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View Full Version : The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable Family of Products

Chris Baxter
09-07-2010, 03:00 PM
<p><strong><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282425862.usr1.jpg" style="border: 0;" /></strong></p><h6><strong>Product Category:</strong>&nbsp;Portable storage device</h6><h6><strong>Manufacturer:&nbsp;</strong><a href="http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/external/external-hard-drive/" target="_blank">Seagate</a></h6><h6><strong>Where to Buy:&nbsp;</strong><a href="http://astore.amazon.com/digitalhomethoughts-20/search?node=0&amp;keywords=Seagate+FreeAgent+GoFlex+Ultraportable+drive&amp;preview=&amp;x=5&amp;y=15" target="_blank">Amazon.com</a>&nbsp;(affiliate)</h6><h6><strong>Price:</strong>&nbsp;$90 to $170 USD depending on storage size of hard drive, $99 for the Net Media device, $130 for the GoFlex TV HD, and $20 to $40 for the different&nbsp;cable options</h6><h6><strong>System Requirements:</strong>&nbsp;Windows&reg; 7, Windows Vista&reg;, Windows&reg; XP (32-bit &amp; 64-bit) operating system or Mac&reg; OS X operating system 10.4.9 or higher and a USB 2.0, USB 3.0, FireWire 800, or eSATA port.</h6><h6><strong>Specifications:</strong>&nbsp;The&nbsp;<strong>GoFlex Ultraportable drive</strong>: Height - 111mm (4.39 in), width - 83mm (3.19 in), length - 14mm (.57 in), and weight - 150g (.33 lb).</h6><p><strong>Pros:</strong></p><ul><li>Wide variety of attachments and accessories that actually extend the capabilites of the drive;</li><li>The GoFlex Net Media Sharing Device is an easy and fun way to share your files on the network;</li><li>Using the optional cable attachments can greatly increase the performance of the drive.</li></ul><p><strong>Cons:</strong></p><ul><li>User Interface for the GoFlex TV HD Media Player needs work;</li><li>Taking advantage of all the accessories the product has to offer can get expensive.</li></ul><p><strong>Summary:&nbsp;</strong>Seagate has a family of portable storage devices and accessories that are aimed at keeping up with technology, making networking your storage devices easy, and delivering the media content on that storage to the place it is most useful, your TV. I got the chance to test and review these products to see if they can deliver what they promise. Was I disappointed or did they succeed at what they were designed for? Read on to find out.<MORE /></p><h1>A New Way to Combat Future&nbsp;Obsolescence</h1><p>I'm an absolute pack rat. I keep just about everything that I get my hands on and I have problems throwing anything away. This is evident in my real life as well as my &ldquo;virtual life&rdquo;. I still have every file I have ever created, even going back to the days when I used computers that most people either haven&rsquo;t heard of or have forgotten about by now.</p><p>So as you can imagine, storage space has always been a big deal to me. Over the years I have invested heavily in floppy disks and hard drives. I jumped on the Iomega bandwagon when they introduced the Zip drive, and I thought the Jazz drive was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The hard drives of the time were adequate but they lacked portability and the floppy was starting on its long journey to obsolescence. Time marches on and now we find ourselves flooded with different portable storage options ranging from USB flash drives to hard drives measured in terabytes and everything in between. So now it becomes important for a storage device to stand out in other ways or just get lost in the flood of other products out there. Seagate tries to do this with their&nbsp;<a href="http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/external/external-hard-drive/" target="_blank">FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable line of hard drives and peripherals</a>.</p><p>The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable line of external hard drives range in size from 320 GB to 1 TB. The drives are small enough to fit in a pocket and have capacities equivalent to the internal hard drives found in desktop systems. But really, this is nothing new; there are plenty of other manufacturers out there that make a similar product. So what makes the FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable drives special? It&rsquo;s the interchangeable cables they can utilize to work with different technologies. Out of the box the drive can support your standard everyday USB 2.0 port, but say you have a computer which has ports that support some of the newer technologies out there and you would like to take advantage of this. Well with the right cable, you can.