External Hard Drive Head-to-Head

Josh Norem

Three USB hard drives: WD My Passport vs Toshiba Canvio Plus vs Adata DashDrive Elite

There are times when a USB key can’t handle the action we’re throwing at it and we need something bigger to step in and get the job done. Like a police officer calling for backup, it’s at these times that we summon a USB 3.0 external hard drive . This latest batch of drives offers something for everyone, from WD ’s huge 2TB jobbie to Adata ’s super-thin, sexy little thang. Toshiba ’s 1.5TB drive is thrown into the mix, too, for folks looking for a basic, affordable, high-capacity solution.

WD My Passport 2TB

At 2TB, WD’s My Passport is the largest-capacity USB hard drive we’ve ever tested, and its four chunky 500GB platters rotate at 5,400rpm. In the palm it feels about as thick as a huge English muffin with a piece of ham in the middle, or a water-logged deck of cards; it’s the thickest drive in this roundup, but only by a tiny margin over the 1.5TB Toshiba. Though this drive is pudgier than the rest at 0.8-inch thick, it’s noticeably shorter than the other two drives at just 4.2 inches long. It comes in a variety of pleasingly subtle, matte color finishes (red, blue, black, gray, white) and is available in sizes ranging from 500GB to 2TB.

Hello, sexy. We’re talking about its capacity, not its looks.

The software package included with the My Passport is well-rounded, and includes backup software, an encryption utility, and a diagnostic tool. It should be noted that software for both Mac and PC are included, though obviously we’re only testing the PC version. The backup software is called WD Smartware and is based on Memeo Backup —it backs up everything instantly without any user intervention, so you just tell it to keep an eye on “Documents,” for example, and it automatically copies any files it sees that are documents. We learned the hard way, though, that “Documents” means .doc files, and not just any files placed into the Documents folder, which was confusing. Adding to the confusion was a lack of information about whether a backup had taken place once new files had been added to a monitored directory. You also can’t create a backup image of your entire drive, which is another flaw. We rarely use bundled software, so this isn’t that big of a deal for us, but it’s a strike against WD nevertheless. The software does include a file-retrieval service in case you lose data, and it works well, letting you put files back into their original location or just dump them into a predetermined folder. Other bundled software includes a password-protection utility that requires a password to access the drive, and a drive-health monitor, which is useful.

To test the drive’s mettle we copied 30GB of media files to it from our desktop PC running a Samsung 830 SSD boot drive, and it took top honors by taking just eight minutes, 46 seconds to complete the job. This was the fastest speed in our roundup of these drives, even though all the drives have roughly the same specs, so kudos to WD for the victory. Its time was almost three minutes faster than the Adata drive and two minutes faster than the Toshiba, so the performance difference is significant.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the WD drive, but we’re dinging it pretty hard for having flaky backup software. The password-protection function is nice, but our favorite two things about it are that it’s the biggest USB drive available, and of these three, it’s also the fastest.

WD My Passport 2TB
Passport

Huge capacity; great speed; full-featured software package

Arrest Warrant

Backup software is not reliable or good for advanced users; can’t make backup images

$150, www.wd.com

Toshiba Canvio Plus 3.0 1.5TB

In this group, the Toshiba Canvio initially came across as the vanilla stepchild—nothing to get excited about, at least in this company, given its bland exterior and specs. We tested the 1.5TB version of the drive, which is the highest capacity offered by Toshiba. Surprisingly, it’s almost as thick as the 2TB WD drive despite its 500GB capacity deficit, so the lesson here is that if you’re going big on a USB drive, prepare to be toting around a Hot Pocket -size enclosure. The 1.5TB drive is only available in black, a decision we are just fine with since we don’t need nor want fancy colors on our USB storage. If you favor a splash of color attached to your USB port, you’ll have to get by with less capacity, as only the 500GB and 1TB models are available in red, blue, and gray (as well as black, natch).

The Toshiba drive wins the contest of lamest names for devices and software, but is still the best drive here.

