First Exposure: Western Digital Portable Hard Drive

by Stan Sholik

The My Passport Studio is small, light and portable, with rounded corners and an attractive case. It fits right into any Mac environment.

April 01, 2012

Western Digital’s My Passport line of portable hard drives has been around for years, a testament to the product’s compact design and reliability. But over time, the line has gone through changes and the latest version continues this trend—even with its evolving design (this version now has rounded corners to more easily slide into your pocket).

The Passport line is aptly named as the units are about the size of a U.S. passport, though three times the thickness. Currently, there are three available capacities, all pre-formatted for the Mac: 320GB, 500GB and 640GB. I have the 500GB model to review.

Along with its compact size and light weight, the My Passport Studio looks good too, kind of iPhone-like, with a silvery plastic front and back, and a white insert on three sides. A chrome-like accent sets off the LCD window, and it certainly looks like a Mac accessory (although it’s possible to re-format it for Windows). 

The latest upgrade adds two features: a FireWire 800 data port to replace the FireWire 400 port, and an e-label. The FireWire 800 port makes the My Passport Studio compatible with the latest Macs. However, I found only a small speed gain over a FireWire 400 connection (cables for both are included). I suspect this is a result of having 5400rpm internal drive, but Western Digital would not provide that drive spec.

There is also a USB 2.0 connection (cable provided). The My Passport Studio is bus-powered through both the FireWire and USB connections so no external power connection is needed. While the FireWire port is industry standard, the USB port requires a proprietary cable, which defeats some of the otherwise excellent portability features. While you can comfortably slip the unit into your pocket for portability, you’ll need to slip the USB cable in also if you intend to connect the drive to someone else’s computer that doesn’t have FireWire 800.

The slickest upgrade in this version of the My Passport Studio line is the LCD e-label. Using the WD SmartWare software pre-loaded on the drive, you can name the drive using up to 12 alphanumeric characters and the name appears in the LCD window. The display remains active even when you remove the drive from the computer and leave it behind at the wedding or in your hotel room.

The window also displays the remaining capacity of the drive and a “lock” symbol if the drive is passport protected. The My Passport Studio includes password protection with full 256-bit hardware encryption, accessible through the SmartWare software, to protect your data.

Backup and restore programs are included in the SmartWare software, but the My Passport Studio is fully compatible with Mac’s TimeMachine backup, which I found much simpler to set up and use. Diagnostic tools are also available in the SmartWare software so it’s valuable to have. It appears on your Mac desktop as a virtual CD each time you connect the My Passport Studio, but you can disable this feature in the software. Users may want to open SmartWare sparingly, however. It consumes considerable time and system resources because it indexes your hard drives before you can proceed.

Street prices of the Western Digital My Passport Studios are all in the range of $100. I have even seen the 640GB priced lower than the 320GB from different sellers. This is still a premium over the My Passport Essential model, which has no e-label and is USB only, though the latest My Passport Essential model supports USB 3.0 and is more Windows than Mac oriented. For the Mac, I don’t think you’ll find a better value in a compact, reliable portable hard drive than the My Passport Studio. I know you won’t find one with that slick e-label.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. He is also currently writing his fifth book, Nik HDR Efex Pro, for Wiley Publishing. 

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