Short version: Western Digital's refreshed My Book Essential external hard drive provides a simple, unobtrusive, and relatively inexpensive home backup solution. With an enormous 2TB capacity, built-in WD SmartWare software, 256-bit built-in encryption with password protection, an “illuminated capacity gauge,” and a MSRP of $249.99, there is very little not to like here.
Longer version: As we, the computer-savvy netizens of the (physical) world, continue to amass more and more digital media and create endless bytes of data, storage has become increasingly important in our everyday lives. Along with the ability to save and backup all of one's digital treasure trove, being able to secure all those 1s and 0s has also become more desirable. Thus, it came as no surprise when Western Digital recently overhauled its entire external drive lineup with password protection, encryption, and built-in backup software.
The My Book Essential is Western Digital's “standard” PC desktop external hard drive (identical to the Mac version). Now available in 500GB, 640GB, 1TB, 1.5TB, and 2TB capacities, the new My Book Essential has undergone very slight physical updates. The drive is the same height as its predecessor (6.5″), but is down to 1.9″ wide (from 2.1″). The drive also has a new illuminated capacity gauge and an icon showing whether the drive has been locked (via password with encryption).
The faux book shape may not be for everyone, but it does hide rather nicely if you put actual books (remember them?) around the drive. Generally speaking, the drive is pretty quiet, although there is the usual buzz and hum during large backups. The My Book Essential connects via USB 2.0, has a physical on/off switch, a place for a real lock, and ships with a relatively compact power adapter.
As mentioned above, the new WD drives come standard with password protection and 256-bit hardware-based encryption. When I spoke to WD a few weeks back, they were pretty adamant about erring on the side of total security. Thus, WD never receives your drive's password. In other words, you are the only person who knows the password. Should it be lost, the drive will remain locked or must be re-formatted to use again. I can live with that.
WD SmartWare backup software:
Finally, we get to WD's new, integrated backup software solution, SmartWare. Standard across its entire line of external drives, SmartWare provides users with a very straight forward (if at times too simplified) way to automatically backup your files.
The first time you plug your new WD drive into your computer you will be prompted to install WD SmartWare. Once installed, SmartWare will scan your computer (defaults to drive C:) and present you with a graphical representation of all the various bits of data in 6 main categories: System, Pictures, Other, Music, Movies, and Documents.
You can either select all or pick and choose the particular types of files you want to be automatically backed up when your My Book Essential is plugged in. Then simply click ‘Run Backup' and voila, your files will begin to copy automagically.
SmartWare will continuously update the graphical representation with the status of your backup. By default, the software is set to run as a low priority while your machine is in use and will speed up when the machine idles.
Once the backup is complete, the software will continue to run in the background, updating the drive as you add/change/delete files on your system. You can also eject the drive from the icon in the system tray when you have finished or if you don't want to continue the backup at that time.
Finally, with the same ease that you can backup your files, SmartWare provides a dead simple retrieval function. All in all, SmartWare makes automatic backups simple and painless. I wish it offered more control over which files and folders you want to include/exclude from the backup, but in terms of a complete and idiotproof backup system, SmartWare does a respectable job.
The WD My Book Essential is a good choice for a personal backup or plain ol' external hard drive. The ability to protect your data with a password and 256-bit encryption is a welcome addition, and the integrated backup software, SmartWare, does a solid job of providing automatic backup. Oh, and a maximum capacity of 2 freaking terabytes of space with an illuminated capacity gauge…yeah, that doesn't hurt either.