by Jerry Jackson
The “My Passport” series of external hard drives has been Western Digital’s most successful line of portable external hard drives for several years. The sleek casing, solid build quality, reasonable speed and tons of storage space continue to keep these USB-powered 2.5″ 5400RPM SATA notebook hard drives popular. The all new My Passport Studio drives offer Mac users greater capacities and flexibility thanks to 320GB or 500GB storage options and the ability to connect the drive over USB, FireWire 400, or FireWire 800.
I am no stranger to external hard drives. I own a half dozen 3.5″ hard drives in external USB enclosures and 2.5″ notebook hard drives in external USB enclosures for a total of almost three terabytes of external storage. All of my external notebook drives are earlier versions of the Western Digital My Passport series. While I like the older My Passports, they are not without their flaws. Did Western Digital improve on an already popular design? Is this drive even better if you’re using a new MacBook? Let’s take a look.
Build and Design
In terms of the basic external shape and dimensions the My Passport Studio is is almost identical to the My Passport Elite that we reviewed earlier this year. The biggest difference is that the My Passport Studio has one mini USB port and one FireWire 800 port instead of just one mini USB port.
- Dimensions (H/L/W): 0.59″(15mm)/4.967″(126mm)/3.1″(80mm)
- Weight: 0.4 lbs/0.18 kg
- USB cable (USB-A to mini-USB) length: 11″
- FireWire 800 to FireWire 400 cable length: 11″
- Firewire 800 cable length: 11″
While the size and shape are impressive, the single design element that impressed me was the finish. Since the dimensions of the My Passport Studio are almost identical to the older Passports there wasn’t much to catch my eye until I touched the new “soft-touch” finish on the Passport Elite. A common criticism users had with the older Passports was the glossy finish was a magnet for fingerprints and made it difficult to securely hold the drive in your hand.
I’ve dropped my old My Passport drives several times because of the glossy finish on those drives is almost “slippery” after some oil from your skin is applied to the surface. The matte finish on the My Passport Studio and My Passport Elite not only makes it easier to grip the drive, but it looks cleaner because it doesn’t show off your fingerprints.
The enclosure is very sleek and stylish with a minimalistic design and a subtle Western Digital “WD” logo. The bottom is likewise simple in design, with four rubberized feet like those found on earlier models. The only thing to see on the bottom of the My Passport Studio is a small white sticker containing the product information, such as the serial number, model number, and country of manufacture.
To get to the point, Western Digital continues to make some of the best looking external notebook hard drives we’ve seen. On one hand, it’s just a rounded box, but look a little closer at the design and you might just have to call it sexy. At the time of this writing the My Passport Studio is only available in one colors (titanium) but Western Digital does offer their other My Passport series drives in multiple color choices.
One of my favorite improvements over the design of the previous My Passport series is that the small rubberized flap that opens to reveal the mini-USB port has been replaced with a sliding panel that protects the mini-USB port and FireWire 800 port while traveling. In addition, the small blue LED ring (which looks like a miniaturized version of the LED ring in the MyBook) has been replaced in favor of a series of four LED indicators that also serve as the new “capacity gauge.”
The capacity gauge enables users to know at a glance how much space is available on the drive. The Capacity Gauge consists of four sections which illuminate left to right to indicate space used on the drive during power-on state. Each section represents approximately 25 percent of drive capacity. Because this drive is preformatted and contains software, utilities and user manuals, the first section is illuminated upon installation.
The LED indicators also serve as standard activity indicators:
|Steady||Power-on or power-save mode|
|Slow Flashing||System standby|
|Moving Left to Right||Drive in use|
Western Digital also includes three cables for connecting the My Passport Studio to either a Mac or PC.
Performance and Benchmarks
The My Passport Studio drives are available in two capacities at the time of this writing: 320GB ($199.99) and 500GB ($249.99). With the maximum capacity 500GB drive, that translates to just under 150,000 high resolution digital photos (saved as compressed JPEGs) or approximately 220 hours of DVD quality video. That might not be as impressive as a one terabyte desktop hard drive, but that’s a lot of storage for a portable hard drive.
In terms of speed, the My Passport Studio delivers similar performance to other USB and FireWire external hard drives. This is where it gets interesting. Observant readers probably already know this, but Apple decided to eliminate FireWire ports from the newest MacBooks … meaning that current MacBook owners will only be able to use the My Passport Studio via the slower USB connection.
The HDTune benchmark measures the overall performance of a drive both in terms of transfer speeds (read/write), “access time” (the amount of time spent searching for data on the disk) and CPU usage (how hard your computer has to work in order to use the drive). The HDTune benchmark indicates the My Passport Studio actually performs quite a bit faster via FireWire 400 than it does via USB 2.0. We didn’t have a FireWire 800-equipped Mac in our lab during the testing period, but it’s safe to assume that FireWire 800 will deliver almost twice the transfer speeds over FireWire 400.
WD My Passport Studio connected via USB 2.0:
WD My Passport Studio connected via Firewire 400:
WD My Passport Studio connected via USB 2.0:
As mentioned previously, the My Passport Studio is a completely USB-powered or FireWire-powered device, so the single 11-inch cable supplies both power and data connectivity. The power requirements for this drive are so minor that most laptops will have no problems supplying enough power via USB or FireWire. All of the notebooks I tested with the My Passport Studio were able to provide enough power while running on battery.
One final thing worth mentioning is that the My Passport Studio drive comes formatted in HFS+ format, meaning that Mac OS X users can start using the drive straight out of the box, but PC users will need to either re-format the drive or install special drivers (MacDrive or HFSExplorer) that allow the Windows operating system to recognize HFS+ formatted drives.
Heat and Noise
The My Passport Studio runs quiet and cool. There isn’t much more to say on that note. The drive gets “warm” after hours of serious use, but never gets hot. The average external temperature of the enclosure was 82 degrees Fahrenheit in an office with an ambient temperature of 72 degrees. In terms of noise, even when transferring files, the drive makes only the softest audible noise. Of course, when the drive isn’t accessing any files it’s completely silent.
The Western Digital My Passport Studio is a wonderful update to one of the best portable external hard drives on the market. The elegant design has been improved with a “soft-touch” finish that makes it easy to hold and won’t collect fingerprints. Mac users will benefit from the HFS+ formatting, and PCs can use this drive as well with a little extra work. The solid performance is complemented by a convenient capacity gauge and the ability to use USB, FireWire 400, or FireWire 800 … assuming your computer has one of the ports in question.
As a mobile storage solution, the Western Digital My Passport series continues to prove that it is simply one of the best.
- Attractive enclosure … and no more fingerprints!
- Nice sliding port protector and capacity gauge/activity indicators
- Perfectly portable
- Simple to set up and use
- Solid performance
- The 500GB model is a little expensive
- HFS+ formatting means Windows users will need to reformat the drive or use special drivers