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

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
127.93
Toshiba Canvio Slim II
118.8
118.49
WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2013)
118.5
117.87
Seagate Slim
110.4
111.49
Buffalo MiniStation Extreme
110.3
118.82
WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2015)
110.2
117.34
ioSafe SoloPro G3
109.1
110.8
WD My Password Slim
107.7
107.89
LaCie Christofle Sphere
105.5
111.43
SiliconPower Armor A60
104.3
114.48
WD Elements
95.7
102.15
Seagate Backup Plus
90.94
110.1

Legend:

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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