External drives are coming back around in popularity. This return to favor has been due to a reduction in price of high capacity disk drives, better power management for USB devices (needing only one USB port vs. two), the growing popularity of SSD and the move to mobile computing as an extension of the workplace/desktop. As SSDs become more popular, but remain expensive for high capacity models, the desire for extra storage will be high.
This is where the lower price of high-capacity HDDs comes in; this lowers the price of them for use in external devices. One of the more popular ones is Seagate's FreeAgent Go series. These drives now run all the way up to 1TB but remain small in size, while the software they run allows you easily backup, sync and encrypt your files. Seagate also offers a nice line of accessories to compliment these drives. One of the most common was the FreeAgent Go Dock. This put your drive into a nice cradle that positions it upright at a slight angle.
There was a down side to them, though, they used up two USB ports and offered nothing in return. Seagate changed all of that with the new FreeAgent Go Dock+. This combines the usefulness of the original dock with a powered USB Hub. Today we take a look at one and see how well it works.
The new Dock+ comes in an oblong plastic case that is of the "difficult to open" type. In fact, there is no clear cut way to open it. The front displays the Dock+ and expounds upon its virtues (it adds three USB ports to your system).
The back gives a little more information; it also shows you what it will look like when paired up with a FreeAgent Go. We also see the included leather protective travel case that comes with the Dock+.
After you cut your way through all of the interior packaging (and there is a lot), you will find the goodies inside.
As the FreeAgent Go Dock+ is not only a dock for your FreeAgent drive, but a power USB hub, we find a blocky power adapter. As with many items from Seagate, the power adapter can be setup for different countries (although the extra adapters are not included). There is also a USB cable (USB b to Mini-USB), a travel pouch/case and the top billing Dock+ itself.
The actual Dock+ is not much more than a large piece of plastic that has been molded into a single solid chunk. The designers left the bottom open so that they could stuff all the extras inside and have also made sure to weigh it down for stability.
Looking at the FreeAgent Go Dock+ from the front, it does not look like much at all. You can see the single hard mounted mini USB plug and the slightly angled slot. The front has an interesting shape to it; it looks like it has a cut out at the front lip. This is because it does have a cut-out. The reason for this is to make sure that the larger capacity FreeAgent drives will fit in properly.
When you flip it around to the back you see the first indication that the Dock+ is more than a simple stand. Here you can see the three USB 2.0 ports that give the Dock its extra "+". Seagate has also removed the hardwired cable that was present on the original Dock. This does make for better portability. In the center of the backplane is what looks like a pin hole. This is actually a single green LED to indicate power to the device.
The power port is needed for full use of the USB 2.0 Hub and the Dock+ with just a single FreeAgent Go drive.
While working on this review of the FreeAgent Go Dock+, I kept wondering how I would be able to test actual performance when using this product. The obvious answer was to test an actual external drive while connected to the Dock+ and a system. Then to test the Dock with more than one drive connected (one on the actual dock and the other on a standard USB port). The last would be to benchmark performance with multiple peripherals attached. These would be a USB mouse (Cooler Master CM Storm Sentinel) and a 16GB Zune HD. This should give the best indication of how the Dock+ will perform under typical use.
As you can see, despite loading up the Dock+ with multiple devices, you are still able to get decent bandwidth. True, it is not quite the level of e-SATA or FireWire, but it is good enough that you won't have to worry about losing performance if you choose to run more than one drive on it.
We have played with several external drives and their connectivity systems over the years. Most of them do provide adequate performance; however, in the recent past as external drives have gotten smaller and moved toward USB-only power, we have seen the number of ports they take up and the impact on system performance go up. This was even true of the FreeAgent Go series until Seagate removed the need for the extra USB connection for power.
Now with the new Dock+ you are getting more USB 2.0 ports thrown into the mix. It is unfortunate that you cannot use the Dock+ without the external power (with just a single FreeAgent Go drive), but it still provides a nice "home" station for your FreeAgent Go or even the BlackArmor PS-110.
Over all, for the $29.99 price tag at Newegg it is a nice product that does exactly what Seagate says it does. We found ourselves leaving all of our USB devices plugged into the Dock+ (Mouse, iPhone Cable, Zune HD Cable) when we took our laptop on the road. This made un-hooking and hooking back up much easier and did not affect performance in any way. Even our CM Storm Sentinel Advance was unaffected, which was a good thing as it does not normally like USB hubs.
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