The Western Digital My Passport Studio 640GB portable external hard drive is a definite speed upgrade over the MyPassport Essential series. With a FireWire 800 interface in addition to the mandatory USB 2.0 interface, this grey colored portable drive holds out the promise of faster data transfer, though the considerably thicker enclosure is a slight trade-off. The Studio 640GB drive also has an “eInk” display, which you can use to label your drives and to view the remaining/available disk space at a glance.
The biggest difference between Western Digital's Studio-branded external hard drives and the company's Essential-branded models (which are both based upon 2.5-inch hard drives) has traditionally been connectivity. The WD My Passport Studio offers both USB 2.0 and the speedier FireWire 800, while the Essential models only connect over a USB cable. As we noted with the My Passport Essential SE, WD is using micro-USB ports, which are allegedly sturdier than standard USB ports. The flip side is that the cable to connect such an external HDD to your PC/laptop might be harder to replace than the (by now) old faithful mini-USB interface cables.
FireWire 800 is a great inclusion if you have a compatible device. It has a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 800 megabits per second, whereas USB 2.0 is restricted to 480Mbps. It is also known to have a higher average throughput when transferring large files, which should mean faster overall performance using the interface. Western Digital even includes a FireWire 800 to 400 adapter, which means you'll be able to use the connection with older desktops and laptops. The My Passport Studio is an average performer with regard to data transfer speed when using the USB 2.0 connection, and you can expect similar results when using the FireWire 400 adapter. However, the FireWire 800 interface means you’ll be able to transfer large files at a much faster rate. The FireWire 800 interface is certainly a godsend for users who want to transfer large files regularly. The downside, though, is that FireWire 800 is a large interface, which means the My Passport Studio is bulkier than it would be otherwise. It's even slightly thicker than the higher capacity My Passport SE 1TB portable drive, so it might not fit in small pockets so easily.
An unusual feature of the WD My Passport Studio is its electronic label. This so-named eInk (electronic Ink) label is like the one we had seen on the My Book Elite 2TB external drive which was based on a 3.5-inch hard drive. The eInk display is similar to the screens of e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle, and essentially acts as a capacity gauge and volume label. You can change the label with the bundled Windows and Mac-compatible WD SmartWare software and it can stay visible without power for six months. If you have multiple external hard drives, you can label what each one is used for, thus being able to easily differentiate between various drives and picking the one that has the requisite amount of free disk space that is needed for your data. Seen in proportion to the price penalty you incur, the eInk label may not seem worth it to everyone, but it is still a good thing for the niche audience that WD is targeting with this drive.
Western Digital doesn’t include any formatting tools, so if you choose to change between Windows and Mac file systems, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Interestingly, a format of the drive would still not get rid of the WD SmartWare Virtual CD! This bundled software is protected on the drive, to prevent loss of the utilities it provides. The WD SmartWare software acts as a configuration hub for the hard drive, letting you configure the eInk label and manage the 256-bit AES hardware encryption and backup schedules.
Since bundled software to handle data backups is the “in thing” since a while now, the backup utility is part of WD SmartWare. It is designed to be intuitive and largely automatic, like the Clickfree Automatic Backup 160GB drive. WD SmartWare supports up to 25 sequential backups of the same file. After categorising data on your computer and the external hard drive based on file extensions, WD SmartWare lets you choose which types of file formats to back up. While certainly simple, it doesn't let users set custom extensions, so obscure formats are simply be listed as "other" and bundled with miscellaneous system files. This could be good enough for a lot of people, but the limitations could drive experienced PC users towards using third-party free software instead. Power users may want to invest in a better backup suite.
For those interested in the internals, this portable drive uses a WD Scorpio HDD with an 8MB buffer and offers 595.5 GB of usable disk space. To prevent bottlenecks, we use our top-end test-rig for testing.
The first set of speed tests were run using the normal USB 2.0 interface, and as was expected, the interface itself was a bottleneck. On synthetic benchmarks we measured a read speed average of 31.2 MB/s and a write speed average of 19.1 MB/s. Real world file read/write speeds conducted when the drive was empty, showed a speed of 27.4 MB/s for a single large file (6.42 GB), but fell to 14.5 MB/s as expected, when copying multiple smaller files (1287 files totaling up to 2.33 GB). Transferring these small files from the first partition to a second one on the same drive (simultaneous read/write) was at a speed of 11.2 MB/s. Read and write access times averaged 18.3 ms and 9.47 ms (milli-seconds) respectively, with a CPU usage of 8 per cent on average.
The second set of speed tests were conducted over a FireWire 800 interface, and the difference seen in real-world speeds could only be described as eye-popping. While transferring a large file (6.42 GB), on average we measured a read speed of 65.1 MB/s, write speed of 57 MB/s and simultaneous read/write speed of 31 MB/s. While transferring multiple smaller files (1287 files totaling up to 2.33 GB) and averaging the speeds seen, we got a read speed of 49.8 MB/s, write speed of 42.5 MB/s and simultaneous read/write speed of 24.7 MB/s.
To view these details in an easier table-format, take a look at the “Performance” tab of this review. As our tests showed, FireWire-800 definitely improves data transfer speed. It is a pity that FireWire (even in its older 400Mbps avatar) occupies such a rarefied niche, and that a lot of people who do buy the Studio 640GB drive are not likely to enjoy this speed boost. Hopefully USB 3.0 manages to catch on faster and on a wider range of consumer products, since the last USB 3.0 hard drive we reviewed was very fast and quite a breath of fresh air in the (relatively) slow external storage drive segment. But until then, USB drives like this one which provide extras are a good buy.
This is Western Digital’s premium external hard drive, and is priced accordingly. The addition of an eInk label is great for those who need multiple drives and a quick way to differentiate between them and find out how much space is available. The inclusion of the faster FireWire 800 interface is worthwhile for those with a high-end PC or a Mac, and for those who need to transfer large files quickly.