I love how life works out sometimes; last week, I ran out of room on my old 2TB backup drive and at almost the same time, Dennis wrote a post about Western Digital updating its line of inexpensive USB 3.0 hard drives with capacities up to 4TB. When I saw the price ($139.99 introductory sale) I ordered one immediately, and now I've had a chance to test it out. While there are some limitations that are Mac firmware-related in terms of using the Western Digital MyPassport Ultra as one big honkin' drive, there's a lot to like about this product.
The MyPassport Ultra follows a familiar design for small, inexpensive HDDs. It's about 0.83 inches (20.96mm) thick, 4.33 inches (110.07mm) long, and about 3.21 inches (81.57mm) wide. There's just one little port on the back of the drive where an included USB 3.0 micro-B plug plugs in to connect you to any standard USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port. If you are using a 12-inch MacBook, Western Digital offers a USB 3.1 Type C to micro-B adapter cable for $14.99.
The Ultra comes in black -- that's what I got because it was actually available -- as well as noble blue, wild berry, brilliant white and "Fierce Pink". Buy the latter, and a portion of the proceeds are donated to The Breast Cancer Charities of America. In terms of capacities, the drive comes in the 4TB monster size, 3TB, 2TB and 1TB.
Western Digital sells "accessories" for the Ultra, which include silicon bumpers called the "Grip Pack" with matching flat USB cables.
For backups, most Mac owners want something that's small and unobtrusive, quiet, bus-powered so there's no need to plug the drive into a power brick, and fast. The MyPassport Ultra does well on all counts.
Note that it comes formatted in the Windows NTFS file system, so the first thing a Mac user will want to do is to fire up Disk Utility and completely reformat the drive in HFS+. That only takes a few seconds, and once you're done it's ready to use.
The one caveat? Due to a Mac firmware limitation, Macs can only address 2TB USB boot drives. If you wish to make your MyPassport Ultra into a bootable drive, you might want to create two 2TB partitions, using one for a bootable clone and the other for daily backups. I'm hoping that APFS and a firmware update make it possible for Macs to use all of these spacious drives once macOS Sierra arrives.
I have one other concern - although Western Digital refers to the MyPassport Ultra as "built for shock tolerance", it doesn't have any drop certifications. It might be best to use the MyPassport Ultra in a non-mobile situation despite the design, just to insure that it isn't slammed around.
Unlike a lot of drives I've used, the MyPassport Ultra is completely silent. There's a single white LED on the back of the drive that indicates when the drive is in use, and that's it. For either MacBooks or desktop Macs like my iMac, it works very well as a "silent partner" in keeping your Mac backed up.
Finally, the drive comes with a standard 3-year warranty. Sure, that doesn't sound like a very long warranty, but considering that just about any hard disk drive will fail within 5 years, that's a pretty decent warranty. At low prices like what's being charged for this 4TB drive, it's not hard to replace them every 3 to 5 years.
Apple World Today runs benchmarks with the QuickBench component of the SpeedTools Test Suite. The results showed fairly good speeds for the Large and Extended Tests; the Large Test tests transfer speeds for files from 2 to 10 MBytes in size, while the Extended Test looks at much larger file sizes -- 20 to 100 MBytes. For both of those tests, average read speeds were in the 116 MB/Sec range, while average write speeds were almost identical at 115 MB/Sec.
Also as expected, the standard test (4KByte to 1024KByte file size) results were somewhat slower. The average for sequential read was 96.7 MB/Sec, sequential write was 96.7 MB/Sec, random read was 19.5 MB/Sec, and random write was at 42.5 MB/Sec.
USB 3.0 SuperSpeed devices have a maximum theoretical data rate of 5Gbit/sec or about 625 MB/sec. As you can tell, the MyPassport Ultra clocks in at about 19% of that that data rate. Compare this with the LaCie Rugged RAID drive we reviewed last year -- which is a Thunderbolt device -- and the speeds are similar to what we saw with the Rugged RAID in a RAID 1 mirrored configuration. For that drive, extended test results were not that much greater with average read speeds of 124 MB/sec and average write speeds of 122.5 MB/s.
Whether you're looking for a drive for additional storage of photos or video, or you want an inexpensive and reliable backup drive, you can't go wrong with the Western Digital MyPassport Ultra 4TB USB 3.0 Hard Drive. It is small, quiet, and relatively fast, and at an introductory price of $139.99, it's also amazingly affordable.