My job calls upon me to travel occasionally, and on my latest long trip, one of my missions at my destination was to copy a large amount of data to a number of different computers. This data was given to me on a 1TB Seagate FreeAgent Go portable hard drive.
For my own peace of mind and to make things go a little faster, I decided to buy a second hard drive. That way I could do two copies at once, and if for some reason one drive conked out I’d have all the data I needed on the second.
This opportunity for bargain hunting was not to be wasted. Getting a scandalously good deal is a hobby in itself, so my company reimbursing me rarely makes me any less frugal. (Perhaps that’s why they’re so quick to send me places. Maybe I should start eating at more expensive restaurants. Either I get fancier food or I stay home more. Win-win!)
Checking the weekly ads, I zeroed in on a 1TB Western Digital My Passport Essential SE for $129.99. Already a darn good price, but there also happened to be a few coupons available on the Web — and, in a rare circumstance, the terms and conditions of one of the coupons allowed it to be “stacked,” or combined, with others on the same purchase. $10 off $50 and 15 percent later, that 1TB drive was in my hands for $100.49.
That’s 10 cents per gigabyte. That might not seem shocking if you’ve dug this page out from behind your couch in 2014, but right now, for a portable drive, that’s awesome. Of course, it comes with a price.
The first hint that the My Passport SE might not be such a great bargain came when I first plugged it in. The drive was mounted and the storage was there right away, but after Windows did an automatic driver search there was also a second partition full of Western Digital software. W, I to myself thought, TF?
Turns out this WD SmartWare, as it was called, was a 600MB partition written right into the firmware of the drive, and was therefore unremovable. I have no problem with software on portable drives — the delete key is just a pinky finger away — but this nonsense was a bit beyond the pale. It permanently took away a tiny but nonzero portion of the drive’s capacity and it popped up a hardware driver installation window on every new computer it was plugged into.
Its speed wasn’t quite up to snuff either. I probably would never have noticed if I hadn’t been using another drive to do the exact same thing, since it was doing the exact same thing quite a bit more slowly. On individual files, the difference certainly wouldn’t be significant, but on multiple hundreds of gigabytes it made the difference between leaving for lunch on time and running to catch up.
If only I’d been able to tell by looking at the specs. Unlike internal hard drives, external ones rarely put an emphasis on performance over portability or, gag, style. The exact size and color choices are all over both Seagate’s and Western Digital’s Web sites, but platter rotation speed? Cache size? Not a peep.
I suppose there was one clue: the price.