Seagate Backup Plus review: Save your social media data

Seagate's new line of lightweight external hard drives lets you back up both local and online data.

Seagate is moving away from its GoFlex branding with a new series of external drives dubbed Backup Plus, which will store not only your photos, videos and files, but some social media data as well -- users can back up or share documents to Facebook and photo-sharing site Flickr. And as far as I know, it is also the only single hard drive backup device that offers an uber-fast Thunderbolt connectivity option.

The Backup Plus line comes in a desktop model and a portable model; I tested the latter.

Lightweight and adaptable

The new Backup Plus portable drive is remarkably slim and light, weighing a little less than half a pound and measuring just .57-in. thick. It's 3.19 in. wide and 4.86 in. long. It comes in one of four colors: black, red, blue or silver.

Like its predecessor, the GoFlex, the Backup Plus portable line comes with a Universal Storage Module -- a removable SATA interface adapter. The drive comes standard with a USB 3.0 adapter snapped in, but that can be removed with a quick tug and replaced with a FireWire 800 or Thunderbolt adapter -- if you're willing to part with some additional greenbacks. The Thunderbolt adapter will run you $99. The FireWire adapter for the Backup Plus won't be available until the fall, but you can still use the GoFlex model of the adapter with this drive; it just won't match new drive's look. That sells for $24.99.

The Seagate Backup Plus portable drive with the Universal Storage Module interface adapter removed.

One of the nice features of Thunderbolt is the ability to daisy chain up to five devices. Unfortunately, if you have other Thunderbolt-enabled devices, Seagate's Backup Plus portable model will have to be at the end of the chain -- it's got no Thunderbolt output port. On the other hand, the desktop model has two Thunderbolt ports, so it can be used as a "pass-through" device.

I had problems with my adapter, which had a loose connection to the drive's SATA interface. This caused the I/O interface to my computer to disengage more than once with little more than a slight movement of the USB cable. I'm not sure if that's a design flaw or a manufacturing glitch with my unit.

Setup

Right off the bat, I formed two opposing impressions of this drive. In the plus column, the Backup Plus is whisper-quiet and versatile.

At a Glance

Seagate Backup Plus

SeagatePrice: $119.99 (500GB), $129.99 (750GB), $139.99 (1TB)Pros: Easy to use; performs well; offers several interfacesCons: Difficult setup; loose connector in review unit

In the minus column, however, the setup is a bit kludgy. It took a couple attempts to get the drive to set up so that I could use its Protect data backup tool and dashboard menu. A colleague of mine had similar problems getting his Backup Plus Portable drive to save his Facebook data properly; after a couple of calls to the support folks at Seagate, he got the drive to work.

I tested the Backup Plus using a MacBook Pro. The drive's software auto-detected my OS (Mac OS X version 10.6.8, a.k.a. Snow Leopard) and asked if I wanted to use the drive with Mac and PC or Mac only. Choosing both operating systems required installation of the included Paragon NTFS for Mac driver to enable two-way Mac OS and Windows use. Some applications, including Time Machine and the included Mac backup software from Seagate, will not work since they cannot make use of a drive that uses the Windows (NTFS) file system.

Choosing "Mac only" will erase PC-related functions on the drive and prepare it for use with all your Mac applications, including Time Machine and the included Mac backup software from Seagate.

Driving with a Dashboard

Seagate's Dashboard software, which comes with the drive, takes up 3GB of space on your computer. It's a small price to pay for a convenient way to access automated backup functions.

The Dashboard gives you three options: Protect (the backup application), Share (which lets you upload videos and photos to your Facebook, YouTube and/or Flickr accounts) and Save (which lets you download your photos from Facebook and Flickr).

Unfortunately, Seagate's Protect backup tool is only for PCs. Mac users are relegated to using Apple's Time Machine backup, but you can still use the "Save" or "Share" features, so your Facebook or Flickr files are incorporated into the Time Machine backup.

With the Protect tool, you also get a one-year free subscription to Seagate's public cloud service. The free cloud storage subscription includes up to 4GB capacity. You can optionally upgrade your online storage capacity to 10GB ($19.99/year), 25GB ($49.99/year) or 50GB ($99.99/year).

The Backup Plus portable drive's Dashboard helps you save or share social media content.

Using Protect

The default (and simplest) setting of the Protect data backup tools is "Protect Now." It finds the drive, creates a backup of all non-system data, such as photos and documents, and then continuously backs up any new data saved to your computer. You can also save content from your Facebook and/or Flickr accounts into a folder called MyOnlineDocuments.

Another cool feature allows you to pause or delete the backup in progress. You choose the time or day of the week you want to back up. Otherwise, backups will be continuous.

You can also choose to back up all data files or just files in your personal documents folder, your music, photos or videos. You can select specific files by selecting "select files" and clicking on file names, and can choose to back them up either on the drive and/or on Seagate Cloud Storage. You can then choose to back them up monthly, weekly, daily, hourly or continuously.

Once I did get it set up, the tools and menu appeared well thought out and simple to use. For example, my Facebook photos and videos were saved in a folder marked "Facebook," which I found easy to locate and useful in ensuring my social networking documents remain intact. (Often, once I upload a photo to Facebook, I end up deleting it off my phone or camera to open up space on the memory card.)

I like the fact that the Protect tool also includes a Snapshot option, which gives you greater manual control over backups. A snapshot is an exact copy of all system data at a particular point in time, which avoids the slowdown of a full backup, which pauses applications as it records new writes. Snapshotting is a relatively advanced feature that only business class systems typically have -- it's great for making a quick copy of everything up to that point in time. By compiling snapshots over time, you can maintain a full backup because you're adding the new data to the old for a complete picture.

To retrieve files you've backed up, you just click on the "restore files" button, which brings you to a screen where you can select files or folders you want to restore. The default is to restore them to their original locations, but you can also send them to different folders.

Make time for the first backup

As I expected, using a USB 2.0 cable, the initial backup took quite a while: roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes to back up 77.69GB of data. As a result, it's best to perform your first backup overnight, as it will likely slow down other application's performance.

It's a safe bet that using Thunderbolt or FireWire 800 will give users a remarkable boost in performance. I've reviewed Thunderbolt drives before, and full backups were markedly faster.

In summary

Overall, I found myself really liking this little backup drive. Its automated features are pretty advanced for such a small, single-drive device.

I was particularly impressed with the ability to set up specific backup times not just for data snapshots and full backups, but also being able to choose specific folders to back up regularly --such as photos or contacts.

I also like the size of this drive. It fits nicely into your jean pocket.

There were a few problems along the way. Seagate should do a little work on its setup, and users should make sure they get a secure fit with the adapter.

That being said, I'd recommend this drive for several reasons. Notwithstanding the speed of the initial backup -- it's always going to be slow unless you're using FireWire or Thunderbolt -- this drive works like a pro, backing up any new data and creating a full backup from that data. It's easy to use and it offers several interfaces through the use of adapters.

The price is right too. A 500GB model retails for $119.99, a 750GB model is $129.99 and a 1TB model, like the one I tested, retails for $139.99. The desktop version is available in 1TB ($129.99), 2TB ($159.99), 3TB ($179.99) and 4TB ($249.99) models.

Bottom line

Seagate knows hard drives, and it has done a nice job making an easy-to-use portable helpmate with this one.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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