Computer Aces

Tech for the Rest of Us

Seagate GoFlex Satellite + Hack Seagate Satellite

February 28th, 2012

For years I have been looking for portable, battery-powered external hard drive. I do a lot of consulting and always keep backups of my work, so I keep a portable external hard drive with me. I also have an extensive music library that I want to have readily available to access from my laptop and portable devices, but I hate constantly moving music files to my “iDevices” just to keep the selection fresh, and all too often, I’ll want to hear some songs in my collection that I didn’t think to move.

Wait, I could do all of that on iCloud (or any other cloud service), right? Sure, if I want to wait for files to upload / download, and I want to pay for all the bandwidth to move the data – I’m usually on the road or at a client site when I want to move data and I don’t jailbreak my devices anymore – it’s just too much of a hassle for limited benefit and extra instability.

Last year I walked into Best Buy just to look at what’s available and found the Seagate GoFlex Satellite (GFS). A quick search on my iPhone gave me the impression that my wish had finally come true and my dream drive was right in front of me. Of course I bought it.

It didn’t take very long to realize that the GFS had some serious limitations that relegated it to being a cool toy, but not very useful…

  • It creates its own hotspot
    This is good except that if you log into the GFS’s wireless network you don’t have internet access (with some exceptions for devices that will connect to both 3G/4G and WiFi). If you want to access your media on GFS, you can’t get to the internet. This really SUCKS if you’re on the road using your iPad as both navigator and media player.
    NOTE: Seagate is beta-testing firmware that is supposed to remedy this by allowing the GFS to connect as a client to other WiFi networks.
  •  It sucks on a Mac.
    Well, there seems to be a problem with all of the portable GoFlex drives and Macs. I bought a GoFlex for Mac with a Firewire 800 interface and it worked great… for a while, but long enough for me to also buy a 1.5TB GoFlex drive and the GFS. They all have this strange habit of disconnecting from the Mac (whether they are going to sleep or doing something else is unclear to me), and I could find no decent solutions in the Seagate user forums. Sad.
  • Loading a large media library onto the GFS is problematic, at best.
    When I finally got most of my music files loaded to the GFS, I still couldn’t “get” to all of them.
    Evidently this is a problem with the miniDLNA indexing…
  • The GoFlex Media app on iPad sucks.
    And they just released a new one that still sucks.  It seems that Seagate are treating the GFS more like a simple storage device, and although the GoFlex media app lets you get to the files, it sucks as a media player.
  • Connecting the GoFlex to USB kills the WiFi.
    OK, I can think of some reasons the Seagate engineers may have wanted to do this – it makes their jobs simpler if they don’t have to code the ability to add files, move things around, etc. while trying to serve up media. You know, if it actually was a decent media server, I might understand this.

Believe me, there’s more; however, I am not writing this to bash Seagate – although they could use a little blog-bashing until they realize that the Mac and geek market for their hardware is huge if they would listen…

Enter www.hackseagatesatellite.com.

I encountered a link to the Hack Seagate Satellite website one day when I Googled “Hack Seagate Satellite firmware”, hoping to find someone who was geeky enough (and had enough free time) to crack the firmware and fix any of the problems. Being a bit leery of companies that make broad claims of fixing portable devices (cell phone unlocking, blah blah blah), I avoided the www.hackseagatesatellite.com link that appeared in Google and went straight to the Seagate forums, and learned a LOT.

First, I learned that Seagate had not tried to keep the GFS closed, but enable telnet access to the device. From there, it’s possible to make some changes that will:

  • Connect the GFS to an existing WiFi network.
    This kills the ability for the GoFlex app to access the GFS, but who cares?
  •  Install linux packages like openssh, samba, etc.
    This is great, if you are a geek and have the time to work out all the glitches. Which I started to do…

until I gave up and put the GFS in a drawer.  As geeky as I am, I just don’t have the free time to mod the GFS to my heart’s content, and there is no way that I could continue to use the GFS and fight its problems. I went out and purchased a 1TB Western Digital Studio Firewire 800 to back up my MacBook Pro and a Hitachi G-Drive to carry my media around on. Bleh. Plus I have my 80GB NTFS-formatted “go drive” to back up my client work.

But I also kept reading the Seagate forums, looking for some hope – after all, the GFS hardware is very capable of doing what I want; it’s just hampered by poorly implemented firmware.

After seeing a few good references for the Hack Seagate Satellite team, I decided to PayPal them USD $35 and give their mods a try. After all, I don’t mind spending a little more if it will salvage my $200 brick.

I am one happy camper now.

It took about 8 hours for the Hack Seagate Satellite team to confirm my purchase and grant access to their v2.3 GFS mod, and installation took all of 15 minutes. Now I have the device I thought I was getting last year when I purchased the GFS. What did I get for my $35?

  • A MUCH CLEANER web interface.
    It’s a more spartan interface, but much more functional than the GoFlex app or web interface. A few “glitches”, but it’s a work in progress…
  • A Samba server.
    I can connect to the GFS drive from my MacBook Pro without ever plugging the drive in. Take that, GoFlex interface! Sure, it’s not fast, but at least it works.
  • A WebDAV server.
    I can access the GFS from any app that supports WebDAV. Looks like I’ll start backing my client work to the GFS, making all of my documents available on my iDevices as well as my MacBook Pro.
  • DropBear (OpenSSH)
    I can SSH into the GFS instead of being limited to Telnet.

Best of all…

  • I can connect the GFS to my home WiFi, my MiFi, and any WiFi that I can get access to and have Interwebz and access to my media!!!

Now I can enthusiastically endorse the Seagate GoFlex Satellite – as long as you add the Hack Seagate Satellite mods…