</p><p>The GoFlex drives can support USB 3.0, FireWire 800, and eSATA with the correct cable attachment. Why might you want to invest more of your hard earned cash in a different cable when your system already supports USB 2.0? Well the answer to that is speed and future compatibility. USB 2.0 is still pretty much the standard for now, but as always with technology, times are changing, and at some point in the future, USB 2.0 might be as relevant as those old ZIP disks and drive that I invested so much money into a long time ago. That being said though, for most daily types of file use, USB 2.0 is still fine, but if you are into video editing or managing extremely large files, technologies like FireWire 800, eSATA, and USB 3.0 are definitely worth looking into.</p><h1>Packaging: A Way to Inspire Confidence</h1><p>Right away I was impressed with the retail packaging of the device. Some people might wonder how relevant packaging is, since most likely it is just going to be thrown away, but as Apple well knows, packaging is key to your initial impression of a product and its quality. A well dressed product promotes confidence in the consumer. Realistically this should not be the case, but in general we are visually oriented and first impressions are very important to us. They can often influence a purchase decision over similar products if you are having problems deciding. The box that the GoFlex drive comes in is as visually attractive as it is well built, which in turn made the unpacking of the product that much more of an enjoyable experience.</p><p>The box itself contains the <a href="http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/external/external-hard-drive/portable-hard-drive" target="_blank">Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable Drive</a>, a matching USB 2.0 cable attachment, and a quick start guide. The drive is available in a range of sizes and it also comes in a range of colors. Interestingly, the size of the drives affects the choice of colors you can get it in. All the drives come in black, but the 320 and 500 GB models have more choices, with the 500 GB model having the most. The 320 GB model comes in either black or silver, while the 500 GB comes in black, red, silver, or blue. For this review I was sent the 500 GB silver model. The USB 2.0 attachment that came with the drive is silver, but the other cable attachments I received to test with were all black. When I checked the website about this, I found that the extra cable attachments only come in black. Since all the other cable attachments and accessories were packaged pretty much the same way as the drive, I won't go into any more detail on unpacking everything for this review.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282025337.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #d2d2bb;" /></p><p><em>Figure 1: An example of Seagate's packaging for the FreeAgent GoFlex family of products.&nbsp; Attractive and well built.</em></p><p><PAGE /></p><h1>Getting to Know the GoFlex Drive and its Capabilities</h1><p>So, after removing it from the packaging and attaching the included USB 2.0 cable, I plugged it into my latest laptop, which is currently running Windows 7 Home Premium Edition. It was instantly recognized and I was browsing the preinstalled content on the drive within seconds. The FreeAgent drives come with backup software that Seagate recommends installing. Since I had no backup software currently installed on my laptop, I figured this was a good time to try it. The installation procedure was pretty much the same as all windows installations and was fairly painless. When it was done I was presented with a screen that showed me the capacity of my drive and gave me the option to do an instant backup. Selecting the Instant Backup feature brought me to a new screen which promptly started scanning my laptop for files to backup. When the scanning process was done, it displayed via bar graph the different types of files it would be backing up, such as music, video, and document files. From here I just selected the Start Backup button and let it do its thing. The backup took about 20 minutes to complete, which I thought was decently fast for backup software that came free with the drive itself.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282426461.usr1.jpg" style="border: 0;" /></p><p><em>Figure 2: The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable drive with cable attachment.</em></p><p><em></em></p><p>The FreeAgent drive also supports Macs right out of the box. It provides two options on how to do this. You can have the drive support both Mac and PC using a special NTFS driver which installs from the drive itself or you can have it support Mac only by running a utility that reformats the drive to the Apple file system. For Mac users this probably the best option because it makes the drive compatible with Time Machine or a Mac version of the backup software that comes with the drive. Neither of those options are available if you leave it formatted NTFS.