the copy test finished 20 per cent slower – a significant drop, but not out of line with FireWire 400 test results from other drives we’ve reviewed.

While the FreeAgent Desk for Mac’s main advantage over its rivals is its pleasing, Mac-friendly looks, the FreeAgent XTreme offers good looks and better performance than competitors, despite some temperamental software.