Western Digital's Passport line of drives hasn't varied that much in design notes over the years. They're small portable drives that are really only identifiable as Western Digital drives due to the WD logo stamped on them. The only real way to pick the USB 3.0 version apart from its slower USB 2.0 brethren is the blue-tipped USB 3.0 connector on the cable.
The included software suite on the My Passport Essential USB 3.0 1TB includes WD's SmartWare suite of backup and encryption utilities. Like the bundled apps on most external hard drives, it's a functional but not exactly thrilling set of applications. It's tough to make backup exciting, though, and at least Western Digital has included applications that you can just safely ignore if you've got a better alternative to hand.
Western Digital also offers up the My Passport Essential USB 3.0 in a 500GB variant. We normally wouldn't note that, as we'd rather have more storage than less, but with an asking price of AU$139, it's one of the cheapest USB 3.0 external drives on the market. If you just want fast, and don't need that much space, it could be worth picking up.
Testing read speed with HDTach, we managed an average of 72.3MB/s on the 1TB drive. That's significantly faster than you'd get out of any USB 2.0 connected drive and a touch faster than the score we got from the Seagate GoFlex USB 1TB drive with a USB 3.0 connector attached.
When it came to writing files to the My Passport Essential USB 3.0, however, the MyPassport Essential USB 3.0 lagged behind the competition. The speed at which files write to a drive depends on not only the total size but also the number of files created, which is why you'll often see large single files copy significantly faster than folders of smaller files. Transferring over a 499MB AVI file gave us an average write rate of 58.9MB/s, but when we swapped that for a 1.66GB folder of files, that dropped to a sluggish 22.43MB/s.
USB 3.0 drives are backwards compatible, so we ran the same tests over the drive connected to a USB 2.0 port, ignoring Windows 7's warnings that it could run faster on a high speed port. In read terms, it ran at a predictable 35.1MB/s, about what we tend to see from any decent USB 2.0 drive. Equally predictably, file writing was markedly slower under USB 2.0. Our 499MB AVI file dropped from 58.9MB/s under USB 3.0 to 28.08MB/s under USB 2.0. Our folder copy test was even more sluggish with an average of 17.11MB/s.
Western Digital's My Passport Essential USB 3.0 1TB is a perfectly serviceable drive with a decent price point. At the time of writing, however, the key reason to pick up a USB 3.0 drive at what are still early adopter prices is to get the best speed possible, and in the key area of file writing to the drive, it still lags behind the competition.