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WD Elements Portable drive review: Large, affordable and versatile

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The WD Elements is a compact yet high-capacity external storage device that won't dig a hole in your wallet. At a street price of just $55/AU$99 (converted that's £37) for 1TB, it's easily one of the cheapest portable drive on the market. You can also get the 2TB version for $85, or the 500GB for just $50.

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WD Elements Portable drive

The Good

The WD Elements Portable drive offers a large amount of storage space for a low cost. Its simple design allows it to work well with computers, game consoles and other type of hosts.

The Bad

You have to pay extra to use its included backup software after the introductory 30-day trial. The drive has no security features and carries a short warranty of just one year.

The Bottom Line

Though not the fastest on the market, the WD Elements' large capacity makes it an excellent deal considering its low price.

The catch is, in my testing, the drive's performance wasn't as fast as its intended rival, the slightly more expensive Seagate Expansion. Not only that, it carries a short 1-year warranty, has no other added value such as security, and includes only a 30-day trial version of the WD SmartWare Pro backup software.

However, like the Seagate, the WD Elements' simple design enables it to work well with both computers and games consoles as either storage expansion or a backup drive. That said, if you're looking for an easy way to carry data around, or extend the storage of your Xbox One, the Elements is an excellent buy. On the other hand, those needing features like security, backup software and a longer warranty should check out other options on our list of top portable drives on the market.

The WD Elements is a simple, straighforward portable drive. Josh Miller/CNET

No bells or whistles

Basically, the Elements is WD's answer to the Seagate Expansion drive. Both of them are low-cost, high-capacity and easy to use USB 3.0 external hard drives.

On the outside, the Elements looks similar to the higher-end portable drives from WD, such as the WD My Passport Slim, with rounded corners and a smoothly finished surface. Measuring 4.4x3.2x0.8 inches (11.2x8.1x2.0 cm), the compact drive is small enough for you to easily tuck it away in your pocket. Compared to the Seagate Expansion, it's slightly shorter and thicker, but overall it's better looking.

On the inside, however, it houses a low-power standard laptop hard drive that spins at just 5,400rpm, slower than drives that spin at 7,200rpm. This generally translates to slower performance. The drive doesn't support encryption for security, either, meaning you shouldn't put sensitive data on it.

The Elements is preloaded with a trial version of the WD SmartWare Pro, which will cost you another $20 if you you want to use it beyond its 30-day trial period. Higher-end portable drives from WD includes the full version of this software for free.

And out of the box, the Elements comes with a standard foot-long Micro-USB 3.0 cable and nothing else. But you don't need anything else to make it work, either.

The drive is preformatted for Windows and will work right away when you plug it in. For a Mac, you will need to reformat it to HFS+. You can also format it to exFAT file systems if you'll want to use it interchangeably between Windows and Mac computers.

WD Elements Portable drive specs

Drive type Bus-powered portable hard drive
Connector options USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Available capacities 500GB, 1TB, 1.5TB, 2TB
Internal drive speed 5,400rpm
Capacity of review unit 2TB
Dimensions 4.4x3.2x0.8 inches (11.2x8.1x2.0cm)
Weight 8.2 ounces (234.5 grams)
Software included WD SmartWare Pro (trial)
OSes supported Windows XP or later; Mac OS 10.4 or later
Warranty 1 year

Bare-bones multipurpose drive

The Elements' lack of features can be a good thing. This type of bare-bones design means the drive can work anywhere. A password-protected drive, for example, will need its host to run software to enable you to type in the password before it can get connected. The Element doesn't require anything from the host at all, other than a USB port.

Apart from Windows and Mac computers, where the Elements worked without any issues, I also tried it with a few non-computer hosts; it proved to be compatible there as well. On an Xbox One, the drive was recognized immediately once plugged and once formatted by the game console, I could use it to store games, apps and content for playback. The Element also worked well with routers and media network media players.

Performance

Since the Element houses a low-power internal drive, I didn't expect it to blow me away with its performance, but the drive did quite well in testing nonetheless. Via USB 3.0, it registered a sustained real-world copy speed of more than 95MBps for writing and more than 100MBps for reading. However, these were some 20MBps slower than those of the Seagate Expansion. But overall, these were average speeds for USB 3.0 portable drives, fast enough for all applications that require external storage, including movie playback, backup and app storage.

CNET Labs' USB 3.0 external drive performance

Seagate Backup Plus FAST (RAID 0) 222.5 232.74Samsung Portable T1 158.3 292.42Brinell Drive SSD 156.4 220.2Seagate Backup Plus Desktop 150.9 180.45Seagate Expansion 123.1 127.93Toshiba Canvio Slim II 118.8 118.49WD My Passport Ultra 118.5 117.87WD My Book Duo (RAID 0) 116.7 210.96Seagate Slim 110.4 111.49WD My Book Duo (RAID 1) 110.3 149.89ioSafe SoloPro G3 109.1 110.8WD My Password Slim 107.7 107.89LaCie Christofle Sphere 105.5 111.43SiliconPower Armor A60 104.3 114.48WD Elements 95.7 102.15Seagate Backup Plus 90.94 110.1
  • Write
  • Read
Notes: Measured in megabytes per second

Note that the WD Elements also works with USB 2.0 but at much slower speeds; in the neighborhood of 30MBps for both writing and reading.

Conclusion

The WD Elements Portable drive is an excellent alternative to the Seagate Expansion. While the two drives are very similar in most aspects, the Expansion is faster but the Element is cheaper. Also, in my opinion, the Elements is slightly better-looking.

Ultimately, this is a fast, easy-to-use and versatile portable drive that can effortlessly add a lot more storage, not just to computers but also game consoles and other types of USB-enabled hosts. If you don't plan on using it to store sensitive data, this is an excellent drive to choose. On the other hand, if keeping your data safe from prying eyes in case of loss or theft is a big concern, another drive, such as the Seagate Backup Plus Slim or the WD My Passport Slim will fit your needs better.

Personally, I'm totally happy with the WD Elements Portable drive and have no problems recommending it to most people.

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WD Elements Portable drive

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 6Performance 8Support 5