</p><p>I wanted to test the drive on my MacBook Pro to see what if any differences there would be vs. the PC, and because my Mac has a FireWire 800 port on it and my PC does not. I installed the NTFS driver on my Mac so that I would be able to go back and forth between the PC and the Mac without any issues. Swapping cable attachments was as easy as pulling the USB 2.0 one off and pushing the FireWire on. The Mac recognized the drive immediately and after I installed the NTFS driver, it integrated itself on the Mac just as well as it did with the PC. Since I chose not to reformat the drive, testing the included backup software was pretty much out of the picture.</p><p>Next I decided to test how much faster FireWire 800 was than USB 2.0. For the test I chose a folder containing 7.24 GB of data. I first dragged the folder to the FreeAgent drive using the USB 2.0 attachment and timed it with a stopwatch. The transfer took a total of 4 minutes and 53 seconds. Using the FireWire 800 attachment, the transfer took 2 minutes and 8 seconds. I repeated the test a couple more times and ended up with pretty much the same results on all tests. Using the FireWire 800 attachment, the drive could transfer data roughly 2x faster than when using the USB 2.0 attachment. To further test these results I ran some hard drive benchmark software on the PC using the USB 2.0 cable and on the MAC using the FireWire 800 cable. The read and write times that I got confirmed what my stopwatch test already told me. It would have been cool to test the USB 3.0 and eSATA attachments also, but I do not have any computers that use USB 3.0, and my Dell desktop, which has an eSATA port on it, would not even power or acknowledge the drive when I attached it. I am pretty sure that problem is with my Dell and not the cable. As soon as I have some free time I plan on contacting Dell tech support about it.</p><p>After spending a decent amount of time playing around with the 500 GB Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultraportable drive, I find myself impressed with it. The included backup software is simple, but easy to use. The different cable attachments are an innovative way to keep the drive from going obsolete and even improve upon its performance. Next up, I take a look at &nbsp;two accessories to the drive that I was fortunate enough to be able to&nbsp;also&nbsp;test, and they add even more options on how you can use this portable drive.</p><p><PAGE /></p><h1><strong>Accessing Your Data Wherever You Want</strong></h1><p><strong></strong>First up is the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/network_storage/file-sharing" target="_blank">FreeAgent GoFlex Net Media Sharing Device</a>. This device allows you to connect up to two FreeAgent Ultraportable drives and a standard USB external hard drive to your network, and also gives you access to them from the Internet as well. Network Attached Storage devices have been gaining steadily in popularity over the past few years. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that wireless networking has been helping more and more people easily setup home networks. NAS devices range from external hard drives all the way to full blown servers such as Windows Home Server and tend to be great for backing up data or streaming media. The Net Media device allows you to easily make your FreeAgent drive into a full blown NAS device.</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282427147.usr1.jpg" style="border: 0;" /></p><p><em>Figure 3: The GoFlex Net Media Sharing device.&nbsp;The bars on the front light up to show how much space is being used on the hard drives.</em></p><p><em></em></p><p>Setting up the Net Media device was simple and painless. I just plugged in the power cord, connected it to my wireless router with a network cable, and plugged the drive into one of the two available slots on the device. Next I logged into <a href="http://www.pogoplug.com" target="_blank">www.pogplug.com</a>, signed up for a free account, and it found and configured everything for me. Once Pogoplug has found and configured your drive, you can then access it via an internet browser, a small client installed to your PC or Mac, or using an app on your iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or Palm device.</p><p><img alt="FreeAgent GoFlex Net Media" height="373" src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com//dht/auto/1282600962.usr18870.png" style="border: 1px solid #d2d2bb;" width="600" /></p><p><em>Figure 4: Pogoplug, a simple yet nice looking interface for managing your network attached GoFlex drive.