The FreeAgent GoFlex Net really is as easy to use as it looks. More importantly, it does offer you another excellent option for your Seagate GoFlex drive(s). While it supports Gigabit Ethernet, don't expect awe inspiring performance.
For many people, the idea of a small portable device which can plug into their network and then with a simple cable swap plug directly into their computer sounds like a match made in heaven. This is the niche Seagate hopes to capitalize on with their GoFlex Net as it adds yet another option to the already amazingly customizable GoFlex portable drive line. Now read on for the full review.
At first glance, the FreeAgent GoFlex Net doesn't look like your typical network storage device. In fact, it looks a lot like your typical dual slot drive dock, like the SIIG USB 3.0 drive dock I reviewed recently. Weighing in at a little over 1lb and being only 1.44" x 3.74" x 4.72" in size; this really is not that big of an network attached storage device. This here is the secret. The GoFlex Net is designed from the ground up to be an Ethernet Interface device for up to two GoFlex Portable or Pro devices, nothing more nothing less. Simply remove the existing GoFlex cable from your GoFlex drive and plug it into a free dock. Plug in the Ethernet cable, and you are off and running with what can be considered a "poor man's" NAS.
On the front of the device is a four bar LED read out display for each drive dock. The purpose of this display is to show at a glance, approximately, how much free space a drive has left in 25% increments. Zero bars means the drive has between 75% - 100% of its capacity free and all four glowing means you don't have all that much left (between 0 and 25%). Besides these LEDs and a small green led which glows when the device is plugged in, the only other external features are the DC IN power port, Gigabit Ethernet Port and small recessed reset button to reset it to factory defaults which are all pretty much par for the course. What was very interesting to see is the USB 2.0 port next to the Ethernet port. This allows you to plug even more drives into the FreeAgent GoFlex Net if two are not enough. Even better is the fact they do not need to be Seagate GoFlex drives; as any USB storage device will work. That should cover all the bases very nicely.
Only 2.5" FreeAgent Goflex portable drives fit in the slots.
Unlike the Pro or Portable series, the GoFlex Net requires an external power source. It is too bad that it does not have Power Over Ethernet capabilities and requires an external power source, but considering the cost of this unit its not all that surprising. The interesting thing about this device is not what it has, but what it doesn't have. Just like any other drive docks, the hard drive(s) stick up and out of the top of this device. This I really have no issue with, as each drive is still safe and relatively secure inside its own enclosure. As a side note, for anyone who has the newer thicker GoFlex drives, yes they will indeed fit the FreeAgent GoFlex Net. There is small inserts around each port that can be removed so the thicker larger capacity GoFlex drives can fit. Sadly, only 2.5" drives will fit the GoFlex Net so if you have the FreeAgent GoFlex Desk (for example), it wont work with this device.
No, what I have issue with is the fact that this unit is a passively cooled device. A small little fan, even one smaller than the SIIG would have a world of difference as your drive can get a touch warm after streaming 1080p video for hours on end. This is a minor oversight and as long as it is in a room that is kept below temperature of a freaking oven, the cooling slits should help keep the FreeAgent GoFlex Net from overheating. The drives themselves are fairly cool running and where they are in their own enclosure a small fan would do little to no good to cool them down anyways.
On the bottom of the device is where your serial number, MAC address and other vital information has been printed. Before plugging in your device for the first time it is a very good idea to write down this 26 digit serial number as you will need it to activate your FreeAgent GoFlex Net.
Installation & Software
Unlike "true" Network Attached Storage, the FreeAgent GoFlex Net is not a plug and play unit that you can simply plug in your hard drives, connect the Ethernet cable to your network and start sharing your data. Before you can do any of this, you first have to activate the device. This means you will need an Internet connection. To activate your GoFlex Net, or "PogoPlug" as it is called, you simply go to www.seagate.com/ActivateMyGoFlexNet and follow the simple 4 step process. When this is accomplished, not only is your GoFlex Net ready to be used but so too is your unique PogoPlug page.
In its default configuration, you use either a downloadable version or a browser interface version of the Pogo software. This suite of tools is very well laid out and is fairly intuitive. To get started you simply tell it what files you want to share... and share them. Alternatively, you can go into the setting page and tell your FreeAgent GoFlex Net to act like a regular NAS (aka WFS or Windows File Sharing).
