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Western Digital's 3 TB MyBook Studio perfect for pre-Lion backups

Are you about to upgrade your Mac to OS X Lion? One recommendation from the TUAW staff is that you do a complete backup of your Snow Leopard installation before you start. With many Mac internal drives nearing the 1 to 2 TB range in size, how do you back up the drive and still have a hard disk that's big enough for Time Machine to use? Easy -- take a look at Western Digital's new 3 TB MyBook Studio (US$249.99 MSRP).

I had a chance to put one of these drives through the paces here at the crowded TUAW lab (which also doubles as the TUAW TV Live studio) and found it to be an attractive, quiet, and relatively fast high-capacity disk drive.

Design

As with many of Western Digital's recent mass storage solutions, the MyBook Studio drive uses an aluminum case that matches nicely with Apple's current design meme. The drive has two FireWire 800 and one USB 2.0 connector on the back, and comes with FireWire 800, USB 2.0, and FireWire 400 to 800 cables. It's pre-formatted for use with Mac systems, so the drive is truly plug-and-play.

The enclosure is 6.5" high, 5.3" deep, and 1.9" wide, featuring a pair of clear silicone feet on the bottom to make sure that drive vibration isn't transferred to a desk. There's no power switch on the drive -- once you've plugged it into power and a live I/O port on your Mac, it starts up quietly. A single tiny white LED on the front is all that tells you that the disk is up and running, which is a welcome change from the busy front panels on previous WD drives.

Drive operation is rather quiet, except when the drive spins up after sitting for a bit with nothing to do. At that point, it makes a light "clunk" that is barely noticeable. That had a slight effect on write speeds, but that's quite common with the WD Caviar Green SATA drive used inside the MyBook Studio. To reduce energy use, the drive goes to an idle mode when not actively reading or writing data. During the spin-up, throughput is reduced (see graphs below).

If the drive isn't in use, it powers down after a while and goes into a "sleep" mode. The LED blinks while in this mode, as an indication that it is saving power. It takes approximately 10 seconds for the drive to wake up from sleep mode, which could be an annoyance if you're in a hurry to grab a file that's stored on it.

One thing I didn't like about the MyBook Studio is that the company is using a fat, generic AC adapter that ended up covering two sockets on my multiple outlet power cord. I'm used to Apple's slender adapters and cords that only take one spot on the cord, and wish accessory manufacturers would take the hint.

As usual, the company fills up about 500 MB of space with home-grown utilities that you'll probably just want to delete. For Mac users who want to make a bootable clone of their machine prior to a Lion upgrade, we recommend either SuperDuper! (US$27.95) or the shareware Carbon Copy Cloner. To make those daily backups? Just use Time Machine.

Benchmark

Beginning with this review, TUAW is using a standard industry benchmark to compare the I/O capabilities of disks and arrays. The benchmark uses the AJA System Test, which simulates reading and writing video. We used was the Disk Read/Write test, also known as the DiskWhackTest, set at a video frame size of 720 x 486 8-bit and a file size of 128 MB.

The test results are compared to the internal SATA drive of the test iMac and a DroboPro connected to the iMac via FireWire 800. Compared to the DroboPro, the MyBook Studio looks like a complete speedster. Of course, the DroboPro is an 8-drive RAID array and not a single massive drive, but this does show that for high-throughput requirements the MyBook Studio Drive might be a contender.

With a USB 2.0 connection the average write speed was 30.4 MB/Sec and read speed was 35.2 MB/sec. If you have a FireWire 800 port on your Mac, use it. For speed, though at a price, you'll probably want to start looking at Thunderbolt-equipped Macs and external drives. Those drives will be available later this summer from a handful of vendors.

Conclusion

For Mac users looking for a relatively inexpensive external backup drive with FireWire 800 connectivity plenty of space, the Western Digital MyBook Studio 3 TB is just the ticket. If you only have USB 2.0 or just need a slow and steady backup drive, there are many other less expensive external drives. For example, Western Digital's WD Elements 3 TB USB-only drive can be purchased through Amazon for about $150; a tremendous bargain.

I like Western Digital's attention to the Mac market, and this drive is a perfect example of the meld of form and function that Mac users love.

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