Seagate FreeAgent Go 1TB and 640GB portable USB drives

Storage
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HOW WAS IT DONE?

Those who have read some of our other hard drive articles probably know already that we rate the Seagate 7200 RPM 3.5" desktop drives the noisiest on the market today. This has been the case for a good half dozen years, since the days of the Barracuda IV and V drives, which were really the first quiet desktop HDDs to appear. Seagate's Momentus 2.5" notebook drives are much quieter than the 3.5" models, but they aren't exceptional, more or less on par with typical offerings from Western Digital, Samsung, Hitachi, etc. So considering that the last 5400 RPM 2-platter Seagate Momentus 2.5" 500GB drive we tested measured 16~18 dBA@1m, how does a 3-platter 1TB FreeAgent Go drive achieve an SPL level of barely 12 dBA@1m?

If you read SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology, you'd know that Seagate was the first HDD maker to clearly document how vibration-induced noise is often the biggest cause of audible noise in a hard drive. Their suggested solution to "structure-borne acoustics" is to mechanically decouple the drive from whatever it is mounted to by using dampeners of various types. This is an approach to HDD silencing that we've embraced from the very start of our web site. So, presumably, this is also the approach behind the performance of these FreeAgent Go drives. It wasn't enough for us to presume this, however. A first-hand look seemed easy and pertinent, so....

The back edge of the top panel of the 1TB model had developed a tiny gap, probably due to rough handling around the lab. Some careful work with a small blade screwdriver was enough to pull this cover off entirely. It was held with quite strong adhesive all around the edge. As suspected, the piece is made of aluminum, as is the bottom, with a plastic outer frame in between.


Top of FreeAgent 1TB pried off. Wire leads are for the external power light. The drive is housed in an inner "skin-tight", thin steel or aluminum box.


When the encased drive was pried out, it became clear that the drive is mechanically decoupled from the external casing by seven blocks of very soft rubber which feels similar to Sorbothane. These soft rubber blocks are glued to the encased drive, and they are the only paths through which vibration can pass from the drive to the casing. This "floating box in a box" is the key to the FreeAgent Go's extremely low noise. The outer casing helps block airborne noise while the rubber blocks kill "structure-borne acoustics" before they have a chance to turn into noise.


Another view of those blocks, and the drive. The label identifies the drives as a "FreePlay 1TB", part number 9TY146-900, that requires up to 0.75A at 5V (3.75W). This drive's 12.5mm thickness means it will not fit into most laptops.


The USB 2.0 interface board simply plugs into the SATA signal and power sockets on the drive, and a couple of wire leads go to the LED power light and the USB 2.0 connector.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Seagate FreeAgent Go 640GB and 1TB external USB 2.0 drives proved to be the quietest such devices we've had the pleasure of using. Their acoustics are so good that even the most demanding no-noise proponents should have no complaints. The decent performance, large capacity and independence from AC power makes them a pleasure to use. The internal damping which makes such low noise possible should also help these devices better withstand the knocks and bumps that they're bound to get in normal handling. Hopefully, the little peeling that made the internal examination of the 1TB model possible is an anomaly borne of our careless handling in the lab. They are strongly recommended.

We hope that the newer FreeAgent GoFlex series employs similar shock-mounting. With their USB 3.0 interface capability, they would probably make ideal accessories for anyone seeking both high performance and low noise in convenient, massive, portable storage.

Seagate FreeAgent Go 640GB and 1TB external USB 2.0 drives

SPCR Editor's Choice Award

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Articles of Related Interest

SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR's Recommended Hard Drives
NoVibes III HDD Decoupling Rack
More 500GB notebook drives: Seagate 7200.4 & Hitachi 5K500.B
Momentus 5400.6 & Scorpio Blue: Seagate & WD 2.5" HDDs at 500GB

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Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.



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