by Josh Shaman

WD My Passport Ultra Review

The WD My Passport Ultra, announced today, is a USB 3.0 portable storage device with capacities from 500GB up to 2TB that features local and cloud backups. The My Passport Ultra includes software for automatic backups to the host system or to the My Passport Ultra as well as the ability to use Dropbox to backup to the cloud. The Ultra, WD's latest My Passport iteration, also enables users to setup password protection and hardware encryption to keep data stored on the device secure from unauthorized access. Cosmetically-focused, the WD My Passport Ultra is available in four different colors (titanium, red, blue and black).

Lately, we've been seeing a shift in the portable storage market as more manufacturers look to separate themselves from the large group of makers who pump out portable HDDs with special enhancements (and sometimes not so special) to their products. This can come in the way of high-end premium enclosures or super-slim designs. Yet there are also brands that now offer software packaged with the drives to not just allow users to manage the drive, but to also provide significant backup features that enable users to gain even more security for the important files and content. WD has done this on previous iterations and continues the paradigm with the WD My Passport Ultra which offers WD Drive Utilities, WD Security, and WD SmartWare Pro (the Pro version is typically around 20 bucks for use on up to 3 computers). These drives have strong value as stand-alone drives which is accentuated by the included backup software.

The WD My Passport Ultra is available now and comes with a three year warranty and a variety of enclosure colors. Our review drive is the 1TB model in a red enclosure. MSRP pricing is $99.99 for the 500GB model, $129.99 for the 1TB model, and the 2TB is set to release in Q3 2013 with pricing to come.

WD My Passport Ultra Specifications

  • Capacities and Colors
    • 500GB
      • Black(WDBPGC5000ABK)
      • Titanium (WDBPGC50000ATT)
      • Blue (WDBPGC5000ABL)
      • Red (WDBPGC500ARD)
    • 1TB
      • Black(WDBZFP0010BBK)
      • Titanium (WDBZFP0010BTT)
      • Blue (WDBZFP0010BBL)
      • Red (WDBZFP0010BRD)
    • 2TB
      • Black(WDBMWV0020BBK)
      • Titanium (WDBMWV0020BBT)
      • Blue (WDBMWV0020BBL)
      • Red (WDBMWV0020BRD)
  • System Compatibility: Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP
  • Interface: USB 3.0, USB 2.0
  • Operating temperature: 5°C to 35°C
  • Non-operating temperature: –20°C to 65°C
  • Dimensions (HxDxW):
    • 500 GB - 4.33" (110 mm) x 0.50" (12.8 mm) x 3.21" (81.6 mm)
    • 1TB - 4.35" (110.5mm) x 0.61" (15.4mm) x 3.23" (82mm)
    • 2TB - 4.35" (110.5mm) x 0.82" (20.9mm) x 3.23" (82mm)
  • Weight:
    • 500GB - 0.30 lb (0.13 kg)
    • 1TB - 0.34 lb (0.16 kg)
    • 2TB 0.50 lb (0.23 kg)
  • Limited 3-year warranty

Design and Build

The WD My Passport Ultra has a standard portable storage device design, as there is little room aside from dimensions and weight at this price point to stray too far from convention. The exterior shell is composed of plastic that feels sturdy enough for home use and other applications outside of the house. The overall look and feel is comparable to prior WD portables designed for the PC market. 

The top cover features the designated color which can be titanium, red, blue or black, in our case red, with a silver outline as an accent. The top also features the WD My Passport Ultra branding. The bottom and sides of the drive are black with the only features being the USB 3.0 connector on the left side and the small product label and information printed onto the plastic.

Setup and Usability

Getting the WD My Passport Ultra up and running isn't complicated. Users just run the setup client that allows them to choose what they want to install, or to install all of the included software: WD Utilities, WD SmartWare Pro and WD Security. Once setup has completed installing programs, users can activate SmartWare Pro by inputting their name and e-mail which gives them access to install the Pro version on up to 3 computers. This process ran smoothly during our setup, and having an integrated all-WD software bundle makes it simple for users to get used to the design, feel and functions of the programs.

Starting with WD Utilities, users can perform diagnostics testing on their drive. The first option is the SMART status check which predicts potential drive failures in just a second or two. The next option is the quick self-test which takes around 2 minutes. The final option does a full media scan to detect bad sectors in the drive, and WD says it can take up to several hours for large-capacity drives. After users initiate each test and the drive runs the course, the client shows that the status of the test and when it was last completed. There is also an option in WD Utilities to configure after what amount of idle time the drive will go into sleep, and another option allows users to easily erase all data from the data.

