Western Digital

Review: Western Digital My Passport Ultra 3TB

As a photographer, you can never have enough storage space. Especially if you’re of the traveling kind and your laptop’s internal hard drive is limited.

I already reported about one of my favorite external drives for traveling, the WD My Passport Pro (review here).

Now a while back, WD introduced a new portable drive, the My Passport Ultra. There is also a Mac version of this drive, the My Passport for Mac. Except for the name, both are identical, it’s just that one is pre-formatted for Windows and the other is pre-formatted for Mac. The review copy WD sent me was an Ultra. As I use a Mac, I changed the formatting to HFS+. Easy enough.

75000 raw files on a pack of cigarettes

The My Passport Pro is available in four colours. If you use more than one (e.g. one for data and one for backup), choosing different colours can help you tell the drives apart. 

The My Passport Pro is available in four colours. If you use more than one (e.g. one for data and one for backup), choosing different colours can help you tell the drives apart. 

Compared to the My Passport Pro with its built in dual drives and raid system, the My Passport Ultra technically is a lot simpler: inside is a typical 2.5 inch laptop drive (you have a choice between 0.5, 1, 2 and 3 TB). At 5400 rpm, the drive itself is no faster or slower than the majority of other small external drives. The interface is USB 3 (backwards compatible with USB 2). What really sets this drive apart is its size and weight, or rather lack thereof: the 3TB version I tested weighs less than 250 grams (0.5 pounds) and at 21 x 81 x 110 mm (0.83 x 3.21 x 4.33 inches) it is not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes. At an average of 40 Mb per raw file, this means it can contain 75000 raw photos. Seventy Five Thousand! On a drive that fits in a shirt pocket! There won't be any more room for those cigarettes then, but they're bad for your health anyway. The beauty is that it’s USB powered, so no need to lug around a power supply that sometimes weighs more than the actual drive.

Possible uses

As you know from this post, I use a separate SSD drive to store my Lightroom catalog on. But SSD memory is far too expensive and limited to store your actual images on. And that's where this My Passport Ultra comes in. There are a couple of ways to include the Ultra in a portable Lightroom workflow:

  1. If you are a high volume shooter, you can use it exclusively for image storage. As I mentioned, if you calculate at an average of 40 MB for a raw file, the drive will contain up to 75.000 of them. If you shoot JPEG only, you can easily multiply that by 5. Just make sure you make regular backups to another drive. You don't want to lose 75.000 images in one go! You could get another My Passport Ultra, obviously, but you could also opt for a cheaper, bigger external hard drive with a separate power supply which would cost about half. You would then leave the bulky backup drive at home (or in your hotel room) and take the My Passport Ultra with you when you go out the door. Never leave your backup drive and the drive with your originals together in your hotel room!
  2. If you normally store your images on your internal harddrive, you could use the Ultra as a small and lightweight backup-only drive, although in that case, you probably don't need the 3 TB model!
  3. Personally, I make a hybrid use of the drive: as I'm really paranoid about losing my images, especially while traveling, I import them to my My Passport Pro, which is set up in Raid 1. That means if one of both drives in the My Passport Pro fails, I still have my pictures. However, Raid 1 does not protect me from theft or fire or other damage, and that's where the My Passport Ultra comes in: I've split it into two partitions. One, 1 TB in size acts as a Time Machine backup for my MacBook Pro's internal 1 TB drive. The other, 2 TB in size acts as a backup for the My Passport Pro. I've attached some velcro to the back of the My Passport Ultra (and to the back of my laptop case) so I can easily attach the drive to my laptop when I'm working. 
The My Passport Pro which I reviewed separately contains two drives. You can set these up in Raid 0 (they act like one big, faster drive but when one drive fails, all data is lost), Raid 1 (everything you write on one drive is automatically mirrored to the second) or JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) where they act as two different physical drives. The Pro has a Thunderbolt interface, which makes it more useful for Mac users than Windows users.

The My Passport Pro which I reviewed separately contains two drives. You can set these up in Raid 0 (they act like one big, faster drive but when one drive fails, all data is lost), Raid 1 (everything you write on one drive is automatically mirrored to the second) or JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) where they act as two different physical drives. The Pro has a Thunderbolt interface, which makes it more useful for Mac users than Windows users.

The above use cases are just examples. I'm sure you can come up with your own ideas on how to use 3 TB of storage! 

