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Editor Review: Western Digital My Passport and My Book II Studio Edition
External hard drives for everyday file transfer and backup storage

Digital storage is a growing issue that photographers and enthusiasts, even the average consumer, are quickly discovering. Whether you shoot for a living--or just for fun--using a relatively new digital camera means you're likely getting file sizes that average 8-12 megapixels (MP) or more.

Since cameras range in megapixels, and depending upon whether you shoot JPG, RAW, or TIFF, and the amount of compression used, file sizes will differ, but on the small end they'll average 1MB to 3MB or so each, up to 48MB, or more. Current DSLRs range from 6MP to 21MP in resolution; pro medium format digital backs are offering 31MP and 39MP resolution; and recent image sensor introductions included a 50MP sensor.

If you're like me, and shoot a lot at one time, you're talking massive amounts of megabytes.

These days, computers are shipping with larger hard disk drives, however it isn't always that difficult to fill up a computer's hard drive, not to mention the need to back up files.

That's where Western Digital is coming to the rescue. The company offers a range of affordable, portable solutions. The price of memory continues to drop on a regular basis. For instance, I purchased a 120GB, 7200 RPM external hard drive about four or five years ago. For the same price, today I could buy an external hard disk drive with 1 Terabyte of memory.

Depending upon your workflow, and whether or not you transport files on a regular basis, you'll be able to figure out your memory capacity needs. If you aren't anywhere near to filling up your computer's internal hard drive, and only occasionally transporting files, you may be able to use a small capacity drive for backup purposes. But if you're constantly purging unnecessary files or burning files to DVDs often, a decent size external hard drive is probably in order.

Western Digital recently debuted their 160GB and 320GB Passport drives in a rainbow of colors. Perfect for the techno-fashionista or busy studio or household, each person can be assigned a different color.

The 320GB Passport Essential portable hard drive, as well as the lower capacity 160GB units are USB 2.0 compatible and are bus powered, meaning they draw power over the USB cable so there's no need to additional AC power. Western Digital ships the My Passport Essential drives in a sleek little neoprene case that has an external pocket for the USB cable. The Passports are small enough to fit in a purse, briefcase or camera bag. All of the portable Passport drives have a speed of 5400 RPM, which is pretty fast; in all the time I've been using the Passports, I haven't felt that I was waiting for files to finish transferring.

Western Digital's Passport drives may be small in stature, but they offer enough storage space that I can take them on photo shoots, backing up to the drive in addition to the internal drive on my laptop. You could also take a Passport on location and back up files to it instead of burning DVDs every time you clear a media card. A great benefit of backing up to the Passport instead of burning to DVD is that you don't have to break up images from an entire shoot onto multiple disks. Having a Passport along is convenient, I don't feel like I'm dragging around a lot of gear, just my laptop and the Passport.

The Passport drives are compatible with both Mac and PC operating systems. Western Digital has also introduced a Mac-specific drive, the My Passport Studio, which comes in silver, complimenting the traditional silver-colored Macbook Pro (which is my main computer).

I've used the My Passport Essential and the My Passport Studio drives with my Mac as well as transferring files between the Passport Essential and Windows-based PCs. I've found that the Passport Essential drives take a few more seconds to mount on a Mac computer than they do on a Windows-based PC. For Mac users I'd suggest the Mac-formatted version (Passport Studio) because there's no delay in the time it takes the drive to mount on a Mac computer. One thing to note with the Mac formatted My Passport Studio drive is that it uses a unique cable with a FireWire 400 on one end for connecting into your laptop or desktop computer and dual mini USB/FireWire 400 cables at the other end, which both need to be plugged into the My Passport Studio when using the FireWire connection. The drive is compatible with Apple's Time Machine back-up software utility. You can transfer files using only USB, but your computer needs to be able to power the drive, as it is Bus Powered.

The My Passport Studio drive is compatible with both Mac OS X 10.4.11+ and 10.5.2+, which is great because I'm sure that there are many folks like myself who haven't upgraded their computer's OS to Leopard.

The company also offers a line of sleek, trendy metallic colored My Passport Elite drives.

For those who need more capacity than the portable Passport drives offer, Western Digital's My Book II Studio Edition line of drives includes models with up to 2 Terabyte of storage. The company recently introduced two new My Book drives in 1TB and 2TB options that are RAID configurable. [Raid 0 (striped) lets you access the full capacity of the hard drive; Raid 1 (mirrored) accesses half the total capacity of the drive for added protection and redundancy.

I've been using the 2TB My Book configured as a RAID (mirroring data on two separate drives within the drive housing) for extra redundancy. It's simple to set up the RAID configuration, and can be done in minutes. Western Digital also offers 1TB and 2TB My Book Mirror edition that come preconfigured as a RAID 1 drive.

The My Book II Studio Edition external hard drive that I've been testing is cool and quiet. The company notes that it is eco-friendly, using about 30% less energy, and because it doesn't use a fan, it is quieter. The drive can connect to computers via USB 2.0, FireWire 400/800 and eSATA connections. I found the instructions easy to use to set up the drive in a configuration that best works for me. Because my main computer is a Macbook Pro that I tote around, I don't need to keep the My Book II plugged in. Whenever I want to backup new files or need to access an older file, I just plug it in and connect it to my laptop. When I'm done, I turn it off and unplug it. The FireWire connection is great for large file transfers--of Gigs of data at a time. A capacity gauge lets you know quickly how much memory is available. The capacity gauge is a feature that can also be found on the portable My Passport Studio drives.

Both drives I used--the My Passport Studio (320GB) and My Book II Studio Edition (2TB) come Mac formatted but can also be reformatted for use with Windows-based PCs. Being a dedicated Mac Enthusiast, I can't imagine why anyone would want to do that!

More than just having a backup drive in your home or studio, you need to set up a schedule of regular backups so you're protecting your data to the best of your abilities. It is also suggested that backups are kept in a second location, so if anything happens at your main location, you will still have your files.

We've spoken with professional photographers as well as consumers who have had computer crashes, natural disasters that destroyed entire computer systems, or theft. In fact we know of one photographer who had his studio completely cleaned out by thieves--all camera equipment as well as computers and back up drives. Lucky for him though, he had kept a third back up hard drive in another location.

1K [1 Kilobyte] = 1,024 Bytes. Document files are usually measured in KB.

1MB [1 Megabyte] = 1 million bytes or 1,024,000 bytes. Individual images files are usually measured in MB.

1GB [1 Gigabyte] = 1 billion bytes or 1,024 megabytes. Hard drives/media cards/USB drives are usually measured in GB.

1 TB [1 Terabyte] = 1 trillion bytes. External hdd for backup purposes are measured in TB or 1,024 gigabytes.

1 PB [1 Petabyte] = 1 quadrillion bytes or 1,024 terabytes. Not yet the norm, surprisingly they will be for backup in small businesses, enterprises, and eventually the enthusiast photographer, digital videographer, or musician.

For more information on Western Digital's line of media storage devices, go to the website

The portable My Passport Studio drive, which comes Mac-formatted, looks right at home next to a Mac laptop. The drive is powered via the USB connection.
THe My Passport Essential drives come in a range of colors, including pink. This drive is also powered by the USB connection.
The 2 terabyte My Book II Studio Edition offers both USB and FireWire connections as well as eSATA. The drive runs off of AC power.