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Western Digital My Book USB drive

© May 2007 Anthony Lawrence

I had to find an ATA internal hard drive the other morning. In years past there would have been at least a couple of them kicking around here somewhere, but I've let stock go down over the years as demand dwindled. Reliability is part of the reason driving the demand side , but mostly it's just because hard drives are so big nowadays: customers are unlikely to need another. Cost is also an issue; people who need more space often just buy a new machine entirely.

But here I was with an "emergency" at 7:00 AM. Customer out of disk space, had been fighting it for weeks cleaning up files, but now absolutely needed more space. Today. Not tomorrow. Today.

I whined. It's just somebody's desktop, and it's probably seven years old. Buy them a new machine.

No. The Big Boss was firm about this. No new machine. Add or replace this drive. Period.

But that's silly, I went on. By the time I buy a drive and get it and my body to your site, and replace it or add a secondary, the cost is going to be almost that of a new machine. This makes no sense!

Sighs from the other end. She whispered that she knew that, but Big Boss wouldn't listen. Please just do it?

Grumble, grumble, yeah, OK.

So where do I get a hard drive at 7:00 AM? Compusa has closed most of their stores and they don't open at 7:00 anyway. Ahh, Staples. Overpriced, limited selection, but they open early. That's the ticket!

Except.. where is Staples? We've been down here a little over a year but I don't know where everything is yet. So I checked on-line and found that yes, there was a Staples just 11 minutes away. Their "driving directions" link was broken, so I put it into Google and soon was on my way.

Of course I got lost. Turned out that I had mis-typed the address and the directions had me miles out of my way, but after arriving at an empty field on a narrow road, I knew that, and used ancient cell phone technology to call the store and get reoriented. Soon enough I was actually walking through Staple's front door.

I headed toward the computer stuff section and started looking at the selections. A young man in a red shirt appeared out of nowhere and asked if he could help me.

Huh? What kind of scam is this? At Staples, the help is trained to turn their heads and walk rapidly away from any customers. If you trap them behind a counter, they pick up the phone and ignore you until you go away. What the heck was this kid up to?

Um, internal ATA drives? I expected him to turn pale and back away, but he smiled and said sure, right here. By gum, he was actually holding exactly what I wanted. Sheesh.

Oh, he said, maybe you could use this instead? It's on sale.

He was pointing at a Western Digital "My Book" USB drive. On sale. Ninety nine buckaroos. Two hundred and fifty Gig. Hmmm..

No, not for this job. But.. now that I think about it, my MacBook is getting a little tight on space too. Just a lotta junk that I don't really need to keep, but I'd like to, and I don't want to spend the money on a Firewire drive.. hmmm.

What the heck, I'll take both of them.

Back in the car, point it toward Boston, and Hi-Ho Silver, Away! Cue the William Tell Overture and sometime later (much later - Boston traffic at rush hour) I arrived. After parking in a lot plastered with "Parking for XYZ employees only - violators will be towed", I walked to my customer, conveniently located right next to XYZ, Inc. but without the resources of having anywhere to park their employees. Funny thing about XYZ is that they must have seen better times: it's a big lot, but always nearly empty.. I doubt they are going to be checking it for violators - probably hoping it's a customer instead.

Inside, I was brought to the space cramped employee. It wasn't just his hard drive: his desk was crammed into a corner of the lunch room, which wasn't all that spacious to begin with. He showed me his machine, and I groaned and cursed myself for not asking more questions.

The computer was an ancient Compaq with a 4GB hard drive. No wonder he was out of space. I turned to the person who had called me in. "I'm not touching that", I said.

Why? Well, aside from being pointless to invest time and money in something that old, it might not even work. That's old stuff in there, and I doubt it knows about 80GB drives. Secondly, Compaq always has funky proprietary mounting hardware so I probably wouldn't even be able to install the drive without duct tape. Finally, I just hate opening anything that old because it's going to be full of dust and bugs and like I said, I'm not touching that.

For a moment I toyed with putting the USB drive in. But were these USB 2.0 ports? Probably not.. and this guy has no desk space as it is. Not that the "My Book" is gigantic, but adding anything to this guy's burden seemed cruel. Nope, I'm not touching this. Tell Big Boss I refuse, that he won't get a bill because I'm a nice guy, but he needs to open his wallet and buy this poor guy a new computer. Nice to see you, I'm heading home.

After fighting my way back out of Boston, I swung back to Staples and returned the ATA drive. By 11:30 I was back in my driveway. Nice way to waste half the day, but let's hook up this "My Book" and see if it's worth the hundred bucks.

Well, yeah, I guess so. It's not whisper quiet, it's not blindingly fast, but it does give me some fairly inexpensive space to store stuff I want but don't need all that often. Hookup is of course trivial: plug it in and attach the USB cable. The MacBook sees it instantly, and you are ready to drag stuff to it. The only thing I did was change its name: I don't want something called "My Book" and the space makes it harder to do command line work. So I re-christened it WD250 and then tried it out:

time dd if=/dev/zero bs=1024k count=1024 of=/Volumes/WD250/t
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes transferred in 71.046434 secs (15113240 bytes/sec)

real 1m11.425s
user 0m0.008s
sys 0m9.456s

Well, I'm old enough that there was a time when that speed actually would have been impressive, but that was more than a few haircuts back. Maybe three or four pairs of shoes back. Maybe longer. However, for archival storage, that's fine.

The drive is smart enough to shut itself down with the MacBook; that's nice. It chirps when you write data and hums a bit otherwise, but not enough to annoy me. I'm happy enough to keep it. It's probably on sale because there are larger models for not much more money, but that's OK. Good enough for now.

Tony Lawrence 2007-05-17 Rating: 3.5

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-> Western Digital My Book USB drive


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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Sun May 20 01:49:12 2007: 3002   BigDumbDinosaur

The computer was an ancient Compaq with a 4GB hard drive. No wonder he was out of space. I turned to the person who had called me in. "I'm not touching that", I said.

Good call! Even sticking another 4 gig drive into that door stop would have had you spouting invective -- after you had struggled with trying to physically install the thing into the chassis. In any case, the USB ports in that machine would be 1.1, which would sorta work with the external drive you bought, but would have been slower than mollasses in January. Doncha love cheapasses?

1073741824 bytes transferred in 71.046434 secs (15113240 bytes/sec

That's actually pretty respectable for a USB drive with a relatively slow mechanism. I wonder if dd would have run faster if you had bumped up the block size from 1024k.

Sun May 20 11:25:39 2007: 3004   TonyLawrence

Not much faster:

$ time dd if=/dev/zero bs=4096k count=256 of=/Volumes/WD250/t
256+0 records in
256+0 records out
1073741824 bytes transferred in 62.615343 secs (17148222 bytes/sec)

real 1m3.267s
user 0m0.003s
sys 0m9.686s


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