Price

This drive exists in a 0.5, 1, 2 and 3 TB version. Personally, I don't know who would buy the 0.5 TB version unless you're a photographer with lots of self-restraint. The 3 TB version costs around € 200 / $ 200. You do pay a premium for the small form factor, but I find the price to be very reasonable, especially given its extreme portability.

My Passport Pro or My Passport Ultra?

The Pro and the Ultra are different drives for different needs. For me, the main advantage of the My Passport Pro lies in the fact that it saves to two drives automatically, offering an initial and automated backup. However, having said that, you still need a secondary backup of the data that's on a My Passport Pro. After all, the drive can get lost or stolen, too.

If you don't mind making your own backups (on my Macs, I use Shirtpocket's SuperDuper), for the price of one My Passport Pro 2+2 TB, you can buy two My Passport Ultra 3 TB drives, giving you more flexibility and more storage.

Conclusion

I like the My Passport Ultra a lot. It's so small and lightweight that you can bring it with you wherever you go. The only disadvantage I could come up with is that the drive's housing isn't shock-resistant or weather-sealed, which would undoubtedly have added to the weight, size and... price! Other than that, if you’re looking for a lot of storage in a light small, convenient package, then look no further. Especially for laptop users this USB-powered drive combines convenience with ample storage without adding much bulk. Just as always, make sure to back up your data. No drive, regardless of the manufacturer, is failsafe. 


Review: Western Digital WD My Passport Pro for Mac. The ultimate portable harddrive for photographers?

Ever since I saw my buddy Matt Brandon from www.thedigitaltrekker.com use one on our Rajasthan photo workshop, I've been using a Western Digital WD My Passport Pro myself. The difference being that I opted for the 2 TB version. After over a year of using the drive, it's time for a review. Is it the ultimate hard drive for photographers? Well, although there's no such thing as perfection, it does come close!

What is it?

The WD My Passport Pro is an external hard drive specifically for Mac users: it uses a fast Thunderbolt connection. The drive draws it power from your computer, so no need to lug a power adapter along. Some may disagree, but I find the fact that the cable is attached a nice feature: when not in use, it wraps around the side of the drive. So, for someone as disorganised as me, it's a good thing I cannot loose the cable anymore. Unless I loose the entire drive, obviously...

Inside though is where things really start to get interesting: the WD My Passport Pro does not contain one but two classical rotating 2.5 inch 5400 RPM drives. Two 1 TB drives in the case of the My Passport Pro 2 TB and two 2 TB drives In the case of the bulkier 4 TB version. Speaking about size, here's how the two models differ:

Images courtesy WD

Images courtesy WD

What makes it special: three ways to configure it:

 
The WD Utilities software lets you set up the drive in three different ways. 'Mirror' is the one that I use and that offers the protection your images deserve.

The WD Utilities software lets you set up the drive in three different ways. 'Mirror' is the one that I use and that offers the protection your images deserve.

 

Using the supplied and easy to use WD software, this means you can set up the drive in any of three ways:

  1. JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks): this means that the two drives inside the My Passport Pro will also show as two separate drives on your Mac. It's a bit like using two separate external drives, the difference being that they're conveniently stored in the same housing and there's only one cable. However, this is not the use I make of it nor is it the use I recommend making: there's cheaper and more efficient options for that, such as the newly announced My Passport Ultra, which exists in up to 3 TB of storage. 
    UPDATE: check out my friend Mike's workflow in the comments section: he does use the drive in JBOD mode and makes some valid arguments for that, too. And... he works in IT so he knows way more about this stuff than I do!
  2. Raid 0: this means that the two drives act like one big 2 or 4 TB drive (depending on the model). Especially for the latter, that's a lot of mobile storage! The risk however is that if one drive fails, all your data is gone because it's effectively spread across the two drives. So, unless you have an airtight backup system (which would mean you would have to backup to another WD My Passport Pro or a similar capacity drive) and, if you don't want to interrupt your workflow, also carry that backup with you, this is probably not the way you want to store your precious photographs.
  3. Which brings us to the third option (the one I use and is most recommended for photographers who, unlike Mike, aren't IT experts :-) : use the drive in Raid 1 mode. This means that the drive behaves as a 1 or 2 TB drive on your system and whatever you save on that drive is automatically mirrored on the second drive. If drive one fails, your data is still intact on the other and vice versa. As Mike rightly points out in the comments, this only protects you from drive failure, though. If you accidentally delete a file from one drive, it's automatically gone from the second, too... 

It's the latter option which makes the drive interesting for photographers who generally are paranoid (or should be) about losing their precious images. 