This is where things get a tad bit "interesting" as the default workgroup is "SeagateGroup", whereas Windows XP's default workgroup is "MSHOME" and Windows 7's is "WORKGROUP". Actually finding the darn thing is much easier if you set the workgroup to your workgroup.
In either case when properly configured you can simply use Map Network Drive and add it as you would another drive to your "My Computer" list and then use it just as if it was just any other Network Attached Device. This however, really doesn't harness the full potential of the FreeAgent GoFlex Net. The real abilities of this device is not in its ability to be just another NAS; rather it is its ability to stream and share your files over the Internet via a laptop, computer or even smartphones. You can literally be anywhere in the world and this bad boy will allow you to view your, pictures, video, music or even just plain old data files as if you were still at home and still connected to you own LAN.
The only limitation to the speed at which you can stream your data is the speed of not only your home's Internet connection but also the Internet connection you are attached too on your end. I know here in Ontario my upload speed would be a major bottle neck making 1080p streaming impossible as my upload speed is capped at a mere 500kbits/s.
Taking this to even further is the ability to share your files with friends and family without sharing everything on the drive. Yes, you can even tell what files you do and do not want to share. Basically, the drives default is to share nothing and you have to specifically select a file, press share and then email the unique link to the person you want to share it with. In this day and age of "accidental" pictures and other naughtiness being shared when the user certainly did not want to the world to see it, this is reassuring. The default answer should always be no, and I hope other companies take a page from Seagate and follow their lead on security. Also on the security end of things and worth mentioning is the fact that you can set up your FreeAgent GoFlex Net to use SSH enabled security making it even tougher for others to snoop or "accidentally" access your GoFlex Net drive without your consent. Though as the old saying goes, the security is as only as good as the user using it, so make sure to use a password that is hard to guess.
To get a good feel for what this unit is capable of, what better way than to run a couple quick real world data transfer tests? As usual, test bed consisted of a Gigabyte EP45 Extreme motherboard with an Intel Q9550 quad CPU with 4GB of Ram. Running XP SP3. All tests were run 4 times only best results are shown. Main OS drive is a VelociRaptor 300GB, secondary data transfer drive was a G.Skill Phoenix 100GB solid state drive plugged in to a free ICH 10 port on the motherboard.
For the networking results the FreeAgent GoFlex Net with one Seagate GoFlex 500GB Portable drive attached was connected to my network. The router used was a D-Link DIR-615 which has both Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n wireless capabilities. To ensure a clear network free of congestion, no other systems besides those needed for a given test were attached to the network.
For USB 2.0 results the Seagate GoFlex 500GB Portable using its USB 2.0 GoFlex adapter cable was plugged directly into a free USB port on the motherboard. For the SATA results the Seagate GoFlex 500GB Portable sans GoFlex cables was plugged directly into a free ICH10 port on the motherboard.
HTPC system consisted of a AMD X2-4400 dual core system, with 4GB of RAM running Windows 7. The HTPC system can be run both in wired or wireless mode as it has a built in Ethernet port and a Dlink wireless N adapter card installed in a free PCI slot.
This device is not what you call over flowing with raw horsepower so it came as no surprise that it posts result which are a tad on the anemic side. With that being said, these numbers are still way, way, way better than what is required to stream even the highest bit rate encoded 1080p videos! Therefore the speeds, while slower than what a more powerful NAS would post, are still more than good enough. If your data is not time sensitivity than a couple seconds per file is not really going to matter at all in the grand scheme of things now is it!?
While knowing the shear speed of the Seagate GoFlex Net is all well and fine it doesn't really get to the heart of the matter. To really see if it can actually be used as a media sharing device, I first setup the PogoPlug software on my Windows 7 Home Theatre PC system and used it to stream music, pictures, low bit rate and high bit rate video to my HTPC.
In order to do this, I first had to install the software and use it to stream the information in real time to my system. Where the device was attached to my local area network, and seen as another hard drive (the "P" drive to be precise) that is about all I had to do. I then simply installed the PogoPlug software, ran it, gave it my information (username and password), opened up the P:\ drive via windows explorer, selected the file and streamed it to my HTPC's default program. This took all of about 2 minutes to setup and after that was just as easy as if the GoFlex was directly attached to my system and not in another room. To say it is easy to use is an understatement, as the software makes your GoFlex Net drive into just another drive.
