Portable Storage : WD My Passport Edge for Mac, Seagate Backup Plus Portable

12/24/2012 9:21:23 AM

We know readers are nuts about storage, so here we compare four of the latest portable options.

WD My Passport Edge for Mac

The WD My Passport Edge for Mac offers bang for your buck, but the lack of Thunderbolt might be a deal-breaker for some Mac users.

Western Digital offers external desktop drives with Thunderbolt connectors but we’re still waiting for Thunderbolt to come to its portable drives. For now you’ll have to be satisfied with USB 3.0, which isn’t available on all Macs.

WD My Passport Edge for Mac

WD My Passport Edge for Mac

This WD is the smallest and lightest of the bunch, plus it’s plus-powered so you only need to carry around one cable. The speed boost of USB 3.0 will appeal to PC users, but the ‘for Mac’ tag merely refers to the fact that this drive comes preformatted for Mac and includes a Mac application supporting hardware encryption.

Unless that encryption software grabs your fancy, you’d be better off with the Seagate and its optional Thunderbolt connector – even if you don’t need Thunderbolt today.

It took about 100 seconds to copy 2GB of data to this WD drive from our USB 2.0 MacBook Air with an internal Solid State Drive, then about 75 seconds to copy it back again.

That’s not too shabby, but you’ll do in it a quarter of the time with the Seagate via Thunderbolt.

Our buying advice. In a straight USB shootout the WD and Seagate are dead even, with the OWC in RAID1 only slightly faster. If you’re jumping between Macs and PCs you’ll appreciate the flexibility and performance of USB 3.0, but it’s hard to recommend a non-Thunderbolt drive to Mac users.


·         Western digital

·         Pros: Well-priced; small and light

·         Cons: No Thunderbolt

·         $129.99 (500 GB)

·         Rating: 3 ½ /5

Seagate Backup Plus Portable

Seagate has discontinued its Thunderbolt-enabled GoFlex Portable drives in favor of the new Backup Plus with interchangeable connectors.

The Portable comes with a USB 3.0 connector which can be detached (exposing SATA data and power connectors) and swapped for a Firewire 800 or Thunderbolt connector, making it a tempting proposition for those concerned about future-proofing and backwards compatibility.

Unfortunately, a Thunderbolt cable isn’t included so you’ll need to allow another $50 or so in your budget.

Seagate Backup Plus Portable

Seagate Backup Plus Portable

The Thunderbolt adaptor almost double the bulk of this portable drive, but thankfully it’s bus-powered so you don’t need a separate power cable. The adaptor only features one Thunderbolt port (unlike the two-port Backup Plus Desktop adaptor) so it needs to be the last device in a Thunderbolt daisy-chain.

Going for Thunderbolt is worth the effort. Transfer speeds still aren’t as fast as the Thunderbolt-enabled Elgato drive, but to be fair much of the Elgato’s advantage comes from its use of a Solid State Drive.

If you’re sticking with USB you’ll get the same transfer speeds form this Seagate as from the Western Digital (and only slightly slower than the OWC in RAID1).

Our buying advice. This Seagate offers both the backwards compatibility of Firewire 800 and the future-proofing of Thunderbolt, without the need to spend the extra cash until such time as you need the extra functionality. This kind of flexibility makes it the pick of the bunch unless you’ve deep pockets and crave the Elgato’s raw speed.


·         Seagate

·         Pros: Fast, optional adaptors

·         Cons: Bulky Thunderbolt adaptor

·         $139 (500 GB); $189 (1 TB); $129 (GoFlex Thunderbolt adaptor)

·         Rating: 4 1/2 /5

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini

With two hard drives under the bonnet, the OWC Elite Pro Dual mini is more about security than speed.

The OWC is the odd one out here in that it takes two physical drives. You can run them as one big ‘striped’ drive (RAID0), which boosts speed and capacity but risks losing all your data if even one drive fails. Alternatively you can mirror them (RAID1), which sacrifices storage capacity but keeps your data safe if one drive fails.

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini

Designed for old-school Macs, the OWC lacks Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. Instead you’ve got USB 2.0, eSATA, FireWire 400 and FireWire 800, so on a modern MacBook you’re stuck with USB 2.0. PC users, on the other hand, will appreciate the speed of eSATA.

Copying data to and from the OWC via USB in RAID1 (mirrored) is only marginally faster than the other USB drives – we saw up to a 5 percent speed improvement.

Switching to RAID0 (striped) saw a 40 percent speed boost when copying from the OWC, but this this is still less than half the speed of Thunderbolt. You’d see a performance boost if you used Solid State Drives, but it wouldn’t compensate for the lack of Thunderbolt.

Our buying advice. At first glance the OWC seems pretty disappointing alongside the Thunderbolt drives, especially the Seagate which has the option of USB 3.0 and FireWire 800.

But to be fair the OWC is a niche product that’s not for everyone. You’d only bother with it if you intended to run it in mirrored RAID1 for the extra data protection. Even then the need for separate power limits how you can use it. It might suit those who want to move data between offices and are more concerned with data protection than raw speed.


·         OWC

·         Pros: Data protection; FireWire, eSATA

·         Cons: No Thunderbolt; only USB 2.0

·         From US$199.99 (320 GB + 320 GB) + shipping

·         Rating: 3/5

Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

It’s the pick of the bunch in terms of raw speed, but you’re paying a hefty premium for the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD.

As the name suggests, the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD features a solid-state drive with no moving parts. This offers extra protection against the rough and tumble of life on the road, but the enclosure is not as thin and light as some external portable drives.

Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

Opting for an SSD also boosts data transfer speeds and reduces the drain on your notebook’s battery, but it comes with a hefty price tag.

Hooked up via Thunderbolt to a MacBook Air with an internal Solid State Drive, transfers to the Elgato were on average 15 percent faster than the Seagate with its Thunderbolt adaptor. This sounds impressive, but we’re still only talking about shaving 40 seconds off a 20GB transfer.

Copying back from the Elgato was more impressive – running 45 percent faster than the Seagate via Thunderbolt. Transfers to the Elgato were a whopping 80 percent faster than the USB drives, although it’s not a fair fight because all but a handful of new MacBooks only support USB 2.0. Even on a new MacBook with USB 3.0, Thunderbolt would still be the faster option.

The Elgato is a bus-powered drive – with a Thunderbolt cable included – so, unlike some portable drives, it doesn’t need an external power supply.

Our buying advice. The combination of Thunderbolt and an SSD makes the ELgato sturdy and super-fast, but keep in mind you’ve paying a lot more cash for a lot less storage capacity than the competition.


·         ELgato

·         Pros: Fast; rugged

·         Cons: No USB; small capacity; expensive

·         $349.95 (120 GB); $579.95 (240 GB)

·         Rating: 4/5


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