Seagate Expansion 4TB External Drive and Linux

📅 March 31, 2019
Need more space for backups using an external USB drive? The Seagate Expansion offers 4TB of unformatted room to grow, and it is compatible with Linux!

Parkinson’s Law of Data states that data expands to fill the available space. A 10MB hard drive was deemed a phenomenal amount of storage space in the early 1980’s with the IBM PC XT.

“Who would possibly fill up 10MB?”

But people managed to fill up that space, and then beg for more. Now, we measure hard drive storage space in gigabytes and terabytes as the demand for more storage space increases.

With all of this data, it is important to back it up, and this is best accomplished on an external medium, such as cloud storage or an external hard drive.

The Seagate Expansion 4TB Portable Hard Drive is an external USB 3.0 drive that offers plenty of room to grow in a fairly small package.

How well does it perform with Linux Mint 19.1? Let’s see…

 

About the Drive

Like any item I use, I pay for it out of my own pocket, and the price for the Seagate Expansion 4TB drive was not bad. Let’s give it a try with Linux! Keep in mind that this is a mechanical drive containing spinning platters, so do not expect SSD or NVMe performance.

But then again, this is intended for backing up data from the main system, so capacity is more important than speed considering this will not be plugged in all of the time.

Box front. Very simple.

The back of the box says very little in multiple languages. I could not find any Linux compatibility text, but this is an external drive, so it should work with Linux, right?

Shown here is the drive itself (black on the right) next to the Seagate Ultra Silm+. The Seagate Expansion 4TB is slightly larger than the Ultra Slim+, and it is about twice as thick. (The diamond texture on the 4TB Expansion drive is not visible in this image due to contrast.) A blue LED located on the top illuminates.

Noise Level

Very quiet. I could not hear any clicking or annoying drive noise.

Feel and Build Quality

Upon first removing it from the box, I thought, “This feels cheap.” The drive is made of plastic and has a hollow feel. Not solid like the Ultra Slim+. It gave the impression that there was plenty of empty space inside, though this might not be the case.

Usable Space

The box might read 4TB of storage space, but that is not really true. After formatting the drive, the usable space is reduced to ~3.58 TiB (tebibytes, or terabytes using a power of 2, not 10).

GParted (Linux Mint 19.2) showing the Seagate 4TB formatted to ext4. Usable space is 3.58 TB, not 4TB. The 4TB printed on the box is referring to raw, unformatted space.

As a general rule, subtract about 7% from the capacity quoted on the box to estimate the real, usable capacity of the drive. (Due to formatting overheard.) On Linux, this is especially important since Linux reserves a chunk of hard drive space for itself in the form of reserved blocks.

If formatting to a Linux filesystem, such as ext4, be sure to set the reserved blocks to 0 using tune2fs. Otherwise, the maximum lost space will be about 12% (7% + 5% Linux default).

sudo tune2fs -m 0 /dev/sdc1

(Where /dev/sdc1 is the partition. Use the partition [ /dev/sdc1 ] not the drive device [ /dev/sdc ] to remove the reserved blocks.)

Disks utility. Out of the box, the drive contains two partitions: 134MB and a partition for the rest of the space. Highlighted here is the 134MB partition.

Disks utility. This is the drive, a single partition, after formatting to ext4 in Linux Mint 19.1.

GPT, not MBR

Since this drive is beyond the 2TB limit of MBR at 4TB, it must use GPT (GUID Partition Table), not MBR (Master Boot Record) for partitioning. In fact, GParted will display an error if you try to create a partition greater than 2TB. Since I wanted the entire drive to format to a single partition, MBR was not an option. Linux supports GPT, so this is not an issue.

Bundled Software

Any software is already preinstalled on the drive, but it is for Windows and Mac only. Not usable if running Linux.

Nemo (Linux Mint 19.1) displaying the contents of the drive fresh out of the box.

Benchmarks

With the formatting out of the way, what kind of performance can we expect in Linux? For this, I ran three benchmarks using the Disks benchmark in Linux Mint 19.1. The drive was connected to a USB 3.1 port on the computer via the provided USB micro-B cable.

100x10M

100x10M. ~95/51 MB/s read/write. The declining graph pattern is typical for consumer-grade mechanical drives. Notice that read rates begin high but decrease as time goes on. This is a telltale sign that spinning platters are involved even if they are nearly inaudible.

100x100M

Let’s try 100M chunks of data.

100x100M. ~88/58 MB/s read/write. Pretty good performance for a mechanical hard drive.

3x1000M

3x1000M. ~116/62 MB/s read/write. Tried three large transfers.

Everyday File Transfers

File transfers were quick and snappy without problems. Of course, the drive was brand new, so time will determine its reliability. The drive offers decent performance. Not SSD speeds, but still good for what it is.

Conclusion

So far, this drive is serving its purpose well. Read and write speeds are satisfactory, and it is 100% compatible with Linux out of the box. No special drivers needed.

VeraCrypt works well to encrypt the drive contents. No need for proprietary solutions.

The only welcome improvement would be, if possible, to reduce the size to that of the Ultra Slim+ to make the drive even more compact. Other than that, if you are seeking a large-capacity external USB drive that is compatible with Linux and offers fairly good read/write speeds, then the Seagate Expansion is worth a look.

The only thing left to do now is to fill up all of the free drive space…

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