Seagate’s New External Hard Drives: Back to Basics

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For years, hard-disk kingpin Seagate has tried to jazz up the image of the humble hard drive. For a while, it used the slogan “Your on,” which led insufficiently hip people to wonder if it had made an embarrassing typo. It also came up with splashy product-line names such as FreeAgent and GoFlex.

Now the company has refreshed its entire external drive lineup for the first time in a couple of years. Instead of aiming for pizzazz, it’s decided to keep things simple. The GoFlex brand name is giving way to one which couldn’t be much more straightforward: Backup Plus. That’s what it offers–backup, plus some other stuff. The company provided me with a unit for review.

Backup Plus portable models are a bit skinnier than the GoFlex drives¬†they replace, but feature the same unique switchable interface. They ship as USB 3.0 drives, which is the logical thing for them to be, especially now that new Mac portables all come, at long last, with USB 3.0. (They’re also compatible with older USB 2.1 ports–you just don’t get the considerable speed boost of 3.0) But you can pop the connector module off the drive and replace it with an optional one for FireWire 800, Thunderbolt or eSATA–all of which might be more useful in certain circumstances, especially if you have a computer without USB 3.0.

For Windows users, Seagate includes Dashboard, a straightforward utility that does standard backups and builds in 4GB of cloud storage. (You can pay for more space: 25GB is $49.99 a year.)

Dashboard also lets you upload photos and videos to Facebook, Flickr and YouTube directly from your drive. And it has a feature that lets you automatically back up Facebook and Flickr photos–in this case, the software copies them to your computer’s internal hard drive, since the chances are high that you won’t leave the Backup Plus drive connected at all times.

Mac users don’t get the drive backup and cloud storage features: Seagate reasonably assumes that they’re using Time Machine to protect their data. But the Mac version of Dashboard does include the social-network upload and backup features. And it includes a super-handy OS X utility that lets you use a Backup Plus drive that’s formatted for Windows with a Mac, a must if you plan to move it between operating systems. (The one downside: You need to reformat the drive for OS X in order to use it with Time Machine, which will eliminate the ability to use it with Windows.)

Backup Plus portable drives are available in multiple colors and four capacities: 500GB (which lists for $119.99 but can be found for around $90), 750GB ($129.99 list) and 1TB ($139.99). There are also desktop models up to 4TB. It’s hard to go badly wrong with a hard-disk purchase these days, and hard for manufacturers to make their models stand out from the crowd. But these are solid choices if you come across them.