Passport is the rather apt name chosen by Western Digital for its range of portable hard drives. Not much bigger than the 2.5in notebook drives they contain, these pocket-sized storage devices are now more pocketable than ever, thanks to their extra-rounded corners – not to mention attractive capacities. From the range of five Passport models, the top-spec Studio model is aimed squarely at Mac users with its high-performance FireWire connectivity.
Western Digital’s latest revision to the Studio comes in 320GB, 500GB, and now 640GB capacities. We tested the 640GB My Passport Studio, featuring a WDC Scorpio Blue notebook drive inside. This is a relatively cool and quiet-running hard disk whose presence barely intrudes, even during busy read/write operations.
More conspicuous, though, are the changes wrought to the outside of the unit. Across the front is an e-label display, allowing you to personalise the drive with a single line of your own choosing – your name, company or perhaps the contents of the drive. You can use up to 12 characters, upper case only, although you can elect to invert the black-on-grey display to grey characters on a black background.
Also shown on the LCD-like display is remaining capacity, and a padlock symbol to denote whether the drive has been set up with the security lock – another option from the WD SmartWare suite included on the drive. When activated, you’re required to enter a password in order to access the contents of the drive. This is true 256-bit full-disk hardware encryption too, always on whether you set an unlock password or not.
The unit is immaculately finished in silver and white coloured plastic, with chrome-effect trim around the display. On the bottom are its connection ports, a micro-USB 2.0 and one FireWire 800 port. So unlike the previous generation, the single FireWire port means there’s no opportunity to daisy-chain to additional drives or FireWire devices. Nor is there a sliding hatch now to help keep out dust. And missing from the box is the soft pouch to help keep the drive free of scratches.
But at least Western Digital has ironed out the earlier bug that strangely prevented the My Passport Studio from being used as a boot drive for OS X.
When you first connect the drive, a virtual CD icon will typically appear on your desktop. By launching the SmartWare app, you’ll be taken through the stages of setup – starting with the label, then the encryption option, and finally a neat graphical column of your Mac’s folder structure, for setting up the backup software. This part evaluates how much data you have distributed around your user directory, and offers to backup all or part of it to the Passport drive.
WD’s app doesn’t look like a native OS X program, though, and is heavy on system resources – we saw up to 90% CPU usage when it was just cataloging system files before backup. We also encountered problems installing it using a non-admin account.
If you don’t need any of WD’s extra apps and find the virtual CD an unwanted aberration on your desktop, there is an option to switch off its presence from showing every time you plug in the drive.
In lab tests, the new My Passport Studio showed strong performance, particularly over a FireWire 800 bus. Tested with HD Tach and HD Tune Pro benchmark tools, USB 2.0 showed read speeds up to 31MB/s and writing at just 15MB/s – middling but not untypical results for this type of connection.
The FireWire 800 port is also backwards compatible with original FireWire 400. We used the included adaptor cable to measure 34MB/s and 32MB/s respectively, for read and write speeds here. But over the FireWire 800 bus, the My Passport Studio excelled with average read/write speeds of 56MB/s and 44MB/s.
As a final test, we timed some real-world copy operations, writing 7.5GB of miscellaneous data to the drive in OS X 10.6. This gave us write speeds – for USB 2.0, FW 400 and FW 800 – of 19.8MB/s, 34.2MB/s, and 59.9MB/s.
Increased capacity is practically expected with updates to hard drives, but Western Digital has added some truly useful features for this new My Passport Studio. We miss the extra FireWire port, but were impressed by the handy labelling system. And the approachable backup and utility software will be handy for some people too. The ability to use this fast drive as a reserve boot volume again is very welcome.