Scenario 1: using the drive as a temporary drive while traveling

I see two big scenarios in which this drive really shines: the first is as a travel drive to store your photographs (and other essential data) on while you're traveling. This means the setup would look something like this:

WDLaptop2.jpg

This is the scenario I follow when I'm traveling: using Lightroom, I'll import my images from the SD card to the My Passport Pro. My Catalog and Previews are on an external 512 GB Angelbird SSD drive. When Lightroom prompts me to back up the catalog when I quit it, I altnernate that backup between the internal drive of my laptop and the WD My Passport Pro. This adds an extra layer of security for my Catalog, as I will always have a fairly recent version in at least two extra locations. I only backup the catalog itself, by the way, not the previews, as they are too bulky and can always be re-rendered if necessary. 

If your Lightroom Catalog is not as big as mine (I have over 130.000 images in it), you could also put the Catalog, Previews and Smart Previews on the internal drive of your laptop or... on the My Passport Pro as well. Lightroom will just run slower because of the slower read and write speeds of this type of drive compared to solid state memory. Ultimately, you're the only judge of whether 'slower' still means 'fast enough' or 'too slow'. 

Especially if you're using a MacBook Air for traveling, due to its limited internal hard drive space, I'd recommend against putting the catalog and previews on the internal drive.

Additional security precautions while traveling

Having my images and a backup of my Lightroom catalog on the My Passport Pro protects me against drive failure, but it does not protect me against theft or loss of the drive, obviously. That's why I never reformat my memory cards while I'm traveling: memory cards are cheap so I just bring plenty of them. By not reformatting them, I have an extra, super light backup which I can easily take with me. I also make it a habit never to leave the My Passport Pro and my laptop unattended together (like in the hotel room): I will always carry one of them with me. That's also an advantage of the 2 TB version over the 4 TB version: it's slightly lighter and quite a lot smaller.

If the internet is fast enough wherever I'm traveling, I'll try to upload my best pictures of the trip (say the 5 star ones) to Dropbox as yet an extra layer of security.

When I'm back home, I will connect my catalog drive and the WD My Passport Pro to my desktop computer and - using Lightroom ! -I will  transfer the files over to my main storage system (currently a Drobo 5D Thunderbolt, although I have been investigating the options of NAS storage), freeing up room on the My Passport Pro for the next trip.

Scenario 2: using the drive as your only dedicated photo drive

For this workflow, I would recommend the 4 TB version because... you never can have enough storage, right? In this case, you just use the My Passport Pro as a convenient, small Raid device with the added benefit that should you ever want to take it with you, it's small and light enough to do so. 

This gives you 2 TB of mirrored hard drive space. In the case of my Fujifilm Raw files, which weigh about 30 MB per image, this means I could safely store some 66.000 images on the 4 TB version. That's a lot of images! If you're planning on organizing and storing more images than that, you're probably better of using a bigger, heavier (and more expensive) Raid System or NAS system. 

UPDATE: SCENARIO 3 - See Mike's comment for a possible third scenario I hadn't thought of myself.

Pricing

As you might expect from the feature list: these drives aren't cheap. If you're more of the DIY variety, you could get two separate drives and use separate backup software to do something similar. Personally, I prefer to avoid hassling with too much gear and software so I prefer to pay a premium for the portability and the convenience of the WD My Passport Pro. The 2 TB version will set you back some 289 € (that's at Dutch online retailer Bol.com) while the 4 TB version - if you're lucky enough to find a dealer that has them in stock - retails for about 432 €. As often is the case, it pays to surf around a bit and also, if you're reading this from the US, consider yourself lucky as prices are cheaper there.

The verdict

If you're a photographer using a Mac, the My Passport Pro is a very convenient tool to add an extra layer of security in your photography workflow, whether you're on the go or in your studio. The 2 TB version is very compact for its features and although not exactly shirt-pocketable, even the 4 TB version is still easily transportable. I've been using the 2 TB version for over a year now and other than one of the rubber feet getting MIA, which I replaced by a bit of Sugru, it has performed flawlessly! 

Highly recommended!

The WD My Passport Wireless is another drive that can be of interest to photographers, as it features a built-in SD Card Reader

The WD My Passport Wireless is another drive that can be of interest to photographers, as it features a built-in SD Card Reader

By the way, if you're mainly needing an external drive to back-up travel images to, Western Digital has given itself some internal competition in the form of the My Passport Wireless, which I will review on this blog shortly. Suffice to say for now that the built-in SD card reader of this particular drive should be enough to draw a photographer's attention.