Hardware

Computer | Storage

Long-term Field Test: 26.05.2020 to date


WD Elements Portable 4 TB

External Hard Drive with USB Port Version USB 3.0

Because hard drives are designed to last 2–5 years, I always make sure to replace them in good time. I prefer compact USB hard drives in 2.5-inch format. These need neither a fan nor a power supply and are usually optimised for energy-saving operation. So good models don't get very warm during operation, which in turn is good for the life of the electronics. In addition, there is a good price-performance ratio. My research shows that the prices have fallen significantly compared to the last purchase. If I paid about 160 EUR for 2 TB in April 2014, six years later I get 4 TB for only 100 EUR!
At least theoretically …

Ordering Process

24.05.2020: Ordered two external USB hard drives Western Digital Elements Portable USB 3.0 4 TB 2.5 inch â 100.90 EUR plus postage (5.99 EUR) from cyberport.de. Stupidly, I don't notice right away that my customer account default setting for the desired shipping service provider DHL is ignored and DPD is preset. So I immediately send an e-mail saying that I don't like delivery by DPD. I receive no reply.

26.05.2020: The DPD driver has just arrived and left my parcel in the hallway on the ground floor. A few minutes later, when I went to get it out of the hallway, I saw that the delivery note was sticking out of an open gap in the box. In this box is only one of two ordered hard disks! Since I had agreed to simplified delivery due to the pandemic, there was no personal handover. The complaint handling was not satisfactory. The filling out and sending of the requested affidavit was a farce!
For cyberport.de this means: a few customers less. Friends, acquaintances and relatives will also distance themselves from such customer service.

Box Contents

Western Digital Elements Portable USB 3.0 4 TB 2.5 Zoll
USB 3.0 cable (USB 2.0 compatible)
Quick installation guide

Tech Specs

Connection: USB 3.0
Capacity: 4 TB (also available with 750 GB/1 TB/1.5 TB/2 TB/3 TB/5 TB)

Dimensions: (W x H x D): 82.4 x 21 x 111 mm
Weight: 230 g

System requirements:
• Computer with USB Port
• Operating System Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X or newer
• NTFS formatted for Windows
Apple customers use the hard disk utility of the operating system for the initial setup (menu “Erase”, disc name and file format can be selected).

Experience

After the complaint to the cyberport customer service including photo documentation and affidavit brought nothing, I unpack the hard drive. Annoyed that I paid for two of these hard drives and only received one. … but that's not the topic here …

Windows User

… Windows users simply connect the hard disk and give it a nicer name to distinguish it and because otherwise a cryptic long name might be displayed. I always give my hard disks their correct designation as a name including hard disk capacity (as suffix) like this: “WD Elements Portable 4TB”. This is clearer because over time you will accumulate some storage devices or at least connect them temporarily and confusion can end dramatically.

Mac User

… if you do not need to use the hard disk for data exchange across operating system boundaries, i.e. it is only used in the “Apple universe”, connect the hard disk and select in the Finder:
Go to/Hard Disk Utility. New hard disks/SSDs not yet formatted for macOS have always been displayed in the left column at the top with their technical “cryptic” names.
So click on the name for your new drive that Disk Utility displays the data of this storage and look very carefully to see whether it is really the right storage that is about to be reformatted, because all on this storage will be erased irretrievably!

In the macOS version 11.4 (Big Sur) used at the time of the test, “Delete” must now be selected from the menu at the top, after which I can give my new hard disk a pretty name and select file format (see tips below).

Recommended File Formats (Mac)

Use as ordinary Storage

APFS Volume • APFS (upper/lower case, encrypted)

This allows you to use the very convenient hard disk encryption.
Do you use a good password safe like Strongbox or just the Apple keychain? Then generate a secure long password and store it there. I manage my passwords using Strongbox and also store those for hard drives in Apple's keychain, which decrypts hard drives fully automatically after initial setup as soon as access is required from the unlocked MacBook. Those who don't trust Apple use the password manager they trust, just one more step.

Use as “Time Machine”

Mac OS Extended (upper/lower case, journaled, encrypted)

The file format strongly recommended by Apple for “Time Machine”
(system tool for automatic backup in the background).
As a newcomer to Apple, I tried the other format and had problems. I can't remember exactly what happened, but I had to reformat the hard drive and in the meantime two large hard drives share their work as time machine.

