Local storage is all well and good until a flash flood sweeps through your home or a thief makes off with all your tech goodies; cloud-based storage also has its drawbacks, should you lose your connection to the Web or if Amazon’s servers suddenly collapse under the weight of all your holiday snaps. It’s perhaps with these considerations in mind that Western Digital’s latest hard drive range uses software that combines local storage with Dropbox integration.
The new drives are the latest entrants in the established Passport range, focusing on slim, portable drives that only require a USB connection to power up. They’re ideal for swapping between computers and backing up your stuff, though they don’t quite reach the speeds or capacities of full-size external drives. The new line-up comes in four colours (red, blue, black or grey) and a choice of three capacities (500GB, 1TB or 2TB).
All the drives are USB 3.0-enabled and come with hardware encryption and password protection capabilities, as handled by the aforementioned WD SmartWare Pro software. The latest edition of Western Digital’s proprietary software solution does a neat job of mirroring the files on your drive with your cloud-based Dropbox storage, though you’ll only be able to have your most important files in both places at once unless you fork out for Dropbox’s paid-for packages ($49.99 or roughly £32 a month for 500GB, at the last check). Dropbox gives users 2GB for free, though you can quickly increase that with referrals.
Each drive comes with a carrying pouch and USB cable. The 500GB model has a RRP of €89.90 (roughly £76), while the 1TB version will set you back €129.90 (£110). Pricing has yet to be confirmed for the 2TB edition, which is coming to retailers in the next month or two.
At first glance the most impressive aspect of the My Passport Ultra is how small and svelte it is, even when compared with drives from the same line up just one or two years ago. These drives really are getting to the pocket-sized stage. The 500GB version we put through its paces was set up in seconds and transferred data at an impressive rate, particularly over USB 3.0 — you can expect to shift around 5GB of data every minute, which blows most other drives out of the water. A transfer rate of around 30MB/s was achieved over USB 2.0.
Hooking the unit’s integrated backup software up to Dropbox only took a couple of mouse clicks, and there’s a useful quick backup option that picks out the most important folders from your PC automatically. We would’ve liked to see a tool for backing up to Dropbox and the external drive simultaneously, but for now it’s either one or the other. Of course, you can always use the My Passport Ultra to create a copy of your existing Dropbox folder to keep all bases covered.
With Western Digital’s wealth of experience, as well as the hefty capacities and polished looks of the new models, it’s difficult to look past the My Passport Ultra range when it comes to portable hard drive solutions. That said, there’s plenty of choice out there — Freecom’s Mobile range is worth considering, and the company seems to take as much interest in the look of its drives as Western Digital does. Seagate is another of the big players with a strong track record, and its Wireless Plus drive works without cables and can be accessed by mobiles and tablets as well as computers (though you will of course pay a premium for the privilege).