WD’s freshly designed external drives launch new identity for company

Hillary Grigonis
Digital Trends

When one thinks of high design, an external hard drive isn’t usually the first thing that pops to mind. With a few exceptions, like those from LaCie (now owned by Seagate), external drives, whether desktop or portable, come in boxy, boring casings in black, white, or beige. Good design, however, isn’t a foreign concept to Western Digital. In recent years, WD has tried to jazz up its products with new colors (it has even hired a color consultant to determine color trends) and curves, but still, the products remain fairly ordinary looking.

“We haven’t really evolved in 10 years,” Luke Ottrey, senior product manager at WD, told Digital Trends during a briefing. “We commit to a design and that’s it,” referring to why we don’t see major design changes often.

Related: Flash memory news flash: Western Digital buys SanDisk for $16B

Design, particularly in tech, can have an impact on consumers’ buying habits (just ask Apple), which is why WD is aiming to re-imagining its external hard drives with a new lineup of portable My Passport (two versions, Mac or PC) and desktop My Book external hard drives, all featuring a new style and colors created by the design and branding firm, Fuseproject. The new products embrace a half-smooth, half-textured design that clearly stands out from the crowd.

But it isn’t just a new look for drives. It’s a design language that WD will not only incorporate into future products and packaging, but adopt as a brand identity. No more stodgy peripherals — WD wants to be a purveyor of cool.

The company isn’t just jumping on the high-design bandwagon. The new design took two years to develop, through research, feedback from consumers, and retails visits, in four markets around the world (Berlin, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Singapore). It’s adapted to the changing behavior of users, which trends toward younger and innovative rather than the traditionally older and conservative.

“Customers expect more from technology now than before,” Ottrey said.

Whether young or old, the new look also attempts to address a common problem: backing up data. Despite users generating more data than ever, particularly photos and videos, WD says less than 30 percent of users back up their content, despite that more than 12,000 laptops are left behind at airports every week, accidental loss, data theft, etc. It’s hoping that through design, WD can create an emotional connection between user and peripheral.

“Nobody loves a hard drive itself,” Ottrey said. “We saw an opportunity to create a conversation through design. When design and technology comes together, consumers get interested.”

“The way we use data is changing; it’s becoming much more of a personal commodity, something we value,” Yves Béhar, Fuseproject’s founder and principal designer, said in a statement. “Western Digital lies at the intersection of our physical life and the digital world, and we wanted to create a quality aesthetic that symbolizes this intersection.”

As for the drives, the My Passport will come in six colors (black, blue, red, orange, yellow, and white) and come formatted for Windows 7, 8, or 10, while a version formatted specially for Macs (Time Machine ready) will come in black only. The desktop My Book will also come in black, and is ready for both Mac or PC (exFAT). Of course, you can reformat all of them to suit your needs or operating system, or if you’re a Mac user who wants a colored drive. All new drives support USB 3.0 (Type B), and the portable versions come with matching cables (power is supplied through USB for portable units, while the desktop drive requires AC power).

New My Book desktop external drive.
New My Book desktop external drive.

New My Book desktop external drive.

The drives also now include strong 256-bit AES hardware encryption and password protection (they can also be set to auto-unlock with known devices), and come preloaded with software for management and auto-backups. During the backup process, the software can also back up to Dropbox for redundancy. Mac users can bypass the WD software and use MacOS’s Time Machine feature instead. WD is including its existing software, but it’s currently finalizing a new version that’s in beta.

As for the internal hardware, WD is using the same parts in previous My Passport (2.5-inch, 5500-rpm SATA) and My Book (3.5-inch, 7,200-rpm SATA) drives, with a 5-Gbit transfer speed. When asked why WD isn’t utilizing faster 10Gbit connection or flash memory, Ottrey said the drives used cannot support faster connections, but the housing itself is ready to support faster drives in the future. As for speed, we transferred a 48.77GB folder of RAW images and videos from a MacBook Air to the new My Passport for Mac and achieved a write speed of 7 minutes and 4 seconds, and nearly identical read speed of 6 minutes and 53 seconds. The My Book had a write speed of 4 minutes and 38 seconds, and a read speed of 5 minutes and 8 seconds.

Size wise, both My Passport and My Book units are nearly identical to the last models. The 1TB version measures 0.64 by 3.21 by 4.33 inches and weighs six ounces, while the 2TB-4TB versions measure slightly larger at 0.87 by 3.21 by 4.33 inches and weigh 8.6 ounces. The MyBook measures 6.7 by 5.5 by 1.9 inches and weighs, depending on the drive capacity, between 2.13 to 2.31 pounds.

As for pricing, the My Book will come in 3TB ($130), 4TB ($150), 6TB ($230), and 8TB ($300) versions. The My Passport (Mac or PC) will come in 1TB ($80), 2TB ($110), 3TB ($150), and 4TB ($160) versions. (Although WD provided us the pricing listed here, we are noticing lower prices on the WD website; before you buy, do a price comparison.) Drives with the older designs have lower prices – most likely being phased out.