WD My Passport Essential SE 1TB USB 3.0 External HDD

Table of Contents

My Passport Essential SE 1TB is Western Digital’s flagship device from their revamped USB 3.0-enabled portable external hard drive line.

January 10, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Western Digital My Passport Essential SE 1TB
Portable USB 3.0 External Hard Drive
Western Digital
Street Price

In recent years hard drive sales have been fueled primarily by an exponential rise in digital content creation and consumption and capacity and cost have thankfully improved over time to keep pace with this demand. The external hard drive, once an accessory of the tech savvy elite, is today a common consumer device used by people from all walks of life, from executives to college students to soccer moms.

With so much data at our finger tips, we not only feel compelled to store it, but to transfer it over long distances, an arduous journey depending on the amount of data involved. Today, data rains down on us from cell towers and GPS satellites, but try sending a high definition home movie to a friend a few hundred miles away — for most, the fastest method would be to simply ship the drive on which its contained. Hard drives are also prone to catastrophic failure and data recovery, when possible, is typically very expensive. With most of our memories, ideas, and very lives now stored in 1’s and 0’s, it has become essential to have a backup copy.

The My Passport Essential SE 1TB (silver).

External models based on 2.5″ hard drives are particularly desirable due to their compact form factor and the absence of an external power connector. Western Digital’s Passport line is the best-selling and most well known portable hard drives and their latest models have been updated with USB 3.0 which provides a huge speed boost over the traditional USB 2.0 interface. The new Passports are broken down into three subfamilies with the My Passport Essential SE variants being the cream of the crop, 750GB/1TB drives available in four different colors (black, blue, red, and silver) and shipping with backup and password protection software. There’s one non-SE Essential model (500GB) which is exactly the same only available in one extra color, white. Their budget offerings are the 500GB~1TB WD Elements, bigger, chunkier drives which include no extras at all. Our review sample is a sleek 1TB My Passport Essential SE in silver.


The package is fairly Spartan consisting of a simple green cardboard cover outlining the ubiquitous plastic clamshell container. Inside is the drive, a small instruction card, and a USB 3.0 cable. The drive has a Apple-ish look to it, with a silver shell with rounded corners made to resemble cast aluminum, though the composition is plastic. It’s not exactly rugged, but we wouldn’t describe it as flimsy either. There are no visible screws on the outside, so a spudger tool is likely required to pry it apart to access the drive inside. By our measurements, the dimensions are approximately 83 x 109 x 19 mm and 200 grams.

The drive uses a 18 inch standard micro USB 3.0 cable.


Western Digital My Passport Essential SE: Key Features
(from the product
web page
Feature & Brief
Our Comment
WD quality inside and out. My Passport portable drives are the world’s best selling drives. There’s a reason. We’ve been making hard drives for 20 years and we know how to protect your data. Most sold doesn’t necessarily equate to best quality.
USB 3.0 plus USB 2.0.
A single drive with universal compatibility today and next-generation speed for tomorrow. Use it with USB 2.0 now and step up to USB 3.0 speed when you’re ready.
USB 3.0 is by its nature, backwards compatible.
High capacity in a smaller drive.
Massive capacity in this small, stylish drive that is powered directly from the USB port on your PC. No separate power supply is needed.
One of the big advantages of external 2.5″ drives — no bulky AC adapter required.


Western Digital My Passport Essential SE 1TB: Specifications (from the product
web page
Serial Bus Transfer Rate (USB 3.0)
5 Gb/s (Max)
Serial Bus Transfer Rate (USB 2.0)
480 Mb/s (Max)
1 TB
USB 3.0 and USB 2.0
Dimensions (H x D x W) 0.70 x 4.3 x 3.2 inches
18 x 110 x 83 mm
Weight 0.45 pounds
0.20 kg
Operating Temperature 41° F to 95° F
5° C to 35° C
Non-operating Temperature -4° F to 149° F
-20° C to 65° C


Like most manufacturers, Western Digital ships the drive with a few hard drive utilities. The software is bundled into one suite called “SmartWare,” offering formatting, security, and backup features.

Backing up is relatively simple, done either through categories (it automatically sorts/groups your data) or you can do it manually on a file-by-file basis.

Setting a security password makes a secured, read-only partition visible to the operating system.

Rather than displaying the contents of the drive, only the software that came with the drive and an unlocking program can be accessed.

When plugged in, WD’s unlocker application is set to autorun, prompting the user for a password. When the correct password is entered, the drive appears, using an additional drive letter.

In its locked state, drive shows up in Windows 7 as uninitialized, unpartitioned, unformatted, write-protected disk. Not only does this prevent a thief from accessing your data, but it also prevents them from wiping the drive and reusing it for their own purposes.