</em></p><p><em></em></p><p>The browser based version of Pogoplug is pretty nice. The interface is simple, uncluttered, and attractive. The Pogoplug website allows you to upload and download files to and from your drive, it can encode video for playback on your mobile device, and it can interface with Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. The desktop client for the PC and Mac allows for a more traditional way of working with the networked drive by keeping you securely logged in and setting the FreeAgent up to look and behave like a normal network drive accessed by your PC. The free downloadable app for the smart phones mimics the browser experience, but is tailored for the smaller screens. I will admit that I was initially put off by having to rely on an external website to manage my locally connected device, but after playing around with Pogoplug for a while, I found that I don&rsquo;t mind it as much as I thought I would. Because the Net Media device does rely on Pogoplug, it would not work for someone running a network without internet access.</p><p>By the time I was done putting it through its paces, I found that the Net Media device really impressed me. It painlessly allowed me to add the GoFlex drive to my network and from there I was able to access it from all of my computers, and I was even able to stream video to my Android phone. For the $99 price tag, it is a solid and capable product well worth the money.</p><p><em><PAGE /></em></p><h1>Putting Media in its Place: The TV</h1><p>The last accessory I got to look at was the <a href="http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/home_entertainment/hd-media-player" target="_blank">FreeAgent GoFlex TV HD Media Player</a>. This device allows you play just about any popular media format on your TV/Entertainment center. Here is a quick breakdown of those formats:</p><ul><li><strong>Video</strong>: MPEG-4 (Xvid); MPEG-2 (VOB/ISO); Xvid HD; DivX HD+; MPEG-1; AVC HD; TS/TP/M2T; RMVB Real Media; DivX&reg;; VC-1; M2TS; WMV9; H.264; MKV; MOV; AVI. </li><li><strong>Audio</strong>: WMA Pro; WMA; Dolby&reg; Digital; ADPCM; FLAC; AAC; ASF; DTS; LPCM; OGG; WAV; MP3. </li><li><strong>Photo</strong>: JPEG files (up to 20 megapixels); MJPEG; BMP; TIFF; PNG; GIF. </li></ul><p>The GoFlex TV HD can connect with the FreeAgent drive via one of two methods; the simplest and most reliable involves plugging the drive directly into the device itself. The front of the device opens up to reveal a bay where the drive can plug into. Unfortunately the drive sticks out so that you cannot close the front of the device while the drive is installed. Aesthetically speaking, it would be nice if the GoFlex HD TV completely enclosed the drive.</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282677571.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 0;" /></p><p><em>Figure 5: The FreeAgent GoFlex TV HD.</em></p><p><img height="234" src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282940836.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 0;" width="600" /></p><p><em>Figure 6: The GoFlex TV HD with drive innseted and remote.</em></p><p>The other way to connect the FreeAgent drive is through the GoFlex Net Media sharing device. There is an option on the Pogoplug site that allows the them to talk to each other. The GoFlex TV HD can connect to your entertainment system using HDMI 1.3, component cables, or composite cables. It has an optical port for connection to your stereo, a network jack, and two USB ports for additional portable storage devices. There is an optional Wi-Fi adapter that you can purchase for $50, it supports the wireless N protocol which is fast enough to handle video streaming, but honestly when it comes to video streaming, using a wired connection to your router will provide a much more stable connection overall. At $130, the price is fairly competitive, there are cheaper devices out there that do pretty much the same thing, but they tend to not have the Internet features that the GoFlex TV HD has.</p><p>Besides being able to handle the more popular video, audio, and picture formats, the device allows you to access services like Netflix and Picasa if it is connected to the Internet. The GoFlex TV HD comes with a set of component and composite cables, but sadly no HDMI cable. Luckily, I had an unused HDMI cable on hand, and used it to hook the device up to my TV. The GoFlex TV HD boasts being able to handle video at 1080p, if I was going to put this thing through its paces, HDMI was pretty much my only option.</p><p><img height="229" src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282678662.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 0;" width="600" /></p><p><em>Figure 7: A view ofall the ports on the back of the GoFlex TV HD.