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Western Digital, a company that has producing hard drives since the late 1980s, certainly has a well-established reputation for the quality and reliability of their hard drives. And, before they manufactured hard drives, Western Digital's specialty was disk controllers, going back as far as the 1970s. With such a powerful amassing of engineering technology and expertise at their disposal, a completely in-house, ultra-portable, high-capacity external hard drive is not an unexpected product. Today, we are going to be taking a look at the product that should exactly meet those three descriptors - the WDBABV0010BBK. Hopefully, the drive's performance is able to match, or exceed, the slick cosmetic appeal of the Elements SE.
Specifications / Features:
• Capacity: 1 TB
• Interface: USB 2.0
• Dimensions: Height-0.60", Depth-5.0", Width-3.10", Weight-7.05 oz
• 1-year Limited Warranty
Western Digital's Info Page
$79.99 @ Amazon
I am definitely happy with Western Digital's choice of packaging for the Elements SE. The cardboard box is sturdy, rigid, and is easily opened and can be quickly resealed via cutout tabs. Also, the entire package is made from recycled materials. The printing on the box is vibrant and the product pictures of the drive are fantastically done. And, they've included the basic product specifications in 13 languages - that's one heck of a diversified market segment! I'm also happy to see that they included information about the drive's pre-formatted status. The drive is formatted under NTFS, so all of you OSX users will have to re-format to a FAT partition for the drive to be usable. I'm also happy to report that the NTFS partition comes without any Western Digital bloat-ware - definitely a welcomed addition. Inside of the packaging, the product is secured via two plastic trays (Western Digital's traditional protection) and the drive is sealed in a plastic bag. With the support trays and the plastic bag, it would be awfully hard to damage the product. But, it might be nice to see a little more support for the drive's midsection (to minimize crushing risks) - no one wants a cracked hard drive enclosure.
Inside the Packaging:
I can't say I'm particularly surprised at the sparse accessories bundle. All that's included is a quick start guide, support information, and a small Micro-USB cable. The Micro-USB cable is surprisingly sturdy and well built. I am a bit disappointed at the length, but at 18" long (from connector to connector), it's the perfect length for plugging into the front of a computer and sitting on your desk, or placing the drive on top of your chassis - any longer might be a bit cumbersome for this task. The cable also easily, without tangling, folds into storage cases. The locking clips on the connector should ensure that the connection is snug, but we will discuss that further in the next section. While I recommend using the CaseLogic VHS-101 for this hard drive (it fits the drive and cable in a small form factor), it still would have been nice to see Western Digital include a small carrying pouch - I know they've done it for previous external drives.
The Elements SE Itself:
The drive is incredibly sleek-looking, with a stealthy black finish. It's the absolute smallest portable hard drive with a 1 TB capacity on the market. Seriously, if you doubt that, check the dimensions of other competing products. Western Digital's proprietary drive definitely serves the unit well in terms of the form factor. The top is a grainy, textured plastic that allows for enough friction to support stacking of multiple drives via the bottom's rubbed feet; multiple drives will definitely not slide around. The device is small enough to fit in a back pocket, but I wouldn't particularly recommend that. Instead, you could easily keep it in your backpack or laptop case without sacrificing much storage space (physical that is). The sides of the unit are a glossy, ultra-smooth plastic; it's almost an acrylic. They come stock with anti-static cling protectors on them - I recommend you keep them on. The plastic is the one downfall of this unit's rugged frame. Without any effort at all, those plastic sidings will scratch - even in a case. They're practically made to get beaten up. While it might not look as classy, I would like Western Digital to replace the glossy sidings with rubberized plastic - that would help protect against any damage. Fortunately, the unit as a whole is creak free and feels very sturdy - it's practically the most professional portable hard drive I've seen. It doesn't have huge, rubber bumpers, however, so if you're going case free, you might want to be cautious using this drive for field work. An ultra-rugged drive might be better suited for those users, as this has no shock protection out of the box.
The front of the drive has a small recessed port that contains both an activity LED and a Micro-USB port. The activity LED is probably one of the coolest I've ever seen; the LED glows an eerie, diffused white. It's not harsh like most blue LEDs, but just bright enough to be useful; the white color definitely adds to the entire unit's cool mystique. Improved over other portable drives, including Western Digital's own, the Micro-USB port is ultra-secure - possibly even too secure! The locking connector requires a little bit of extra force to snap into the recessed port. And, it requires even more force to disconnect. But, if having a secure connection is important to you, this design definitely beats out any other Micro-USB design I've seen. I still, however, prefer Mini-USB; it's a little beefier and in wider use.
To highlight just how small this 1 TB drive is, I thought I'd include a picture showing the device compared to a standard sized deck of playing cards. The drive is, of course, just slightly larger overall, but the dimensions aren't too far off. Cosmetically speaking, it really is one of them most appealing external drives I have ever seen. Also, before we get too deep into testing, I thought I'd mention a bit more helpful information pertaining to the drive. The drive comes shipped with a slight defect that Western Digital has fixed via this application. Before applying that fix to the hard drive, the drive almost instantly spins-down after data access. This is incredibly annoying if you are running programs directly off of the hard drive, or if you are streaming music off of the drive. You will have huge buffering issues and your applications will lag immensely. Fortunately, the link above fixes this issue - I definitely recommend applying it as soon as you acquire the drive (it doesn't raise temperatures greatly and the patch takes a few seconds to apply). Also, for individuals who have gotten this drive at a discount price and are interested in only removing the 2.5" drive for use in their laptop, you are 100% out of luck. To keep this unit as small as possible with the 1 TB drive, Western Digital has developed a proprietary controller and interface for the drive. The USB connection you see on the outside is actually part of the physical hard drive - don't even try cracking this particular item open!
