What good is an external drive for backups if there isn't any good backup software to go along with it? Western Digital's My Passport Essential SE comes with a bevy of utilities to help users more easily protect their important files, photos, and videos. You also get a full terrabyte of storage for 1GB, but the speed and design of this $109 drive give us pause.
One of the lighter drives around, the Western Digital My Passport Essential weighs just 7.2 ounces, half the weight of the Iomega eGo Portable Hard Drive. Still, the Passport's plastic case felt very flimsy, flexing when we pressed on it. The even-lighter LaCie Rikiki (7.1 ounces) has a tougher aluminum case.
The best aspect of the My Passport Essential is its included software. The clean and intuitive installer walked us through the setup quickly. The program prompted us to perform an initial backup and to add a password to protect the drive, steps not offered on any of the other drives we tested.
During backup, the software provides a visual indicator of the status by way of gauges. As the backup finishes documents or media files, you see a box that fills up. Restoring files was also just as easy using the Western Digital software. You can quickly select whether to restore files to their original location or to a new folder.
Western Digital also includes encryption software to protect the drive and password-protect files. There's even a way to check drive diagnostics and set a timer as low as 10 minutes for when the drive goes to sleep. And, as a bonus, all the apps are bundled together so the software is easier to uninstall. Buffalo Technology includes more advanced software with its drive, but Western Digital comes in a close second.
Unfortunately, all the software in the world can't make up for slow transfer speeds. It took the My Passport Essential 1 minute 43 seconds to transfer a 5GB folder of documents and media files, a rate of 49.7 MBps, the slowest of the 1TB drives we tested. The fastest drive, the Buffalo MiniStation Stealth, wrote the files at a rate of 64 MBps--23 seconds faster.
When copying the same 5GB folder off the My Passport Essential, the drive fared a little better, taking 1 minute and 50 seconds, a rate of 46.5 MBps. That's good enough to beat out the LaCie Rikiki (36.6 MBps) and the Buffalo MiniStation (44.5 MBps), but it's still far below the Seagate GoFlex (71.1 MBps).
Western Digital includes some excellent utilities with its My Passport Essential external hard drive. That said, its poor transfer times and flimsy case make the $109 asking price hard to stomach. For $15 more, the Iomega eGo offers better speeds, and is rated to survive 7-foot drops, and if you're looking to save some money, the $99 Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex couples a sweet set of software with better performance.