</em></p><p><em></em></p><p>After connecting it to my TV, network, and power; I turned it on and waited through a short boot up to begin testing the device. When it was done booting my eyes were greeted with a home screen full of options. The home screen was presented in low definition with a very simple yet uninspired layout. Considering that this device was capable of 1080p video, I wondered why the home screen was 480i. This did not seem right, so I figured there had to be a setting menu somewhere that would allow me to fix this. The home screen itself is laid out in three rows. The top row consisting of icons for Movies, Pictures, Music, Internet, and Browse. The middle row of icons were for Netflix, YouTube, Mediafly, vTuner, Picasa, Flikr, and an arrow indicating more selections were available. The bottom row had icons for accessing any hard drives attached to the system, the local network, and any media servers that might be running on the network.</p><p>The home screen seemed to include everything except a settings menu. Looking at the remote, I noticed a menu button on it. Pushing this button brought up a dropdown row of icons at the top of the screen. These included Home, Movies, Pictures, Music, Internet, Browse, Settings, and Help. Selecting the settings icon brought up a new screen on which I was able to find the video settings and change the video output from 480i to 1080p. The settings screen also included settings for audio, firmware, networking, and system. Exiting the settings screen brought me back to the home screen which looked a lot sharper at the higher resolution that I had just set.</p><p><img height="444" src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282598875.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #d2d2bb;" width="600" /><em></em></p><p><em>Figure 8: The Home screen at 1080p resolution.</em></p><p><em></em></p><p>The GoFlex TV HD came with a CD containing Media Sync software for PC and Mac, Video Thumbnail Creator software, and the user guides. I installed the Media Sync and Thumbnail Creator software on my PC and attached the GoFlex drive. The Media Sync software scanned my PC and copied all my movies, pictures, and music to the drive. When this was done I used the Thumbnail Creator software to scan my video folder on the GoFlex drive and create thumbnail pictures for all the videos it found there. When this was done, I plugged the drive into the GoFlex TV HD and selected the Movies icon from the home screen. This took me to a new screen that listed all my movies and used the thumbnails it had just created as icons for the movies.</p><p>I should note here that, for some reason, not all the thumbnails that were created showed up on the screen. Most of them did, but for some reason some of the video files just showed a generic icon instead of the thumbnail. To attempts to fix this, I removed the drive from the GoFlex TV HD and plugged the drive back into my PC. after verifying that all of my video had thumbnails created for them, I ran the Thumbnail Creator again hoping that it would fix the issue. This was not the case though. When I plugged the drive back into the GoFlex TV HD and looked at the movie screen again, I found that nothing had changed. Another thing to note here is that the Thumbnail Creator will only work with the more traditional video formats. It will not work with .VOB DVD files or .ISO files.</p><p>GoFlex TV HD plays just about every popular video file out there and it does a good job of it. Hi-definition content looks great, but because it does not upconvert, the low definition video receives no benefits. The GoFlex TV HD handles music and picture files equally as well. The Pictures screen lists all your photos by thumbnails of the actual picture, and music is listed with the album art, provided you have the album art for your music. If you press the menu button on any of the media screens, you get sort options for the particular media screen you are on. The music and photo sort options are pretty much the standard ones you will find with any media player.</p><p><PAGE /></p><h1><strong>Putting Media in its Place: The TV (cont.)</strong></h1><p>The video display options leave a lot to be desired in my opinion. You pretty much just see every video that is on the drive sorted A-Z or Z-A; there is a thumbnail or list view and you can specify that you only want to look at DVDs. Basically if you directly rip the Video_TS folder from a DVD to the drive, the GoFlex TV HD will recognize it as being a DVD. If you rip a DVD to an .ISO file, which is pretty much the same thing, the device will no longer recognize it as a DVD. So the only two views you have are all your videos or just DVDs. This kind of sucks if you have videos for a season of a television show or a series of movies that are related to each other, such as a trilogy, because you have no way to group them easily together unless their titles are alphabetically next to each other. It would be nice to organize all those in one folder and access them through that folder. There is nothing stopping you from doing all of that organization on the drive itself, but when you look at them on the movies screen, all you will see is every single video file because the video screen ignores directory structure.</p><p><img height="444" src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282599306.