Review: Western Digital’s My Passport for Mac

Sections: External and Portable Storage Devices, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Peripherals, Reviews

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Hard Drive manufacturer Western Digital has just released two new portable hard drive lines: the “My Passport Ultra” for PC users and “My Passport for Mac” for, well, Mac users. Our review unit operated right out of the box, but when performing some testing by the provided software, it failed. And I should emphasize that the testing software failed a lot more than the drive did. More on this a bit later.

Review: Western Digital's My Passport for Mac

A portable drive is typically defined as one that draws its power from the USB port itself and doesn’t require a second connection to a separate power source; plugging the drive into your computer makes the data connection and power connection. These are all USB 3.0 drives and can thereby transfer data at a fairly fast clip. If you do not have USB 3.0, that’s no problem as it can revert back to USB 2.0, as need be. The limitation is that transfer speeds drop quite a bit. These drives do not have FireWire or Thunderbolt.

My Passport for Mac is comfortably small: about 3-1/4 inches wide, about 3/4 inches tall and 4-1/3 inches deep. It feels rugged in your hands. The drive comes with a USB 3 cable (and a very skimpy paper manual).

There are some superficial differences between the Mac and PC drives; the PC release comes in a variety of colors (black, white, berry, and blue) while the Mac version comes in black. The PC version can be adorned by a colored band (assumedly to provide an improved grip when carrying it around) and the Mac version comes in black.

However, the primary difference is that the PC version comes formatted for the PC, while the Mac version comes formatted for the Mac. Also, the PC version comes with some PC software while the Mac version comes with some Mac software.

Normally, a Mac can take a PC formatted hard drive or USB stick and access the contents, albeit more slowly than if the drive was formatted for the Mac. As I didn’t receive one of the Ultra drives, I was unable to test this. Nonetheless, the Mac drive was easily mounted on my Mac, and the software contained in the drive was installed with no complications.

There are no shortages of portable drives out there, and their uses are many. Personally, I keep a portable drive in my bag and it stores my important documents from work and from home. I transfer those documents from one computer to the other on a regular basis, so that despite my having a backup drive on both computers, I maintain my important documents on both as well. Thus, if there were some calamity, my important documents are on three separate hard drives, only two of which are likely to be in the same location. In addition, when traveling, I place my images on my laptop and store the same copies on a portable hard drive. If one is stolen or crashes, I do have a backup.

As you can tell, I’m not a gambler.

However, since there is no shortage of portable hard drives, selecting one is typically done by three factors: storage size, cost, and reliability. As far as storage size, as stated, these drives come in 1, 2, and 3 Terabytes. Those are excellent storage sizes and should satisfy most users. The cost is good as well, with the 1 TB available for $69, the 2 TB for $99 (the 3TB had not been released at the time of this writing, so the cost is unknown).

As far as reliability goes, that is always a bit of an open book. These drives have a 3 year warranty, but that’s based on statistics. The reality is that these drives can last for 1 year or 20 years, or more.

There are two separate software items on these drives: one for security and a utility to monitor the health of the data and drive.

Security Software

The security software is shown below. It’s very straightforward; you create a password, you verify the password, and you provide yourself a hint. The one extra option is that you can have the drive auto-unlock when the drive is plugged into your computer. Other than that, this window does everything it can to let you know that Western Digital cannot unlock a drive if you’ve forgotten the password. The only way to get past a locked drive is to erase the drive.

western digital security software for their drives

Considering that a portable drive is, by definition, portable, and can be stolen, lost, or misused, use the Security software if you keep anything private or sensitive on the drive, and do not forget your password!

Utility Software

The Utility Software, while a very good idea, has limited value.

