Introduction, Design Software
For years now, external hard drives have come in two distinct formats: smaller, bus-powered “portable” drives built around laptop-size 2.5-inch hard drives, and larger “desktop” models that can hold more files but require an external power brick, much like a laptop does.
The larger drives have always required external power because the 3.5-inch hard drives they house inside their shells were designed for desktop PCs, and they require more power than USB could deliver over a single cable.
But the power limitations of USB are changing due to the shift to a new type of cable and connector, USB Type-C. USB Type-C is slim and reversible, but it can also deliver enough power to power not only more-demanding peripherals, but entire laptops and tablets. USB Type-C is the sole charging and data port found on the two-pound Apple MacBook, and it has taken the place of micro-USB on more than a few smartphones and tablets (such as the Google Pixel C). It’s even starting to make its way into a few DIY desktop PC cases we’ve seen recently, like the tempered-glass-covered In Win 805. For much more detail about USB Type-C and USB 3.1, see our USB 3.1/USB Type-C primer story.
We’ve looked at a few USB Type-C-enabled storage devices in recent months, including Samsung’s Portable SSD T3 solid-state drive, and the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive. But the Seagate’s Innov8, a spacious 8 terabyte (TB) drive we’re looking at here, is the first desktop external drive we’ve seen so far that uses the new cable. And it arguably makes more sense with a drive like this, because it allows Seagate to deliver cavernous amounts of storage over a single cable, without the need to plug in or lug around another power brick.
Eight terabytes is twice as much storage capacity as on any bus-powered drive available previously. And the Seagate Innov8 drive sells for about $350 to $380. That’s certainly not cheap, but it’s less than the price of the LaCie Rugged RAIDLaCie Blade Runner drive we looked at back in 2013, it’s a design that we wouldn’t be surprised to see showcased in an upcoming summer sci-fi blockbuster or a science-centric TV show like The Flash. (Of course, it also doesn’t look bad sitting on a desk, backing up your files, either.)
We love the fact that the USB Type-C cable means you can do without a power brick, and the drive’s design both looks and feels great. It can sit vertically or horizontally on a desk, but to keep vibrations to a minimum, you may want to place it flat on the four small rubber nubbins that Seagate placed on the bottom of the drive.
Now, the Innov8 looks great, but know that you can get the same amount of storage and performance for a lot less by opting for the company’s Backup Plus Desktop, which is also available in capacities other than 8TB, unlike the Innov8. That model has a comparatively boring (and fingerprint-attracting) glossy plastic shell and requires external power. But it’s still the better option for most users seeking a spacious storage drive today for backing up multiple devices. That’s because the Backup Plus Desktop uses a standard USB 3.0 port (of the full-size Type-A variety), which is backward-compatible to older USB 2.0 (and USB 1.1) devices, as well.
With the Innov8 drive, you’ll need to connect to a USB 3.1 Type-C port to get the drive working at all. That’s fine if you plan on connecting your storage drive solely to the new-for-2016 Apple MacBook, or one of the recent Windows laptops that also have this port, such as the Dell XPS 13XPS 15 or HP’s impressive EliteBook Folio G1. But for the vast majority of existing laptops and desktops with standard USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, this drive just won’t work, because the older USB ports aren’t designed to deliver enough power.
To test this, we grabbed the USB Type-C-to-USB Type-A cable that ships with the Samsung Portable SSD T3 and used it to plug the Innov8 drive into several blue USB 3.0 ports, only to see the drive’s activity light light up in red and fail to spin up at all. (The light is blue when the drive is functioning normally.)
We would also have liked to see a second USB Type-C port on the Innov8 drive for connecting other devices or daisy-chaining multiple drives together, which is also a feature of USB 3.1. This would be an excellent feature for Apple MacBook users, as that laptop has a single USB Type-C port that’s also used for charging.
Our two other primary quibbles with the Innov8 drive have to do with the cable and port. The cable that Seagate includes in the box is only about 17 inches long, which is fine for laptop users who plan to keep the drive close by on their desk. But when plugged into the back of our desktop test-bed tower, the Innov8’s cable was barely long enough to run from the USB port to the side of the system’s case. Also, when you plug the cable into the drive’s USB Type-C port, it doesn’t connect as snugly as we’d like; the cable easily (and unnervingly) wiggles around in the port without much effort.
To be fair, the area around the port is brushed metal, so we don’t see the socket getting damaged easily or wearing out. But considering how solid the rest of the Innov8 feels, the wobbly nature of the cable connection is a little off-putting.
It’s also worth pointing out that the drive is quite heavy, at 3.3 pounds. It’s not something you’re going to toss casually in your bag for on-the-go storage; it’s as heavy as a laptop. But if you need to carry it from room to room or move it from home to a college dorm, the fact that it doesn’t need a power brick makes it much easier to deal with.
Technically, you won’t find any software loaded on the Innov8 drive out of the box. Instead, there’s a PDF of the warranty (three years for the United States and most other countries), and links for both PC and Mac users that take you to a registration page. Once you’ve offered up your e-mail address to Seagate, you can download the company’s Dashboard software.
The software’s design is clean, and it is intuitively laid out. You can choose whether to back up your entire drive, or just specific folders or file types, as you can see here…
You can schedule backups to happen monthly, weekly, daily, hourly, or continuously. With 8TB on hand, you’ll have enough space to back up multiple systems. But remember that devices without a USB 3.1 port won’t be able to access the drive.
The Dashboard software also has a couple of extra, possibly intriguing, features. Mobile Backup, for one, lets you back up your Android or iOS device…
It requires that you set up an account with Seagate and install an app on the device in question. Since both Apple and Google have decent baked-in backup features, and it’s easy to find several options for storing your photos in the cloud, Seagate’s Mobile Backup may have limited appeal, unless you don’t trust the cloud and simply want a local copy of your device content.
Further, a Social Backup option promises to save media from your social-media accounts. The software has options for Facebook and Flickr, but no others. Of course, Facebook is arguably the most important by far, and Flickr users are prime candidates for backups, as well. But with so many other popular social-networking platforms, this is another feature that may have only limited appeal. The simpler solution would be just to back up your images to your computer first, then transfer copies to the Innov8 drive.
One feature we do find handy, though, is that you can configure the drive in the Settings section of the software to control how often it spins up and down (helpful if it’s used on a regular but intermittent schedule for backups), and swithing off the activity light (helpful for when you’re backing up at night and your drive is the same room as your bed).