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Western Digital My Passport Essential 500 GB USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive

December 6th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
3 Stars- techdad
In my stubbornness, I have built my own external drives by placing internal drives inside external enclosures.  This has served me well over the years but the benefits of a DIY external drive have greatly diminished mainly due to a drop in prices, nearly comparable warranties, and attractive yet durable enclosures.  The Western Digital My Passport Essential ultra-portable hard drive is only the second pre-built external drive I’ve ever owned.

  • Attractive and compact design
  • Good performance
  • No external power supply required
  • Rubber feet keeps it in place
  • White power/activity light is tasteful
  • Easy to smudge and attract dust
  • SES driver needs to be installed if SmartWare not installed
  • Short 2 year warranty
When reading up on this drive, I found no shortage of complaints in regards to the SmartWare app as well as loose cable connections.  I was apprehensive about the quality due to those reviews, but it turns out that it was unwarranted.

I am not a big fan of glossy plastic because of how easy they are to smudge and how easily they attract dust.  Maintaining their good looks is a chore and the WD My Passport Essential is no exception.  A matte finish may not look as nice when clean, but certainly looks better than dusty, glossy plastic.  Aside from that, I found the drive attractive and very portable.  The white power/activity indicator light is a teeny little pinhole-sized light and is just bright enough to let you know it’s there, but not so bright as to be distracting.  The micro-USB connector is on one of the short sides of the drive.  The cable fit firmly enough to not jiggle loose, but honestly, once I place a drive, I rarely have a need to move it, especially while it’s running.  The rubber feet at the bottom of the drive keep it from being accidentally moved around on a flat surface.

Needless to say, most portable and desktop external drives are of the 5400RPM and slower variety.  This is optimal mainly to reduce heat, which then allows more flexibility in creating a sleek, portable enclosure without the use of bulky fans.  The trade-off is obviously performance.  Still, if you are not regularly dumping hundreds of GB of data back and forth at the same time on a regular basis, you shouldn’t notice too much of a difference.  The following are benchmark results using HDTunePro for an Iomega Prestige/Seagate ST9500325AS (500GB) drive and the Wester Digital My Passport Essential (500GB) drive.  As you can see, the WD actually performed slightly better.

Iomega Prestige/Seagate ST9500325AS
Transfer Rate Minimum: 26.3 MB/s
Transfer Rate Maximum: 30.7 MB/s
Transfer Rate Average: 27.8 MB/s
Access Time: 24.7 ms
Burst Rate: 27.6 MB/s
CPU Usage: -1.0%

WD My Passport Essential 071A
Transfer Rate Minimum: 28.7 MB/s
Transfer Rate Maximum: 33.0 MB/s
Transfer Rate Average: 32.3 MB/s
Access Time: 19.0 ms
Burst Rate: 33.3 MB/s
CPU Usage: 7.7%

The 500GB drive comes pre-formatted in NTFS with 465GB of available space, exactly the same as my Iomega Prestige drive.  There are some devices that require FAT formatted drives to be able to see them so if you have problems with your device seeing the drive, that might be the issue.  Mac users will need to reformat it.

For the sake of writing a complete review, I wearily installed the SmartWare software off of the hard drive.  I prefer my own backup procedures so that part of the suite did not interest me.  The locking feature was interesting and I thought that some of the maintenance tools were useful.  Overall however, it didn’t offer enough for me to want to dedicate an entire application on my system for a single drive, especially when it could run just fine without it.  I didn’t have the same grotesque aversion to it that some users had however.  One definite annoying point about SmartWare is that if you choose not to install it, you MUST install the SES device driver on Windows machines just to avoid the hardware popup wizard from displaying each time you connect the drive.  When you connect the drive for the first time, all the drivers for it will install correctly except for the SES device driver.  The drive comes with the drivers on the disk but need to be installed manually.  Again, this is only if you don’t install SmartWare.  Unfortunately, Western Digital did not document this anywhere except in their PDF manual on the disk.  They should have added it to the small note they included in the package.

Hard disk manufacturers keep changing their warranties around so it’s always a good thing to check before buying.  And everyone knows that hard disks can and will go bad at some point so having a good warranty is important.  Western Digital only warranties the drive for 2 years, which is an entire year less than Iomega’s warranty.

I like the WD My Passport Essential overall.  It performs well, is attractive, portable, and has lots of free storage space.  However, companies like Toshiba and Iomega stand behind their drives for a year longer than Western Digital.  Because the WD doesn’t have anything really special going for it, the shorter warranty really stands out as a decisive con.

Available from Amazon.com.

* Review unit provided by Western Digital

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