Review: Western Digital My Passport Ultra 500GB

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Western Digital has brought out a new USB 3.0 external hard drive the company is calling the “My Passport Ultra”, and it’s the slimmest external drive I’ve ever seen. It comes with its own foot-long USB 3.0 cable, and a collection of useful software that you can either use or just nuke to free up a few extra megabytes of storage. This particular model has a capacity of 500GB, but you can also get drives with capacities of 1TB and 2TB as well.

WD’s software selection has the basics covered: there is a backup utility, a collection of tools that can run tests to see if the drive is physically okay, and a nifty security app that lets you password-protect the drive. That last one is quite useful if you’re worried about keeping your data safe, but WD makes it very clear that if you forget the password once it’s been set up, you’re completely on your own as there’s absolutely no way to retrieve it whatsoever. Good to know, then.

The “Smartware” backup utility is surprisingly detailed, for a freebie. You can allow it to choose what to back up on its own (it chooses the most common files on your system as well as your media and program data), or manually specify which folders you’d like to save. Backups can be performed at a time of your choosing, or on a continuous basis. Doing continuous backups mean you’ll have to keep it plugged in 24/7, which kind of defeats the purpose of a portable drive, but at least it’s an option. Interestingly, you can also set the software to store backups in your DropBox, should you have enough capacity available to your cloud-storage account.

If you choose to install all of the software, you’ll notice a small “WD Quick View” icon appear in your system tray. Hovering your mouse over it shows you the drive’s name, how much space has been used as a percentage of its capacity (the actual number of gigabytes used or space available might be more useful), whether it’s locked with a password or not, and whether its temperature is OK or not. Again, no actual number is reported. Clicking on it gives you options to find out About the drive, remove it safely, check for updates and load the “Smartware” backup software.

The last of the extras is a protective pouch that you can slide the drive in to when you’re travelling. The pouch is made of some sort of nylon-like material and is easily protective enough to prevent scrapes and scuffs from marring the drive’s surface over time if you use it every time you move around.

MyPassportUltra_Fan_800x800It’s the physical design of the drive that will probably sell it more than its little extras, though. WD has made it almost as thin as it possibly could be, as it’s only a few millimetres thicker than the 2.5-inch drive inside it (actual measurement: 12.8mm). It also has tapered edges, which makes its width seem just that much thinner, and I must admit it looks and feels a lot nicer than the average external drive does, courtesy of the understated design of its red top cover (also available in  blue, black and “Titanium”), and the pleasant feel of the dark grey plastic with its textured surface that covers its underside.

Performance-wise, it’s pretty competent. I set up a 5.22GB copy consisting of a single HD video I had lying around, and when plugged into my test rig (a Core i7-based Windows 7 system) I saw an average write speed of 27.19MB/s, and an average read speed of 31.07MB/s, which is very much in line with that machine’s general USB 2.0 performance.

On plugging it into a USB 3.0 port, those speeds improved quite a bit. Read speed on the same set of files jumped to 91.6MB/s, and write speeds to 73.3MB/s. That’s really good for an external drive, and perfect for anyone who regularly works with huge files that need to be copied quickly.

With a recommended retail price of R799 for the 500GB model, the My Passport Ultra drive isn’t too badly priced considering the super-thin design, speed of the drive and the extras it comes with, although you can get the same amount of storage and USB 3.0 connectivity for slightly less if you shop around. Recommended retail pricing is R1099 for the 1TB model, and R1999 for the 2TB.

Based on my testing experience, would I buy one of a My Passport Ultra if I were looking for a fast and attractive 2.5-inch external drive? Most definitely.

Summary

Pros:
Attractive and compact design
Available in various colours
Good USB 3.0 performance
Good selection of bundled software

Cons:
The same storage and speed can be had for less

Looks: 9
Extras: 8
Performance: 9
Value: 8

Where to Buy

Western Digital’s My Passport Ultra drives are exclusive to Incredible Connection.

 

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.

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