Western Digital My Book 500GB Drive w/ EMC Retrospect Software

I purchased the Western Digital My Book Pro Edition 500 GB External Hard Drive with Triple Interface (slight variations in the name indicate different models so be sure to check the specs when buying) to become a backup drive for my iMac, but I want to give it a spin under Windows first. This article is my first impression of the drive and Restrospect Backup software (included) under Windows. I mentioned the drive last month when I commented on a Computerworld review that picked the drive over the other 3 drives that were reviewed.

Everything needed comes in the box including a 6 foot cable each for USB, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800. The power supply is external with a total power cord length of just under 12 feet with a small power brick near the middle. There’s also a CD with the software and a printed Quick Install guide. The software is also on the drive itself.

The drive features “Auto-Off”. When the connected computer is turned off the drive will power down automatically. This worked flawlessly under Windows (not yet tried on the Mac). There is a delay before the drive shuts down. This may be to allow time for a reboot before the drive shuts down.

There’s also a “Safe Shutdown” feature. This requires that the driver is installed. Pushing the button on the My Book will safely shut down the drive so you can disconnect it. You can also remove it like any USB device and use the typical method of removing it that’s appropriate to the OS.

The inner ring on the front serves as a capacity gauge. It’s divided into six segments, representing about 17% each, that light up when the drive reaches that level. Because the utilities are preinstalled the first segment is already lit. I found it hard to differentiate how much of the inner ring was lit when the full outer ring was also lit, especially at a distance. It was easier to see when the outer ring was in activity mode (rotating clockwise).

While it’s possible to use the drive on both Mac and Windows at the same time it requires using FAT32 as the file format which has limitations under OS X, especially older versions. I’ll be testing it out under Windows and then move the drive to my iMac and re-format it for OS X at that time.

I’m installing it on a HP laptop that only has USB 1.1 ports running Windows XP SP2 with all the latest security updates. Installation of Firewire under Windows appears a bit more complicated. You either need to first connect over USB to install the drivers or download the drivers to your PC from the Western Digital website.

Hardware Installation

The drive is simple to install. Plug it in to a power outlet then hook it up to the PC using the USB cable. Windows automatically installed the necessary drivers and mounted the drive. Then Autorun displayed the selection screen shown to the left (click the picture to see full screen). I let it run the program with the Western Digital icon.

This program is actually the installer for the EMC Restrospect Express software. Retrospect has a reputation of being good backup software that’s a bit hard to use. The installation is straight-forward, just click through the wizard. There is an option to do a “custom” install but the only options are to install features that are only available with the full version. I didn’t select these so I’m not sure why they’re there or what would happen if they were picked for installation. I just did the “Recommended” installation. No reboot was required.

EMC Restrospect Express Backup Software (Windows)

Once the installation was finished I started the Restrospect software. The first thing it did was tell me that there was an update available, version 7.5.325. I allowed the download to occur and the update to start. I received a warning that Retrospect itself needed to be shut down but other than that the upgrade was quick and easy. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine that software with an internal updater displays an error message saying the software needs to be shut down. I already clicked to do the update. If the software needs to be shut down then shut it down. It seems like a bit of lazy programming.

To test the installation I started Retrospect again and was asked what type of backup I wanted to do. My first choice was “Progressive” which is described as “…allows you to access previous backups of your data as well as creating Disaster Recovery images that can restore your computer’s operating system.” In other words, the first backup is a full backup and future backups are incrementals. The second choice was “Duplicate” which is described as “A duplicate of the source volume is created on the destination volume.” I did a progressive backup.

Then I’m asked what I want to back up: “Documents and Settings”, “My Computer”, or “Let Me Choose (Advanced)”. One problem this software shares with others I’ve tried is that the “My Computer” choice includes the external drive that will be the backup destination. This usually results in a never-ending recursive backup situation with an ever growing directory tree that fails when the tree becomes to deep or the drive runs out of space. So I select custom and select all of drive C:. The wizard is self-explanatory for doing the backups but selecting the external (destination) drive also as a backup source by default could cause a problem. I didn’t select it to see how it would handle the conflict of the source equaling the destination, I just assuming it would be bad.

Future backups, using the same settings, do incremental backups and only back up the changes. The backup is saved in a directory on the destination drive. The files in the directory are in Retrospect’s own format, breaking the backup into 600MB chunks.

The “Duplicate” option does what it says. It will duplicate a drive to another one. There are options to replace the entire volume, replace corresponding files, replace if source is newer, and to duplicate missing files only.

There’s also a nice feature to treat any directory as a volume. This can be used for both Progressive and Duplicate backups. So the destination can be a sub-directory on the My Book and not the entire drive, allowing multiple PCs to be duplicated or backed up to a single My Book drive.

There is also an option to schedule a backup or duplication. When the scheduled time arrives the EMC Retrospect software will start up (if it’s not already running) and display a short ten second countdown to running the backup. You can halt or make changes to the backup during this countdown. The software exits when the backup is done.


The Western Digital My Book 500GB drive is extremely quite. It can’t be heard above the ambient noise in the room. Since I’m only using a USB 1.1 connection I can’t comment on the speed but other third party tests have it as a good performer.

I’m going to run the My Book on my Windows PC for a week or so then move it over to my Mac. I’ll post an update when I do that.

I wanted the Firewire 800 interface and found the cheapest source to be Amazon. Versions without Firewire 800 are also available and cost a little less. I frequently see the USB 2.0/Firewire 400 version available on sale locally, which brings it down to what it typically sells for at Amazon.