Test Platform:

Testing tools:

File Transfer Suite:

  • Small Files:
    1,250 small HTML, JPEG, and MP3 files totaling 871MB.
  • Large Files: Four large AVI files totaling 4194MB.
  • Huge File: One MKV file, 3799MB in size (not really “huge” but generates similar MB/s results as single 10GB+ sized files)


HD Tune

HD Tune Benchmark: USB 3.0.

HD Tune results were similar to those for the Seagate GoFlex 1.5TB. The My Passport has a maximum read speed of about 100 MB/s, while at the slowest portion of the drive it’s about half the speed.

HD Tune Benchmark: USB 2.0.

USB 3.0 devices are backwards compatible with USB 2.0, but for hard drives the drop in speed is dramatic. The slower interface is severely bottlenecked resulting in a flat line result in HD Tune at 32~33 MB/s.

File Transfer Performance

As external hard drives are mainly used for backing up and transferring data from one machine to another, we gauged the real world performance of the drive by conducting a series of file transfers from and to an internally-connected 600GB VelociRaptor, arguably the fastest hard drive currently in production.

The overall write performance for the My Passport exceeded that of Seagate’s FreeAgent GoFlex 1.5TB. The two drives performed similarly with huge and large files, but in the small file test, the WD had a 69% lead. In fact the GoFlex’s USB 3.0 small file result was only slightly faster than the My Passport connected through USB 2.0. When both drives were using the slower interface, the GoFlex was beaten by about 34% in the small file test.

For reads the drives were more closely matched. The My Passport edged out the GoFlex in the large file test, but lagged behind in the small file test.


Our WD My Passport Essential SE 1TB same idled at 17 dBA@1m and produced 18 dBA@1m when seeking.

At the ISO 7779 standard seated user distance of 0.6m on a solid wooden surface, the My Passport measured an impressive 17 [email protected] when idle and 18 [email protected] when seeking. The acoustics were soft and smooth except for a slight buzzing noise, and seeks were difficult to detect at distance. The vibration level was fairly low, very close to recently tested internal models (between ‘7’ and ‘8’ on our subjective scale, see the chart at the bottom of this page for comparison). When placed on the same surface padded with foam the drive’s measured noise level improved by less than 1 dB.

Noise Measurements (SPL @0.6m)
Seagate GoFlex 1.5TB
WD My Passport Essential SE 1TB
16 dBA
17 dBA
17~18 dBA
18 dBA
Ambient noise level: 11 dBA

The last external drive we tested, the Seagate GoFlex 1.5TB, was a bit quieter but had an issue with vibration. When we tested the GoFlex, it generated a noticeable vibrating humming noise that varied depending on its position/angle on the tabletop and became much quieter when placed on foam. It’s easy enough to deal with by slipping something soft under the drive, but somewhat annoying.


These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11
dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s.
We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from
the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what
we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — 0.6 meters is a reasonable typical distance between a seated user and an external hard drive. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recordings start with 5 to 10 seconds of ambient noise, then 10 second
segments of the drive at idle and then seeking.


The Western Digital My Passport Essential SE 1TB is a pleasant-looking, midrange external hard drive that is both decently fast and quiet. Compared to the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 1.5TB, it is similar speed-wise only it doesn’t have nearly as much trouble reading small files. Having USB 3.0 is a huge advantage over USB 2.0, delivering a 60 to 300% improvement in file transfers. Our My Passport sample didn’t have the same vibration issue as the FreeAgent, but it did produce a bit more airborne noise. That being said, we found the WD drive to be quiet enough, i.e. you probably won’t notice the noise it generates unless it’s plugged into a very quiet PC in a very quiet room. It’s impressive how quiet high capacity 2.5″ hard drives have become, whether they be external or internal models.

The Seagate drive has advanced features, namely the modular connector and interoperability with some network-enabled FreeAgent devices while the My Passport is more of a common man’s device. It’s a simple, slim external drive without any bells and whistles save for the surprisingly easy-to-use security application it ships with which protects the data on the drive both from theft and destruction.

The My Passport Essential SE comes in 750GB/1TB variants in four different colors (red, blue, silver, and black), with the 1TB model selling for US$130~$140 which is about on par with the vanilla Seagate FreeAgent 1TB, and a bit more than WD Elements and bare/generic 1TB USB 3.0 2.5″ hard drives. Given how well it performed against the bigger, more expensive GoFlex, we have no qualms recommending it to those looking for affordable, plentiful, and portable external storage.

Our thanks to Western Digital for the My Passport Essential SE 1TB portable hard drive sample.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

Seagate Barracuda 3TB: 1TB Platter Behemoth
WD Scorpio Black 750GB & Scorpio Blue 1TB
Hitachi Deskstar 5K3000 2TB 5940RPM Hard Drive
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB & Momentus 750GB
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 1.5TB Portable USB 3.0 HDD
Seagate FreeAgent Go 1TB and 640GB portable USB drives

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this article in the SPCR forums.

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