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WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2015) review: A compact, capacious and stylish portable drive

WD introduces its latest seventh generation portable drive in the My Passport family, the Ultra.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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The new WD My Passport Ultra is one of the most compact storage device that can give you up to 3TB, but that's not the only thing cool about it.

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8.3

WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2015)

The Good

The new and compact My Passport Ultra portable drive offers up to 3TB of storage space, delivers fast performance and comes in many color options. The drive works right out of the box, features hardware encryption and includes helpful backup software.

The Bad

The WD Backup software can't backup the entire system as an image and won't backup based on changes in real time. The new drive's performance, though quite fast, was a bit slower than the previous version.

The Bottom Line

The WD checks the boxes on everything you'd want in a portable storage drive, and with a stylish multiple color option, it's a easy recommendation.

Available in black, white, berry and blue -- with an option for up to 20 mix-and-match colors via WD Grip Packs -- the drive can fit anybody's style. What's more, the new WD Backup software is one of the easiest to use to date and you will also be able to encrypt the drive to protect data without scarifying performance.

On the downside, the drive has a few minor shortcomings. Its performance, though fast, was a bit slower than its older brother which first came out two years ago, and its backup software also does away with the real-time backup option which takes place as changes are detected.

However, all things considered and at the suggested retail price of $80, $100, $130 and $200 for 500GB, 1TB, 2TB and 3TB, respectively, the new My Passport Ultra is still one of the best portable drives on the market. (WD says that the street price will be lower and that pricing and availability for UK and Australia will be announced later.)

If you're looking for a compact storage device that offers a huge amount of storage space to carry data or backup on the go, the new WD My Passport Ultra is an excellent buy. The fact that it comes in a ton of colors and has the option to secure your data in case of loss or theft is an extra bonus.

For more options that might fit your budget better, however, check out this list of top portable drives on the market.

The new My Passport Ultra comes in four color choices. Josh Miller/CNET

Design and setup

Other than the different colors, the new My Passport Ultra looks very similar to the old version. Measuring4.34 by 3.21 by 0.5 inch (11 x 8.15 x 1.27 cm), the drive is compact enough to fit right inside your palm. And at just 5.4 ounces (153 gram), it's quite light and you can easily tuck it away in your jeans' pocket.

The drive's outer housing is made completely of plastic but still it feels sturdy. Similar to most portable drives, the new Ultra has a Micro-USB 3.0 port on one side which is used for both power and data connection. The drive includes a foot-long color-matching standard USB 3.0 cable. While this is all good, I wish it had a Type-C USB port instead. That would allow it to also work with the new MacBook, which doesn't have a regular USB port.

WD My Passport Ultra (spring 2015) specs

Drive type Bus-powered portable hard drive
Connector options USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Available capacities 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 3TB
Internal drive speed 5,400rpm
Capacity of review unit 2TB
Dimensions 4.34 x 3.21 x 0.5 inch (11 x 8.15 x 1.27 cm)
Weight 5.4 ounces (153 grams)
Software included WD Backup, WD Security, WD Utilities, WD Quick View
OSes supported Windows XP or later; Mac OS 10.4 or later
Warranty 3-year

Out of the box, the new Ultra is preformatted in the NTFS file system for Windows (NTFS). You can reformat it into other file system to work with other platform, such as Mac. The reformatting takes just a few seconds.

Note that WD also has a new My Passport For Mac that's essentially the same as the new Ultra. The Mac drive is reformatted in HFS+ and doesn't include the backup software. This is because for Mac you can use Time Machine as the backup solution. The Mac drive is also available in 1TB, 2TB and 3TB capacities that share the same pricing as the new Ultra.

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The WD Backup software is simple, straightforward yet effective. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Helpful software

The new My Passport Ultra is preloaded with WD Backup, WD Security, WD Utilities applications. You don't need to install any of these to use the drive but they adds a lot more value to the drive, especially for Windows users.

The WD Backup software, available only for Windows, is the replacement of the WD SmartWare, normally bundled with previous portable drives from WD. WD Backup is now much more simple to use. It allows you to pick what files and folders on the local drive that you want to backup (by default the data of the current user's profile is select), after that it will automatically perform the backup every hour, everyday or every month. Unfortunately, you can't change the backup frequency any further and there's no longer the option to backup each time you make changes to the computer. You can't backup the entire system, either, to restore in case you need to replace the hard drive of the computer. WD Backup does allow for backing up data onto a Dropbox account (not included), however.

WD Drive Utilities (Windows and Mac) includes utilities that enable you to check on the drive's status, test its functionality, or even reformat it. WD Security (Windows and Mac) lets you secure the drive's content with a password. The drive supports strong 256-AES hardware encryption, and once you've picked a password, the content is completely inaccessible if that password is forgotten. Both WD Drive Utilities and WD Security are available for both Windows and Mac.

The optional Grip Packs add even more colors to the drive. Josh Miller/CNET

More colors with WD Grip packs

With the new Ultra, for the first time WD introduces the Grip Pack. The pack is available in five additional colors including smoke, slate, grape, sky and fuchsia. Each pack include a band and a color matching 18" USB 3.0 cable. The band is designed to encircle the Ultra drive to offer better grip, a bit of protection against drops, and of course, more color options.

Each Grip Pack is slated to cost around $13 and you can mix and match the packs and the drive to create up to 24 color options.

Performance

The new My Passport Ultra it performed well in my testing. Via USB 3.0, it registered the sustained copy speed of 110MBps for writing and 117MBps for reading. Interestingly, these were slightly slower than the performance of the original My Passport Ultra that came out two years ago. However, the difference is within the margin of error.

CNET Labs' USB 3.0 external drive performance

Seagate Expansion 125.2 127.93Toshiba Canvio Slim II 118.8 118.49WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2013) 118.5 117.87Seagate Slim 110.4 111.49Buffalo MiniStation Extreme 110.3 118.82WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2015) 110.2 117.34ioSafe 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
Note: Measured in megabyte per second, longer bars mean better performance.

The new Ultra also works with USB 2.0 with the average speed of around 40MBps, which is typical for a USB 2.0 drive. I also noted that the drive's performance was the same when I turned on its hardware encryption feature, proving that you can use the drive in the secure mode without sacrificing its speed.

Conclusion

WD manages to make portable drives interesting again with the new My Passport Ultra. The drive inherits the fast (though not quite as fast) performance and ease of use from previous generations and now adds the top 3TB capacity plus the multitude of color options. On top of that, its backup software is more straight forward than the one bundled with previous drives, making it suit home users even better. And the security feature means that you can have the piece of mind about your privacy in case you misplace the drive.

So if you're looking for a full-feature drive with all the bells and whistles, the new Ultra is a great buy -- if not the most inexpensive on the market. On the other hand, if straightforward storage space and fast speed are all you want, bare-bone drives, such as the WD Elements or the Seagate Expansion are better choices. These drives include no security feature, color options or backup software but are a lot cheaper at just around $85 for 2TB.

Also note that the actual street price of the new Ultra will be lower than its suggested price mentioned in the review. Other than the 3TB capacity that's delayed until mid-June, the 500GB, 1TB and 2TB are slated to be available immediately.

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8.3

WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2015)

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 9Performance 8Support 8