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WD My Passport Essential Review – 500GB Portable USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

In a world of ever increasing quality in audio, imagery and video – the need for yet more space to store it all is a constant battle. The next challenge is having a device that is small enough to carry yet features enough storage capacity to meet your needs.

The WD My Passport Essential 500GB external hard drive is not only portable, not only capable of holding many of your media files and documents, but also incorporates USB 3.0 technology.

So let’s take a closer look…

USB 3.0 Specification

As our media file sizes increase, the need for faster transfer speeds also becomes a factor. Watching the inevitable file(s) transfer window appear with the ‘time remaining’ indicator is enough to send anyone loopy and this is made no easier if you are in a rush.

USB 3.0, which is appearing on an ever increasing range of hardware, decreases the time you will sit in front of your computer twiddling your thumbs as down on paper at least, the new USB 3.0 specification is up to 10 times faster than its 2.0 predecessor.

In my tests, the difference between a USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 connection was obvious. Files were certainly zipping along at a frantic pace compared to the older USB 2.0 technology transferring twice as quickly. Certainly not as fast as USB 3.0 claims, however instead of for example an hour to transfer a mass of information all at once, it would only take thirty minutes with the new USB technology – so a noticeable reduction nevertheless.

For those of you that might be concerned, fear not as the WD My Passport Essential Hard Drive is backwards compatible with older USB 2.0 devices – ensuring that both your owned computers and the devices you next plug into the WD external hard drive work without any difficulties. You won’t enjoy the increased speeds of USB 3.0, however you will still be able to utilise all of the functionality and storage space of the device until the day you consider upgrading.


The first thing you will notice with the WD My Passport Essential external hard drive is the extremely small size. You certainly wouldn’t mind carrying around this device with you when the occasion arises and even better it is incredibly light and as quiet as a mouse.

There is only one connection on the device for the included USB 3.0/2.0 cable and a small light indicating power is being received. The light also flashes when the hard drive is accessing data. There is no need to carry a separate power supply as the needed juice is taken from the computer you are connecting to.

Available in various colours including blue, red, grey, white and black.


  • Formatted NTFS
  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
  • Mac OS X Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard (requires reformatting)


When you first insert your new WD external hard drive, the software is installed actually from the device itself – No need for a separate installation CD. The software named ‘WDSmartWare’ compatible with a number of other WD storage devices, takes care of your backup, recovery and general settings.

Within the options, you can easily inform the software to automatically backup any media files you may have on your computer’s internal hard drive to your new portable external device. Music, images, video and documents can all be transferred with a minimal amount of work on your part as WDSmartWare scans each of your internal hard drives for this type of content, giving you every opportunity to backup this valuable data you will have no doubt collected over a number of years.

At least currently the software doesn’t allow you to select files and folders yourself, so if you desire greater backup flexibility – you will need to find a third-party alternative to give you these more advanced options. For most people though, the included functionality will be more than enough, providing much needed peace of mind. You can however save multiple backup revisions and by this I mean you can retrieve a file that is for example a week older than your current document in case you have made a disastrous mistake with your work. You can also manually drag and drop files as you usually would to other storage devices, bypassing the included software altogether.

The automatic backing up process will only occur when your computer is sitting idle or in other words you have popped off for a well deserved cup of tea and your computer has a moment to process something other than your current activities. This stops your computer noticeably slowing down while you are working or indeed playing.

Password Security

The WD My Passport Essential external hard drive requires a little more responsibility than that of a traditional USB memory stick. The chances are that with 500GB storage space at your disposal, sensitive documents and other media may be placed on this device to transfer to other machines or as a portable storage device for home or work related projects. Even photos of the family you may deem a valuable treasure that you don’t want accessible by anyone who may pick up your hard drive by mistake or worst case scenario – the hard drive is stolen.

Therefore it makes perfect reasonable sense to ease your concerns by adding a password. Once the password has been set, every time you plugin the hard drive to a USB port a new device will be detected however none of the files will be accessible. In fact on my Windows 7 installation, the hard drive was actually being listed as a CD-ROM device – this is not an error as this just allows you to run a program stored on the hard drive named ‘unlock.exe’ that gives you a window to enter your password. Once entered, you have full access to the external hard drive and all of the other software features relating to it.

Final Thoughts

At around £50, The WD My Passport Essential 500GB portable USB 3.0 hard drive manages to store an impressive amount of data in such a tiny, quiet and sleek looking device. USB 3.0 improves the speed of your file transfers with fairly impressive results, while also offering the all important backwards compatibility for older computers. What adds to this immense appeal is the included software, that looks after your important media files including images, music, video as well as all of your documents – with automatic backup options that is incredibly easy to configure while also adding password protection if required.

If you are yearning for portability without sacrificing storage space and automatic backup options with that all important security, the The WD My Passport Essential 500GB portable USB 3.0 hard drive is a fantastic choice to consider.

Features I loved:

  • Extremely portable device
  • USB 3.0 at least halves file transfer time
  • Simple backup options and recovery

Features that lacked:

  • Displays fingerprints like trophies
  • Included software doesn’t allow you to select files and folders yourself to backup

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James Woodcock

James is a Freelance Journalist, Copywriter, Author, Blogger & Podcaster specialising in gaming, gadgets and technology, both retro and modern. Ever since he experienced the first controllable pixel movement on the television screen, he has been entranced by the possibilities and rewarding entertainment value generated from these metal and plastic boxes of delight. Writing hundreds of articles, including commentary and reviews on various gaming platforms, whilst also interviewing well-known industry figures for popular online publications. Creator of the ScummVM Music Enhancement Project and host of the Game & Gadget Podcast. View his portfolio for more information.

James Woodcock has 1090 posts and counting. See all posts by James Woodcock

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