On the software front, the Canvio comes with a well-rounded package that includes backup software with encryption, drive utilities, a cloud storage option, and a movie-editing app called Muvee Reveal . The NTI Backup Now EZ backup software is for Windows only, though the drive includes an NTFS driver that lets you use it with both Macs and PCs. Despite the software’s odd name, it’s actually our favorite of this roundup, simply because it offers an intuitive interface and many options for configuring backups, whether you want to back up to the Canvio drive itself or to the cloud. You can also choose to back up categories of files, individually selected files and folders, or entire drive images. You just select the files you want to back up and let it run. You can also schedule backups, and see the status of the drive onscreen in the software, which is handy. It’s also easy to password-protect the drive. The only problem we had in our tests was that the cloud option didn’t work for us—you get a 30-day free trial of cloud storage with the drive but we couldn’t activate ours. Note: The Basic model of this drive does not offer cloud storage as an option.

In our file-copy test, whereby we hustle 30GB of data over its fat USB 3.0 pipe, the Toshiba took second place overall with a time of 10 minutes, 34 seconds, which was almost two minutes slower than the WD drive, but faster than the Adata unit.

All in all, this is an excellent all-around backup drive. It’s not the highest-capacity or the thinnest drive ever, but it has great software, decent capacity, and is affordable—we don’t ask for much more in a USB storage device.

Toshiba Canvio Plus 3.0 1.5TB
A Robust challenge

Sizable capacity; great software, affordable

Anything named EZ

Cloud storage trial didn’t work, no specs stand out

$110, www.toshiba.com

Adata DashDrive Elite 500GB HE720

The Adata drive is one of the sexiest USB drives we have ever tested, and is certainly the thinnest USB drive too, at just 8.9mm thick. It might not sound like much in today’s world of super-thin everything, but this puppy is thin. In fact, our research indicates it is the thinnest USB drive currently available.

If this roundup were a beauty contest, the DashDrive would easily win.

Since life isn’t fair, there’s a major downside to the drive’s flatness, which is that its single-platter capacity is limited to 500GB. When compared to its 1.5TB and 2TB rivals here, 500GB is but a morsel, really, but that’s the price you pay for its slim form factor. To that point, 500GB is the only capacity available for this model.

Despite its HE720 model name, which to our eyes suggests a 7,200rpm hard drive, this puppy sports a 5,400rpm drive inside its stainless steel chassis. Its physical size is 4.6 inches long and 3.1 inches wide, and it’s less than a half-inch tall. Its exterior shell is made with 9H stainless steel, which is resistant to scratches and looks slick but is too prone to fingerprints. The drive itself has only two mildly interesting features: a small, blue LED for activity and a tiny button located next to the USB 3.0 plug labeled “Backup.” Tapping the button triggers the included syncing software to open so you can configure and run backup routines. It would be handy if the backup button were in a more easily accessible location, as putting it right next to the USB plug makes it hard to reach.

The included Adata Sync software is PC-only and gets the job done for syncing, restoring, and backing up files, but it’s easily the most unpolished software in this roundup. As an example, if you try to open the software when it’s running in the background, you’ll see a pop-up error that contains what we can only assume is either a foreign language or gibberish. The Window also looks like it was built for Windows 98 and lacks the ease-of-use and look-and-feel of modern software, as it just gives you a split-window with “Source” on the left and “Destination” on the right, and you have to check boxes in a Windows Explorer interface to get it configured. This is not software we’d want our parents to use, that’s for sure. That said, we actually appreciate its unvarnished nature. You just tell it which folders you’re interested in and choose Backup, Restore, or Sync. You can then either manually back up everything you want or just schedule the software to run. It’s not glamorous or grandma-friendly, but we dig it.

During testing, the drive was the slowest here by a small margin, taking 11 minutes and 31 seconds to move 30 gigs of data onto its lone platter. We know people don’t buy these drives for speed, and they are all relatively slow compared to our desktop HDDs and SSDs, but we do take speed into consideration.

The DashDrive is a decent package despite its flaws. We like its simple software, hard steel shell, and thin size a lot, making it a solid drive, both literally and figuratively.

Adata DashDrive Elite 500GB HE720
Leaving a Big Tip

Looks cool; rugged; amazingly thin; software is straight-forward

Dine and Dash

Software could confuse people; drive is slower than the others; small capacity; loves fingerprints

$150, www.adata-group.com

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