by Vivek Gowri
The Passport is Western Digital’s line of portable external hard drives, featuring a very sleek casing reminiscent of the Nintendo DS and WD’s 2.5” 5400RPM SATA notebook hard disks. Due to the use of a lower powered notebook hard disk, the Passport can be powered by the USB port alone and does not require the use of an external power adapter, and thus makes a very nice portable storage solution.
During Black Friday 2006, I purchased a Western Digital MyBook 250GB external hard drive to add some additional storage space for storing my music and videos, and also to make backups easier. One year and 500+ hours of video later, I had less than 8GB remaining from the original 250, so a new storage solution was necessary. When Black Friday 2007 arrived I figured it would be the time to get a new one. After reviewing the deals, two caught my eye: the 120GB WD Passport at Staples for $49.98 after a $30 MIR, and the 160GB version of the same at Best Buy for $69.99. I was going to both stores anyways, so I decided that I would decide which to buy when I was actually at the stores. At the end, I went with the 120GB one solely for the price difference, though in retrospect, it might have been better to get the 160GB for the extra disk space, since its going to take at least a month for Staples to give me my $30 back anyways.
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Packaging, Design, and Features
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- Dimensions (H/W/D): 0.59”(15.5mm)/5.1”(130mm)/3.1”(80mm)
- Weight: 0.23 lbs/3.68 ounces/104.55 grams
- USB cable (USB-A to mini-USB) length: 11”
The dimensions of the Passport really surprised me. It is not too much bigger than an average wallet, or even the first generation Zune audio player, and is thus easily pocketable. It does not add a noticeable load to a backpack full of textbooks and notebook accessories, due to the four ounce weight.
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The packaging is very simple, just a cardboard box with a plastic holder for the Passport inside. There are only three things in the box: the drive itself, its USB cable, and a small instruction sheet. There is another SKU for the same drive that has a nicer box, with a clear plastic tube as the box. Its more flashy and high end, but at the end of the day, its the same product inside.
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The enclosure is very sleek, with rounded edges and a glossy black finish, so it instantly reminds you of the black Nintendo DS lite that is an extremely popular handheld these days. Even the logo is in the same spot – though here it is a matte black rendering of the WD logo as opposed to an airbrushed DS symbol. The design is very minimalistic, with the aforementioned WD logo, a small rubberized flap that opens to reveal the mini-USB port, and a small blue LED ring (which looks like a miniaturized version of the LED ring in the MyBook) being the only details on the top side of the Passport. The underside is similarly minimalistic, with a matte black finish, four rubberized feet, and a small sticker containing the product information, such as the serial number, model number, and country of manufacture.
I’ve carried it with me for a week now, and it is already showing some scratches on the glossy casing, not to mention a ton of fingerprints, though those are easily wiped off. This could be a problem for people that are very conscious about fingerprints on their gadgets, but the look does match the new HP notebooks very well, with the very glossy black finish and tons of fingerprints being very similar in both.
This is, I must say, one of, if not the, best looking external hard drives I’ve ever seen. Its sleek almost to the point of being sexy. When was the last time you could say that about a hard drive? Western Digital also offers it in other colours, like a metallic red, metallic green, glossy white, and glossy pink finishes. I also remember seeing a metallic blue, but it isn’t listed on the WD website.
The short USB cable could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. It keeps the drive close to the system always, cuts down on cable clutter, and is better for traveling, but you can’t connect it to a USB port thats farther away, like under a desk. I personally prefer the shorter cable, but I have a biased perspective on the matter, since both of my computers have their USB ports just below the monitor and cable length is thus never an issue for me.
Western Digital also includes their Sync synchronization software with the Passport. According to WD’s documentation, Sync “lets you save your critical data, personalized computer settings, and all your personal files on a WD Passport drive. When you travel, you can use WD Sync to plug your WD Passport drive into any PC to access and edit your Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, MP3, and even Internet Explorer favorites in a cybercafé, on a friend’s laptop, or in a colleague’s office. You can even send and receive e-mail securely from your WD Passport drive using WD Sync. After you’re back from your travels, WD Sync synchronizes all your changes to your home or office computer keeping your files up to date.” It uses a 128 bit Advanced Encryption Standard to keep the data on the drive secure, providing 3.4*10^38 possible, distinct key numbers. I have not used Sync, because I prefer to manually transfer my movies and music on the Passport, but it seems like it could be a useful application for business users and those carrying sensitive data that use multiple computers.
The real world test – I took a file from my video collection (702MB video encoded in X.264 and saved in .mkv format) to use to test the file transfer speed of three devices: the WD Passport that is the subject of this review, the internal hard disk in my Asus W7S-A1B (Hitachi HTS541612J9SA00 – 120GB 5400RPM, SATA), and a SanDisk Cruzer micro 2GB, one of the most common flash drives out there.
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I copied the file to each disk and used a stop watch to time how long the transfer took. The numbers might be slightly off due to human error, but not by more than a tenth of a second. So here are the results:
Internal HDD to Passport: 32.99 seconds
Internal HDD to Flash drive: 95.37 seconds
Passport to Internal HDD: 35.24 seconds
Passport to Flash drive: 98.69 seconds
Flash drive to Internal HDD: 34.34 seconds
Flash drive to Passport: 37.50 seconds
What these figures seem to say is that the Passport is nearly as fast in transfer rates as the internal notebook hard drive, and much faster than a normal USB2 flash drive.
In short, I was expecting the benchmarks to support my assertion, with the Passport being a bit slower than the internal drive. However, the HDTune benchmarks brought a very nice surprise, with the Passport actually having a higher average transfer rate than the Hitachi internal hard drive.
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In general use, I really cannot tell the difference between the speed of the two drives, both seem equally fast to me.
Heat and Noise
The Passport runs pretty cool. Nothing really to report, other than the fact that it doesn’t get hot at all. In terms of noise, it is very good as well – when transferring files, it makes some barely audible noise, but for the most part its completely silent.
The Western Digital Passport is a very portable external hard drive that boasts an elegant design and solid performance in addition to its range of colours and hard drive capacities. As a mobile storage solution, this is almost unbeatable for any type of user.
- Very aesthetically pleasing enclosure
- Simple to set up and use
- Highly portable
- Solid disk performance
- Syncing software included
- Fingerprints easily
- Accumulates scratches from regular use
- Higher capacity models are pricey