To put this hard drive through its paces, it seemed fit to use SiSandra, HDTune, and PCMark. That way, you'll be able to get a feel for both the drive's real performance and its rated performance via our battery of synthetic tests.
The first test is using SiSandra's IOPS calculations, which meet the industry standards. If you're interested in how exactly IOPS (or Input / Output Operations Per Second) are derived, please see this entry. We faced the Elements SE against a similar, slightly larger, portable 1 TB drive from Western Digital, the "My Passport". The slightly larger drive performed, well, slightly better than our smaller Elements drive. Both are 5400 RPM and both are USB 2.0. The only explanation for this, is Western Digital's new, proprietary drive controller - the other model does not have this. When it comes to choosing between the two models, you'll have to base it primarily on whichever unit you can get for less money; and, if bloatware / non Plug-N-Play drivers are an issue, you might want to jump for the Elements SE, which has that advantage. For fun, we also threw in another portable drive - the Samsung S2. It features USB 3.0 bandwidth. And, as such, is substantially quicker than either USB 2.0 drives. If this is important, you might want to hold out for the revised USB 3.0 version of the Elements SE.
The "Endurance Factor" is SiSandra's way of quantifying the "Wear and Life Expectancy" of a hard drive - it helps measure performance degradation. Unfortunately, we see something a bit startling in our results. The WD Passport drive performs over twice as well as our WD Elements drive - it even beats out the speedy Samsung S2 USB 3.0 drive. There are a couple explanations for why we see these results. The EF represents a trade-off between performance, size, and reliability. If you decrease size and increase performance, you are going to result in a drive that, long-term, is slightly less reliable - that's just the cold, hard truth of the matter. This doesn't represent or correlate to a performance index, but the WD Passport drive, being larger than the Elements, is literally a 2.5" laptop drive with a direct USB 2.0 controller - no latency-prone overhead. The Samsung S2 has both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 controllers. That overhead, along with the USB 3.0 speed, brings down performance. I was expecting a slightly higher rating for the Elements drive, possibly 3.8. It's definitely in a unique situation, given its size, and the fact that it performs similarly to the larger Passport model. The unique, direct USB 2.0 controller might be the cause of this - I'm not 100% sure. I will, however, say, that you might want to avoid using this drive for ultra-important backups. It may fail sooner than expected.
Just to show that the Elements can definitely hold its own, most USB 2.0 drives with the same specifications should get roughly the same PCMark score. I decided to throw an older, 4200 RPM, external drive against the standard, 5400 RPM Elements - it is quite clear that the Elements has no problems maximizing USB 2.0 performance.
Due to the USB bus requiring precious CPU cycles to operate, you are definitely going to see some spiking during performance testing. Fortunately, the Elements drive manages to stay impressively stable and smooth during read-only testing. It's one of the smoothest charts I've seen for a drive of its kind. For a USB 2.0 drive at 5400 RPM, you can expect absolute, hypothetical maximum burst rates of 33.3 MB/s read and 32.3 MB/s write (for my system). We can clearly see from HD Tune's testing that the Elements doesn't have any issue saturating the USB bus during read-only access.
The controller definitely has a bit of latency when doing write-only operations, which results in a slightly less than expected maximum speed. The initial spike is due to the drive spinning up - it isn't factored heavily into our average speed. It's usually pretty difficult to get near your burst rate speed during write operations, but the Elements definitely starts oscillating more heaving during write-only testing. Because the processor usage is low and the access time (latency) increases, the controller is definitely to blame; it's not bad, but it's not as great as I was expecting.
As a final aside, I'd like to quickly throw out some temperature information. At an ambient temperature of about 82 F, HD Tune reports the drive as being 109.4 F under idle conditions and 113 F during load. A little warmer than I'd like, but given the ambient temperature, it's par for the course and definitely within Western Digital's ideal temperature specifications.
It's simply an absolute fact - this is the smallest 1 TB USB 2.0 device that an end user can purchase. And, if you're stuck with using USB 2.0, because multiple devices you own only share said bus in common, then you should be relatively happy with the sleek styling of the WD Elements SE 1 TB unit. With the official patch, it's definitely a highly useful and versatile drive. Performance is about what you should expect for any device of this kind, but it is definitely a smidgen lower than all of the slightly larger, non-proprietary 1 TB portable drives. So, if performance is more important that portability, you would be wise to purchase one of the alternatives. Otherwise, as long as you watch the health status of the drive, the low endurance rating should be irrelevant. This should make for a solid device to store multimedia and lightweight applications. And, you can often find this particular unit on sale for $60~70 - a definite bargain.
Impressively small form-factor
Sleek, stylish cosmetic design
Sturdy Micro-USB connector
Performance and drive controller could be slightly improved
Glossy plastic sides easily scratch
Long-term reliability might not be ideal - especially with only a one year warranty