Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 320 GB,External,7200 RPM (WDH1U3200N) Hard Drive Reviews
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Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 320 GB,External,7200 RPM (WDH1U3200N) Hard Drive

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Suspicious bundled software, but the drive is great

Apr 11, 2008 (Updated Apr 12, 2008)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great price; reliable; durable

Cons:No Firewire port? Formatted in FAT32. External power cord

The Bottom Line: This drive is hard to beat for the money.

I found myself in the market for an external, portable hard drive so I'd have a place to stash my MP3s. My home system has an 80 gigabyte hard drive and it was filling up pretty quickly. I've got around 700 CDs around my house and I'm converting my favorites to MP3s so I can simply stream them through my Nintendo Wii through use of Winamp Remote (a great program) and listen to them on my home entertainment center. The greatest thing about MP3s, of course, is portability. However, you've got to have some serious hard drive space to deal with a lot of MP3s.

I looked around at several hard drives and wound up with the Western Digital My Book Essential because the price was right -- $98 for a 320 gigabyte drive is hard to beat. By the way, the primary difference between the "Essential" and "Premium" models seems to be the Firewire port -- you get both USB 2.0 and Firewire ports on the "Premium" version, and just one USB 2.0 port on the "Essential" one. This is a great drive and it's an incredible bargain, but it does come with a few annoyances.

First of all, you don't really get 320 gigabytes of capacity. Perhaps that's standard, but it seems deceitful that Western Digital claims this drive has a capacity of 320 gigabytes because it has a capacity of 320 billion bytes -- actually that's 298 gigabytes rather than the advertised 320. I realize that such "fudging" is par for the course, but a legitimate 320 gigabyte drive would hold around 335.54 billion bytes (provided my math is right, of course). While I realize that the whole concept of truth in advertising never caught on in the computer industry, passing a 298 gigabyte drive off as a 320 gigabyte one is more than a bit dishonest.

Second, I almost wish I had spent a few extra bucks for a system that was powered by a USB port rather than an external, AC adapter. I move this thing between my house and office a lot (for the music, of course), and dragging a power cord with me is a bit of a hassle. Fortunately, the AC adapter has a rather skinny plug, so it's not one of those things that hogs up two slots on a power strip.

Third, this came formatted as a FAT32 drive. NTFS is the standard for Windows XP, so it makes more sense to have it formatted along those lines. Formatting the drive to NTFS was no problem -- just go to "My Computer," right click the drive, format to NTFS and let the thing grind away for about an hour.

You do lose the software that comes bundled with the drive if you reformat it, but there's an option in the setup program that came with the Western Digital that allows you to backup the bundled software. That brings me to the fourth point -- I don't trust the Memeo software that comes on the disc as I've heard nasty things about those programs. It comes with Memeo AutoBackup and Memeo AutoSync, but I never installed either one. Those programs are supposed to automatically backup your data and sync folders on your hard drive and portable drive -- if you change a synchronized folder on one drive, it'll change on the other. The registery problems that I've heard come with those programs kept me from bothering to install them, so I really can't say if they work well or not. They're both trial versions, anyway, so I don't feel I'm missing out on much.

Fifth, you get a glossy black cover on the unit that picks up prints and scuffs pretty easily. Things that are made to be portable ought to be covered in something that starts out looking great but becomes somewhat ugly over time.

Sixth, the documentation that comes with this is pitiful. You get a "quick start" guide, a skimpy PDF file on the hard drive and that's pretty much it. Fortunately, this is a very easy product to use and you probably won't need any documentation to figure out how to work the thing.

Those are all minor complaints, to be sure, and the worst one of the lot has to do with dealing with a separate AC adapter rather than pulling power for the drive through the USB port. Considering the money I paid for this, however, I do believe I can live with it.

Having said all of that, this drive works extremely well. Setting it up is as easy as plugging in the power and USB cords. I didn't have to power down the computer or anything along those lines to get the drive to work -- Windows XP recognized the drive as soon as I plugged it in and assigned it as the "J" drive on my system. From that point on, it's a simply exercise in dragging files from the "C" drive to the portable. The read-write speed is the standard 480 Mbits per second and that's more than fast enough to read and play MP3 files with ease.

The unit is a compact 5.4 x 2.1 x 6.5 inches and weighs in at 5 pounds. The drive is set up vertically -- like a book on a bookshelf -- and the cords that come with it are long enough so it can be moved out of the way easily. There are plenty of vents cut into the casing on the top of the unit and those evidently keep the unit cool -- I haven't had any trouble with the drive overheating even during long periods of heavy use. Other than the glossy case, the case design is very good and the unit seems very solid.

The drive is compatible with both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Anything before Windows 2000 isn't supported, so whether this will work with Windows 95, 98 or SE is anyone's guess. I have Windows XP on both my home and office systems (because Vista stinks) and it works fine with that operating system.

There are no buttons or anything on the drive and, in fact, nothing but two, blue LEDs that flash when the drive is in use. The disc powers down when you shut off your computer and has no "on" switch anywhere. As I said, this item is very easy to use.

Another benefit is that the drive integrates into my computers at home and at work very well. There's always the chance that an external device of any type will come with a resource hogging driver that makes life miserable. This little drive, however, just sits over to the side and doesn't tax my system.

All in all, this drive has served me well. There are thinner units out there, I didn't like the fact I had to reformat the drive right after pulling it out of the box and I wish it could be powered by a USB port. However, the price on this was right and I'm not complaining about it one bit for that reason alone.

Recommend this product? Yes

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