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #d2d2bb;" width="600" /><em></em></p><p><em>Figure 9: Thumbnail view for the Movies screen.</em></p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282681057.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #d2d2bb;" /><em></em></p><p><em>Figure 10: The limited sorting options for the Movies screen.</em></p><p><em></em></p><p>I find this very annoying; I should be able to group like video files together so that when I am trying to find a particular file, I don't have to hunt through all of them to find it. There is a browse folders option, but it takes you to the root of the drive and then makes tunnel through whatever directory structure you have set up just to find your files which can be just as time consuming as hunting for them on the video screen. The pictures screen includes a show folders option which show all the folders containing pictures without you having to navigate the whole drive to find them. Why couldn't they have done something similar with the Movies screen.</p><p><img height="444" src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1282600016.usr18870.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #d2d2bb;" width="600" /><em></em></p><p><em>Figure 11: The Picture screen using the Show Folders option. A feature that I think is needed for the Movie screen.</em></p><p>The GoFlex TV HD also offers a variety of choices if the devices hooked up to the internet; my favorite is Netflix. With it I can stream movies from my Netflix account to my TV. This feature, however, is becoming fairly standard with media players. I mean I can stream Netflix from my Xbox 360, my Playstation 3, my Nintendo Wii, and even my HD Television. So while it's a nice feature; to me it's not that big of a deal. One thing that I did note while testing, was that it had a hard time getting full bandwidth on the movies I tried to watch, where I never have that issue when using my default Netflix player, the Xbox 360. I am really not sure what the issue could be because they are both plugged into the same router. The YouTube feature is nice; the interface is simple to use and the video playback quality is good. There are also options to connect to other internet video, audio, and music streaming sites, such as Mediafly, Picasa, and vTuner. Also with a network connection you can stream the media that is shared on any other PCs attached to your network. When everything considered, it is a solid media player, and I think it could be a great media player if the user interface was tweaked some. I mean both Tivo and Windows Media Center have great looking yet simple to use interfaces, so why can't this?<em></em></p><h1>Conclusion</h1><p>Overall, I was impressed by all the products that I tested for this review. I found the pricing to be fairly competitive and not overpriced. There is definitely value in the concept that you can upgrade the interface that your drive uses, in order to keep up with current technologies. The drive itself seems to be a solid piece of hardware and its small size makes it easy to take with you. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the Net Media Sharing device. Once I got over my reservations of letting a website manage the drive, I found it a real joy to use. Its ability to easily connect to the GoFlex TV HD just further shows how nice an integrated family of products can be.</p><p>If there is a weak point here it has to be the GoFlex TV HD. It does everything it's supposed to do and does it well enough, but the user interface detracts a lot from the experience. I really hope that this is somehow addressed in the future through a firmware update. With the right user interface I think it would be a great product and not just a good one.</p><p><em>Chris Baxter is an IT Professional and part time Web Designer who resides in North Aurora, Illinois. Playing video games, watching movies, or reading a good book are what occupies his time when he is not fixing computers or trying to get his hands on the latest gadgets.</em></p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com//ppct/auto/1240336793.usr1.gif" /></p><p><strong>Do you enjoy using new hardware, software and accessories, then sharing your experience with others? Then join us on the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com/reviewteam.php" target="_blank">Thoughts Media Review Team</a>! We're looking for individuals who find it fun to test new gear and give their honest opinions about the experience. It's a volunteer role with some great perks. Interested?&nbsp;<a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com/reviewteam.php" target="_blank">Then click here for more information.</a></strong></p><p><strong><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com//ppct/auto/1240336793.usr1.gif" /></strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p>