This hard disk is actually less ideal for automatic backups in the background because of its low write speed. Some backups take all day, and if you don't use your MacBook stationary or don't want to let it run through the night, you often have to pause or cancel backups in progress.
In addition, only after a longer period of time will it become clear how the hard disk can cope with the permanent stress caused by operation as a time machine.

Tip: use several Backup Media

By this I do not mean that you should buy several pieces of this hard drive at once …
Do not rely solely on the backups with this “hard disk as a time machine”. Since it is very slow and some backups therefore do not finish before you have to unplug the MacBook or perhaps want to switch off at night, some files may not be backed up in time and then you would have no plan B.

Protection against Ransomware Trojans

In addition, back up all irretrievable data regularly on another external hard drive (or SSD), which, if possible, should not remain permanently plugged into the computer.

Ransomware (extortion Trojans) have long been available for macOS as well, so a backup hard drive/SSD that is not permanently connected is important!

Oops!

13.07.2021 approx. 22:45: macOS reports unannounced disconnection of the WD Elements Portable 4 TB hard drive.
It is still directly connected to the MacBook! surprise

So either hardware damage or software caused a write error; a case for the hard disk utility:
13.07.2021 22:48: Start “First Aid” (that's the name of the test function).
15.07.2021 00:22: First aid successfully completed.

The repair took over twenty-five and a half hours (exactly 25:34 h)!
The fan of my MacBook Air was running at full speed several times!

17.07.2021: Since the strange incident, the hard drive has been running perfectly.

Photos

… will follow soon, since then see the photo down below at Alternatives

Pros

  • A lot of memory in a small space
  • silent operation
  • low power consumption
  • neither power supply nor fan required
  • easily transportable

Cons

  • low data transfer rate
  • proprietary socket on housing side instead of USB-A or USB-C
  • Plug for computer connection USB-A instead of USB-C

Conclusion

Since I don't know the background of the problem described under "Oops!", I can't give an unlimited recommendation, but I don't want to advise against buying either. Perhaps the macOS version 11.4 (Big Sur) has a quirk?
I will study the list of bug fixes carefully after the release of the next macOS version …

Alternatives

WD My Passport (6.4 cm (2.5 inch), USB 3.0), colours: black, silver, blue, red.
Available in the sizes 1 TB (56 EUR), 2 TB (70 EUR), 4 TB (108 EUR), 5 TB (127 EUR).
I have been using one with 1 TB for years.

Western Digital added a variant (Ultra) to their My Passport series after a successful market launch:

WD My Passport Ultra (6.4 cm (2.5 inch), USB 3.0), colours: matt black, blue, silver.
Available in the sizes 1 TB (69 EUR), 2 TB (94 EUR) and 4 TB (128 EUR).
I have been using one with 2 TB for years.

WD Elements Portable (6.4 cm (2.5 inch), USB 3.0), colours: black, silver, blue, red.
Available in the sizes 750 MB (47 EUR!), 1 TB (49 EUR), 1.5 TB (60 EUR), 2 TB (70 EUR), 4 TB (about 100 EUR), 5 TB (about 108 EUR).
With 4 TB it corresponds to the model tested here.
In the meantime, I also have the model with 5 TB and the test report is currently being written.

I had taken all the prices from the Amazon shop as a guide. In the meantime, all prices there have been reduced to a greater or lesser extent. I only took into account direct offers from Amazon, i.e. no Marketplace dealers who add extra high postage costs.

Photo: my disk collection

Group photo from left to right: LaCie Porsche Design P'9220 1 TB, LaCie Porsche Design P'9220 2 TB, WD My Passport Ultra 2 TB, WD My Passport 1 TB, WD Elements 4 TB

Fixed Disk for Hard Disk Drives

In the photo above you can see an element of my two-part desk. This consists of two elements that are connected via an axis. In this way, I can place this integrated shelf element against the wall to save space and arrange the connected desk element as an angle.

My “disk collection” is draped on this “hard drive”.

New, more up-to-date group photos are already planned and will then be made fit for the website (scaled down for short loading times with optimal quality).

The two hard drives on the far left (Porsche Design) are discontinued models and have not been marketed for a long time. If they are offered to you in a shop, better not buy them! They were good at the time, but the Western Digital ones on the right are better and cheaper, and their connection cable is not so rigid, which offers more placing options. I could hardly arrange this disk collection any other way on the table, also because of the short connection cables. Until now, they all hung on the D-Link DUB-H7 USB hub, USB-A 2.0, which is placed directly under the hard drives.
The USB hub remains in operation and is now connected to the Anker PowerExpand Elite docking station and serves the three oldest hard drives.

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