There are three things the Utility application can do:

  1. The Drive Erase lets you erase the hard drive as well as set the formatting for Mac (HSF-J) or PC (ExFAT). This is handy in that (as stated earlier) Macs can read and write to PC formated drives (although the writing and reading is slower than if formatted for Mac), so if you are working with PC users you can format the drive to PC, and share data with PC users (however, I have no clue as to how the Security Software would work since that software cannot be run on a PC).
  2. The Sleep Timer lets you set how long the WD Drive sits before it goes to sleep, independent of the OS sleep settings. You can also turn this off so it only falls asleep in association with the OS.
  3. And here, I’m saving the least for last. In theory, the Diagnostic sections should be great, as it tests the drive for potential failures. This sounds like a very valuable feature.

western digital utility software for their drives

There are three tests: one is built in, one is quick, and one takes more time. I would like to tell you more, but I can’t. Well, actually I can on the first one that checks the Drives Status Check. This is done using S.M.A.R.T. or Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology. This is part of the chip-set of the drive itself. This monitors various aspects of the drive such as temperature and whether there are any variations out of the norm. The software can follow this data and report aberrations of the drive. Some software can provide actual data and detailed analysis of this data. This software says “Passed” or “Failed.” (I’m assuming that it says “Failed,” fortunately for me, it only said Passed.)

After placing a small collection of files on the drive, I did the Quick Drive Test. My drive failed. There was no subsequent information on what was wrong, what to do, or how to fix the problem (assuming the problem could be fixed). It just said “failed.”

I then ran the “Complete Drive Test.” My drive failed that test as well. As with the first test, there was no information on what was wrong, what to do, what the nature of the problem was, or any other useful information.

There is a PDF manual that comes with this drive, and it also provided no help, reading only: “And, because they are so fast, running the drive status check and the quick drive test provides a high level of assurance with minimal inconvenience. Then, run all three whenever you encounter disk error conditions when writing or accessing files.”

And that’s it. It says nothing about what to do if there is a problem.

I then checked the drive with Drive Genius, and after repairing a File Count error, there have been no subsequent issues or problems in any of the three My Passport tests.

Western Digital did not include any kind of backup software on the drive. By this, I’m referring to software that compares a folder on your computer and a folder on the portable drive. If there are any files on one that do not exist on the other, or that have been updated, this software will transfer those files over to the other. (This kind of software can transfer either way.)

[Extra note: If you chose to purchase a 3rd party file-transfer application (and there are many from which to chose), I strongly suggest you select one that does “checksum” transfers. This means the software examines what will be transfered and compares it to what was transferred; if the two do not match, it will try again until it succeeds.]

Now I have to point out that the failure I encountered is no mark against My Passport for Mac. These kinds of errors happen all the time, and I’d venture to guess that if you checked the hard drive on your computer, you would very likely have a File Count error as well. While certainly not a good thing, most repair/maintenance software can fix these issues.

I also do not fault the software for not doing the repair. It would be nice if it did, but that in itself is not a terrible thing.

What’s very very bad is that they supply no information as to what problem(s) were found or anything to do about the problems. This is like going to your doctor feeling fine and he tells you he’s found problems and walks out of the room, gets in his car, and goes home.

In Short

By all accounts, this is a fine portable drive with excellent storage capabilities and an excellent price. Nonetheless, the drive will probably be more practical if you get a third party file-transfer application, and you will always be wise to get real repair/maintenance software for your Mac. Being able to set a timer for sleep is nice, but not essential. And if you go into your Applications folder and into your Utilities Folder, you will find Apple’s “Disk Utility” that will let you format/erase any drive as well as set them for either Mac or PC. So, in the long run, you can save 38 MB of hard drive space and not deal with WD Utilities at all. The Security Software is excellent if you need it. And if you need it, use it.

This is a fine drive despite their Utilities software.

Apple Channel Rating B

Buy the My Passport for Mac

Provides: Mac formatted portable storage
Developer: Western Digital
Minimum Requirements: USB connectivity and OS X Snow Leopard or above
Price: $69, $99, $199.99 for 1, 2, or 3TB drives, respectively
Availability: The 1TB and 2TB are ready now, the 3TB will be out soon

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