The My Passport Essential, like its predecessor the WD Passport Portable Drive, plugs into a USB 2.0 port and draws its power from the bus, so an external power adapter is not needed. Both drives have the same software and nearly the same specifications.
The Passport Portable Drive introduced in December represented a significant jump in storage for the product line, which went from a maximum of 250 GB to almost a third of a terabyte. While the original product cost $230, the My Passport Essential is expected to carry a suggested retail price of $200 when it ships Feb. 6.
The software that ships with WD personal drives enable consumers to synchronize content on their desktop with files they take with them. In addition, the software can sync with e-mail data in Microsoft Outlook, and protects data against theft through 128-bit encryption. The drives also come with Google software, such as desktop search, a photo organizer, and the Google Toolbar for Web searches.
WD's portable drives work with Windows 2000, XP or Vista machines, or a Mac running OS X 10.1.5 or higher. The latest Passport Essential works with OS X 10.4.8 or higher. The 320 GB device holds up to 38 hours of high-definition video, 91,400 photos or 80,000 MP3 music files.
While portable drives are an easy way to take data on the road, external storage units in the home are being used to transfer electronic media between PCs and other networked devices. Western Digital last year introduced a 1 TB device called the My Book World Edition.
The product, however, was panned by critics for containing software that prevented buyers from allowing others to access the device remotely to gain access to audio and video files in common formats, such as AVI, MP3, MPEG and DivX. The restriction on sharing was done to prevent illegal distribution of copyrighted content.
Western Digital was criticized for deciding on its own what customers can do with their own content, since there's no way for the company to know whether files are being shared illegally or not.