I already have a lot of external drives on my iMac: a regular USB drive, a FireWire 800 drive, a 4TB NAS drive connected to the network—and yes, a Thunderbolt drive already on there. Yep, they are all big suckers, and all connect to an outlet of their own.
They’re all difficult to bring with today’s storage-deficient slim laptops for this very reason, and pose a difficult problem if you wanted to use them with a Macbook, having to carry the bulky things around and having to be tethered to an outlet.
When WD wrote to say they had a slim, portable, bus-driven Thunderbolt drive, and would I like to test it out? I said yes right away.
It was the WD My Passport Pro Portable RAID Storage, a new and fast external drive intended mostly for Mac users.
Thunderbolt was a relatively new protocol that allowed for very very fast data transfer, but was hobbled by a lack of widespread use, confined mostly to Macs. The closest (though not as fast) new competitor was the USB 3.0 protocol, which was at this point more widely used as it was adopted by non-Mac users.
WD deserves praise for sticking to the Thunderbolt protocol despite this, and they made this drive for professional Mac users and those preferring a fast and safe way to store their data. A portable one was basically unheard of, much less one that was bus-powered (it took its power needs from the Thunderbolt port and thus didn’t need a bulky power supply), which made it ideal for portable Mac users.
The WD My Passport Pro comes in a thick, yellow, complicated box-within-a box, which belied the small contents inside.
The one I got was a 2TB drive (there was a 4TB version), and it was called Portable RAID Storage because could operate on a RAID 1 data-striping system—it split into two drives of 1TB each, and duplicated the storage of one on the other, effectively safeguarding your data. If one failed you still have the other one. This slowed down the data transfer rate a bit, working twice as hard because it had to duplicate the data on another virtual drive at the same time, not to mention halving the total storage capacity.
Of course you can use it on a RAID 0 system as well, which uses the entire capacity of the drive and works at full speed as well, and this is the system I used on the drive.
But first, let’s take a look at the physical aspects of the My Passport Pro.
It has the dimensions of a typical portable external drive, although it’s twice as thick—approximately an inch and a quarter. This doesn’t create much of a problem as a small inconvenience when you want to carry it around in your bag. The 4TB version is much, much thicker—looking for all intents and purposes like a small box rather than a portable drive, but I was satisfied with the 2TB for this review.
The My Passport Pro series has a further, and rather nice, feature. You don’t have to carry a portable power supply for this—and neither do you need to bring a Thunderbolt cable. Usually the cable is an expensive extra you need to get when it comes to drives like this, but the cable is included with the My Passport Pro.
In fact, the cable is built in and permanently attached to the back of the drive, and wraps around the edge of the drive in a recessed groove and the Thunderbolt port on the end conveniently comes around and inserts back into a hole at the back of the drive, giving you a nice neat package to carry around.
This conveniently covers up a large fan at the back, which cools down the drive while it’s operating. There is a small LED at the back too, which is the only indicator that the drive is working; this is actually a bit troublesome if you’re the type who likes some indication that the drive is operating—when mounted on your system in the regular manner, the LED is at the back end of the drive where you can’t really see it.
Attaching the drive to your Mac is easy and simple; it’s all just a matter of hooking up the Thunderbolt cable, and it mounted up right away on my system. I used RAID 0, using up the entire capacity of the drive and assuring myself I was getting the fastest speed possible.
Using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, the My Passport Pro clocked upwards of 210-215 Mbps reading and writing—more than twice the speed of my home drive, although this speed might be attributable to the fact that it was empty at the moment.
I loaded it up with 1TB of data from my other drives, and the Thunderbolt drive settled down to a slower, but still way respectable 180-185 Mbps. (It got pretty hot while copying the data, which made the fan turn on and go on overdrive, but as soon as it finished copying, the drive cooled down and the fan turned off, settling into its always-warm mode of operation.)
Then I cleared the drive and chose RAID 1 (which it was easy to choose, as the RAID systems were built in to the drive at the factory and it was just a matter of choosing which), and effectively cut the storage in half. I filled it half full of data—500GB—and the system clocked 135-140 Mbps in Blackmagic this time, which was still a very good speed.
For the rest of the time I had it, the drive operated unobtrusively on my setup, which was a testament to it fitting in properly in the system, save for the fact that it was supernaturally fast and made my other drives look like the slowpokes that they were. I could really really get used to this. The My Passport Pro even made my jury-rigged, Thunderbolt-modified GoFlex Desk drive seem a bit slow on the uptake.
I just have one tiny little niggle with the My Passport Pro—it’s one noisy bastard.
There is an underlying low hum when it’s attached, which rises up to a screechy pitch every now and then, even while it’s apparently not doing anything. And when the fan kicks in when it’s operating, it makes quite a bit of noise in my quiet computer room, which is a bit off-putting as none of the other drives make a sound. If you’re the type who likes things absolutely quiet when you’re messing about with your computer, this is something to think about.
Otherwise, if the slight noise and slight thickness of the drive doesn’t bother you, this one is a keeper, particularly for those involved in music, graphics arts and photo- and videography, with their big files.
The WD My Passport Pro is available at select retailers for P15,990 for the 2TB model, and P21,990 for the 4TB model.
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