Hell, you don't even need to use Windows Explorer to browse for your files, simply open up your favorite media player program (in my case VLC), and select the P:\ drive and go from there. You media player really just sees it as just another direct attached drive.
With this software, there is absolutely no need to go through the hassle of setting the PogoPlug up as a mapped network drive. The software does it all for you; better yet it also takes all the hassle and complications out of it, making it extremely user friendly. In other words, if you WANT to do things the hard way you can set the drive up to use WFS and map it as a network drive, but if you want something that "just works" this software is perfect for you.
In either case, testing the GoFlex proved just as fast and reliable as my QNAP TS-409 for streaming multimedia files. It was able to seamlessly stream everything I threw at it, even high definition 25+ Mbits/s bit-rate encoded MKV files, with absolutely no issues over both wired and wireless connections to my HTPC. The PogoPlug software really does take the hassle out of Network Attached Storage; and has made it so simple even a novice can enjoy the benefits of a NAS. Good job Seagate!
When it came to media sharing, things are also extremely easy. You simply log into your "my PoGo account" select the file(s) or file folder(s) you want to share and click the green little icon (you can even sort by media type.). Type in the email address, included a personalized message if you want and bingo it's sent. Heck, you can even set it up so they can only VIEW and not edit the files you shared. There are also options to share your files via RSS feed, and let public to have limited viewing access to the files.
You can either select a folder or individual files for sharing.
Recipients will receive this email which provides them with a temporary Pogoplug for shared access.
In testing, one thing became abundantly clear, the bottleneck is not going to be the GoFlex Net; it is going to be your Internet service plan. Here in Canada, I have a pretty average service plan with 512kbits/s upload and 3Mbits/second download speed. This obviously stinks, but that's how it is here in Canada. If you have an insane Internet connection like those lucky SOBs in Korea with blindingly fast (or faster if they don't cheap out) connection speeds, then this may not be an issue. For everyone else, it is easy to share with friends and family, just don't expect it to be fast. In some instances, you may be better off uploading your files to a one of the myriad of online storage services as then your bottleneck will be your download speed and not your upload. The other minor annoyance I have is any invitations you make only have a 2 week shelf life. After 14 days, they expire and you will have to send another invite. This time limit should be customizable as that option was conspicuous by its absence and if you are sharing your data with lots of friends and family members... this is going to be a royal nuisance in the long run.
Small yet portable
Easy to setup
Extremely easy to use
Pogoplug software takes the hassle out of setup and use
Supports 2 GoFlex drives and has a USB port for additional storage
Requires Internet connection to activate
Speed is a little on the low side
Two week expiry for invites
Anyone who knows what "NAS" stands for probably likes the idea of Network Attached Storage; however, they may not like having their external storage tied down to one place. While there are some dual-purpose Ethernet + USB or Firewire or eSATA combination units out there, they are usually bulky items that are less than optimal solutions for most consumers needs. At first I was skeptical of the GoFlex Net, as it sounded almost too good to be true; yet the end result is an easy to use network attached device that will still allow your drives to do double duty as a direct attached storage device. Hell, it can accept two GoFlex's at the same time.
The GoFlex Net is a small, portable and while slightly more time consuming to setup than other GoFlex options (which are simply plug in attachments), it still was awfully easy to get setup and even easier to use. This is something most network attached devices can not claim, even ones costing a heck of a lot more then the GoFlex Net does. When you add in the fact that you can easily access your media even when away from you network (Internet connections on both ends required) you do have what will be for some a very, very tempting upgrade for existing GoFlex Portable and GoFlex Pro owners.
Sadly, not all is perfect with the GoFlex Net. I was less than impressed with the lack of active cooling for your drives. To be fair the GoFlex Net is more a network docking station than network enclosure so active cooling would have been asking a lot. However, when you take into consideration what you get for the asking price and the ease of use this device offers it really does become almost impossible to say no to it. The main goal of the GoFlex Net is to help you share your media over your network and Internet; and at this goal, it is a stunning success with ease of use that is unheard of in a consumer grade network attached device. It may not win any speed contests, but it is fast enough that it can seamlessly stream high bit-rate video over your own network without a hiccup. In the end, anyone who wants dual-purpose abilities in their network attached storage device and already own a Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Portable, or GoFlex Pro, then the FreeAgent GoFlex Net will be a very tempting upgrade.