Western Digital My Passport Studio 1TB full review

Released at the same time as the new 2011 version of the My Passport for Mac, it’s ironically this drive, the My Passport Studio, that will really appeal to the discerning Mac user.

And that’s not just because this portable hard disk solution packs a useful FireWire 800 port or two. It’s also about sublime design and build credentials.

While the cheaper drive is a smart enough affair, its plastic construction undermines the My Passport for Mac’s potential sex appeal. We can appreciate its light weight for the sake of carrying it around, but plastic cases scream of casual disposability.

When it’s your precious data on the line, any assurance of quality construction is worth its weight in precision milled-from-solid aluminium.

Few would disagree that Apple Macs have the best design and construction quality in the business. Peripheral makers sometimes try to grab hold of those carefully tailored coat tails, with matching accessories that are all too often crude renderings of Apple style points, using cheap plastics where the original product is employing durable metal.

Not so the 2011 take on the WD My Passport Studio. Unlike the previous two generations of MPS from Western Digital, in their faux-metal silver plastic cases, today’s version now truly picks up the Unibody cue from Cupertino, and encases its hard disk cargo in a solid-feeling lump of machine-hewed metal.

The obvious casualty is weight. For those mobile power users who count every gramme, look away now: the My Passport Studio tips the scales at a hefty 334g.

Compare that to the new My Passport for Mac 1TB at 196g. Or the previous My Passport Studio 640GB, very light again at 195g. Yet with mass comes no small amount of authority; this Western Digital My Passport Studio 1TB pocket drive may stretch the coat lining a little more but it feels solid and durable. It’s not indestructible of course, and we’re sure that if dropped the soft metal edges would take a noticeable dink.

There's no case or other protection in the box, although Western Digital does make a line in branded drive cases, including an armoured WD Nomad model.

Western Digital My Passport Studio 1TB: Extras

Software included with the drive is much improved over that included with previous Western Digital external drives. Until recently, WD has bundled a bloated cross-platform Windows/Mac app. Coded in Adobe Flash, it needed admin rights to set up, then installed files deep into your computer, and consumed memory and processor resources even without a drive connected.

Now we have what looks like a properly coded OS X application – in fact two – to take care of basic functions and security.

WD Drive Utilities is a simple app with four functions. A diagnostics section can check SMART status, makes a quick disk test, or a complete test for bad sectors on the disk. Sleep Timer lets you set the idle time before spindown: 10, 15, 35 or 45 minutes, or never. Drive Erase promises to permanently erase disk data. The fourth function is a cheeky Registration section to harvest your contact details.

Meanwhile, the separate WD Security app enables you to set a password to unlock the drive. As with the previous My Passport Studio, full disk encryption is always on; it’s up to the user to decide if they want to set a password to lock it down or not. Now you can also set the drive to auto unlock for the OS X user that sets up the drive.

Note that with this always-on AES-256 encryption, the internal disk cannot be read even if it is removed and placed in a different case. That bodes well for all-round data security; but may have attendant issues if you should need to transplant the hard disk and use it elsewhere.

Inside the My Passport Studio is a Western Digital Scorpio Blue 2.5in SATA disk. Not the latest 9.5mm version that earned a Recommended award recently (aka, the WD10JPVT), but the fatter 12.5mm version (WD10TPVT). WD’s specs place it a little slower than the new 9.5mm version, although it’s still peforming well beyond the capabilities of the fastest FireWire 800 interface.

Which raises the question of whatever happened to Western Digital’s recorded pledge of the benefits of Thunderbolt, when it launched on Apple computers in February this year? The appearance of a Thunderbolt port on a storage product, especially from a company that’s trying so hard to sell to Mac users, is beyond overdue.

In contrast to the last two generations of My Passport Studio, the 2011 model now sports two FireWire 800 ports. That makes daisy-chaining FireWire devices as intended now possible.

Western Digital My Passport Studio 1TB: Performance

For the tech-minded, the My Passport Studio uses a powerful chip controller from Oxford Semiconductor, a OXUF943SE, to serve as the primary interface between the SATA disk inside, and the FireWire and USB ports facing the user.

We used Intech QuickBench to check the My Passport Studio’s read and write performance in OS X Lion. Results here suggested that MacBook Air and other OS platform users can expect to see a peak read/write speed of 38MBps/28MBps respectively through the Micro-USB port. That’s slow by the standards of modern interfaces, but about as quick as you’ll see from USB 2.0

With the FireWire 800 connection, we measured read speeds up to 76MBps and write performance to 69MBps.

Those are still well short of the circa-110MBps that the disk itself can hit – hence the pressing need for a Thunderbolt interface. But for now, those are excellent figures for a FireWire 800 connection.


Western Digital My Passport Studio 1TB: Specs

  • External hard drive
  • 1 x Micro-USB, 2 x FireWire 800
  • 1TB WD Scorpion Blue 2.5in SATA disk (available in 500GB, 750GB and 1TB capacities)
  • AES-256 encryption
  • FW800-FW800 cable
  • USB Type A to Micro-USB cable
  • WD Drive Utilities and WD Security apps for OS X
  • 126 x 84 x 21.5mm
  • 334g