Jan 20, 2012 (Updated Jan 25, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Plenty of storage for $100. FUTURE PROOF!

Cons:Reduced capacity. No case.

The Bottom Line: The 500GB My Passport is a great device for storing large files and backing up computer records. It has an attractive design and thus far it functions perfectly.


One of my friend’s, who happens to be a lawyer, called me up and told me his coworker’s computer “caught a virus” and it totally screwed him up. The “virus” locked up his files and was throwing all types of messages at him on screen which couldn’t be turned off or bypassed.  I met up with this unfortunate soul, borrowed his computer to work on it and immediately recognized that his poorly protected Windows XP  PC was ill equipped to handle malware. I was able to recover his sensitive files, but, the Hard Drive was in bad shape and either needed to be replaced or wiped cleaned and upgraded with a more secure version of windows.
In order to back up the 290 GB of data, I decided to go out and find the largest portable, USB  hard disk drive I could find for under $100. I was originally going to settle for a 300GB drive for $89.99, but, when I saw this drive offered 500GB for just $10 more, I figured this purchase made more sense.


The 500GB “My Passport” does not include a CD and there is very little reading material in the box. The drive is pretty much plug&play. As soon as you plug it to a Windows XP,  Vista computer or Mac,  it automatically installs its software.  If autoplay does not run, you can click on the drive’s shortcut and open the setup files manually.

Power is supplied via the USB cable. No extra AC adaptors are needed. 

The supplied USB cable allows up to 480Mbps transfer rates over standard USB2.0 ports..  The drive itself has an internal settings interface which allows you to set a password to lock it in  256-bit encryption. While I assume the government's CIA/NSA/FBI could crack this in seconds, I believe this is high enough encryption to keep prying eyes of the average person out.

The drive also allows you to set it up for Window’s “Readyboost” which will help Windows Vista boot up faster.  To me, this is unnecessary because #1 I wouldn’t want to leave the drive on my laptop stand in fear that it could get damaged, and #2 a regular $10 2GB USB jump drive can be used to do the same thing.

This drive  comes ready to adapt to MAC computers running OSX Leopard, Snow Leopard and Lion,  but, it won’t function with OSX Tiger. Leopard includes “Time Machine” which allows you to constantly backup information – even from a server station – or multiple client stations. The Mac will have to reformat this drive from NTFS to FAT before you can use it.  That should only take an hour or so.
Windows 7 is also included in the list of OS compatibility which should come in handy, considering my new friend wants to attempt to restore his PC to working condition running Windows 7 instead of XP or Vista.  This hard drive runs in a USB compatibility mode so I have noticed no problems at all switching it over from his WindowsXP machine to my Vista machine. 


This 500GB allows you to simply drag & drop files from other folders to it – typical of any windows plug&play mass storage device.   I was slightly disappointed because of the relatively slow data transfer rates on USB 2.0.  Over 200GB of data took well over 3 hours to move from the infected machine to the drive.

The drive’s software, “WD Smartware”  is also a bit of a resource hog. While the drive is plugged in, the software runs constantly in the background from a virtual drive and it can use upwards of 100MB of system memory.  

WD Smartware offers a small icon in the tool bar which shows you the operating temperature and allows you to click a button to safely disconnect it. Unfortunately, many times the device returns an error when I attempt to safely disconnect it. This happens because the password feature will not allow any changes to the device unless it is currently unlocked.

The device also includes a BACKUP tool and a RETRIEVAL tool in its main interface which allows you to backup your computers main files and then re-install them in the event of a total failure. The software is also nice enough to show you the HDD volume of both your PC and itself so you can visually manage it if you regularly fill it to capacity.


For now,  USB 2.0 is the standard on all computers. However, USB 3.0 is slowly being phased into the market.  USB 3.0 offers enhanced data transfer rates -  up to 5 Gbit/s, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0's  480 Mbit/s limitation.  This drive can be used with your current 3.0 hardware, but, hopefully, it will last long enough to see duty 5 years from now when USB 3.0 is the standard. 


While in use, this drive runs nearly silent. Only with excessive use does it show any sign of heating up, but, most people won’t use a drive like this to excess. More likely – buyers will use it to backup files and access them infrequently.  Using one of these as hard storage for a frequently used video game console is probably not the best idea. XBOX360 and PS3 will allow you to use this drive to store entire games, but, because they are prone to failures (i.e. "Red ring of Death" and "Yellow light of Death") it puts the safety of this drive's integrity into question. 

I’ve read reviews of Western Digital drives that have rated them poorly with claims of hard drive failures and other glitches that caused data loss, but, I’ve had one of their drives since March 2010 which I’ve used frequently and I’ve had no problem with it.  Of course – more backups are always better and I will probably get a terabyte drive to back up 2 of my computers and my 250GB WD drive.

This is a good value for people who have $100 to spend and need to back up 250 – 400GB worth of data. However, with the Terabyte drives only $10 - $25 more, it almost makes more sense to go long and buy one of those.  The closest competitor for price/performance is the USB 3.0 Toshiba Canvio which carries a $99 price tag and offers 750GB (Walmart).  

The same complaints I had about my 250GB WD HDD remain:
#1 no pouch or protector was packaged with the device to protect it from shock or the elements.
#2  Useable capacity is  lower than advertised capacity. You only get 478GB rather than all 500GB
#3  The Passport uses a proprietary USB 3.0 Micro-B cable.  If anything happens to the end of this cable, you’ll have to go to Western Digital for a new one, rather than being able to replace it easily. this will be a problem until USB3.0 becomes ubiquitous.  
#4 Advanced users won't like the fact the firmware holds your hand for most tasks.  This is a great drive for people new to backing up data (read: the computer illiterate), but, advanced users will want to do things with this drive that may not be possible such as setting up RAID configurations or using the entire advertised capacity. Even if you format this drive, you can't get rid of the partition used for the device's firmware. This is a protection measure which ensures it will always be plug & play.

This drive has a simplistic design, simplistic operation, future compatibility and plenty of space. So far I love it and thoroughly recommend it. If you haven't backed up your computer lately, you'd better consider getting a drive like this because you never know when hard drive failures or viruses will strike.

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