WD Security allows users to set a password that blocks access to unauthorized users. Only the password yields access to the WD My Passport Ultra. WD recommends that users are very careful about this step, as there's no way to access data without the password after it's set. There is also an option to auto unlock the drive for a specified user account. With the password set, users can also go back in and remove the security by typing in their password and clicking a check box.

WD SmartWare Pro has a clean, functional GUI that makes operating the software simple, even for novices. For those users who are inexperienced, the tab furthest to the right is labeled help and goes through very detailed steps on how to perform any of the processes SmartWare Pro enables. Additionally, in the top right there is also an information icon near the Help tab. For each tab, the information icon presents different information on how to operate the functions found within the selected tab. This layout aids new backup users in figuring out what actions to perform, as well as providing more experienced users with information about more advanced functionality.

The WD SmartWare Pro home screen shows users the current backup strategy. Here, users can select a backup target drive or select to backup to their Dropbox account by logging in. (Users can also specify an account in the settings tab.) Clicking the backup tab allows users to switch between category and file backup. Category backs up the system drive by category. Clicking on advanced view enables users to select and deselect categories such as movies or music for backup. File backup enables users to select individual folders. There is also an icon allowing users to set the frequency of their backups. They can set backups to occur as often as every hour or as little as every month.

One feature is missing here that is offered on other backup software clients, and that is WD SmartWare Pro users cannot select extensions to back up or exclude (such as .mp3 or .doc).

The remaining tabs are the retrieve tab and the settings tab. Retrieve allows users to send data that was backed up to a target. This helps users to recover lost or failed files or folders. The settings tab allows users to select how many copies of backup versions they want to keep (up to 25), select WD SmartWare Pro software update preferences, and specify the retrieve folder.

Performance

Using our Consumer Testing Platform, we measured transfer speeds from the WD My Passport Ultra 1TB utilizing its USB 3.0 interface with IOMeter. The WD My Passport Ultra 1TB posted 100.69MB/s for sequential read and for 101.49MB/s sequential write. For large-block transfers, it measured 71.95MB/s for reads and 73.97MB/s for writes.

Market comparables include the mainstream Toshiba Canvio Connect 750GB and the higher-end G-Technology G-DRIVE mini 1TB that we have recently reviewed. The Toshiba Canvio Connect posted sequential read and write speeds at 101.5MB/s and 101.2MB/s respectively, while random large-block transfers measured 47.7MB/s read and 37.9MB/s write. The G-Technology G-DRIVE mini tested with higher transfer rates with sequential read and write speeds at 127.6MB/s and 121.2MB/s respectively, but slower random large-block transfers that measured 55.1MB/s read and 55.9MB/s write.

The WD My Passport Ultra 1TB had sequential figures close to the Toshiba Canvio Connect 750GB, but a bit under the G-Technology G-DRIVE mini 1TB. Its large-block transfer rates exceeded both of the comparable drives by a solid margin. With a design focused on bulk storage and backups, these figures are more than respectable.

Conclusion

The WD My Passport Ultra is a USB 3.0 portable storage device that includes WD's own in-house-developed software that enables simple local and cloud backups. The backup software provides an advanced feature-set for a consumer portable drive that includes the ability to schedule backups to take place as frequently as hourly to as rarely as monthly. The My Passport Ultra also offers plenty of capacity for most applications as it ranges up to 1TB now and will feature a 2TB model in Q3 2013. For further customization, WD produces the drive in four different colors: titanium, black, red and blue.

The WD My Passport Ultra enters a saturated market of portable storage devices, but it does so with unique offerings. Consumers could easily go shopping in a big-box store or online and find a plethora of USB 3.0 drives with a range of capacities, but where WD differentiates its product is with its included software. WD has been doing this on previous drives, and the Toshiba Canvio Connect that we reviewed recently also offers valuable backup software and drive tools. However, the WD My Passport Ultra's software has all been designed by WD for WD. That's something the Toshiba drive doesn't offer as its software wasn't designed in-house. That means using the software is a bit easier on the WD and feels more streamlined. Overall, Toshiba isn't just offering another portable drive here; they've gone a bit further than most of the competition with the added features from the software, and they have also done so while providing comparable or better transfer rates than other drives on the market.

Pros

  • Excellent large-block transfer rates
  • Included WD software for local and cloud backups adds value

Cons

  • No option to exclude/include extensions (WD SmartWare Pro)

Bottom Line

The WD My Passport Ultra excels in adding plenty of value with the included software, its transfer rates which are solid for the market and the design options offer plenty of personal choice.

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WD My Passport Ultra at Amazon.com