Western Digital Portable HDs Are Too Fragile

A word of caution to those of you moving around with small portable hard drives: they are extremely fragile and you could lose all of your data….easily. In addition, some of these drives are more fragile than others since their manufacturers have taken shortcuts to make them smaller than competitors portable drives.

My wife carried around a portable, 1 terabyte hard drive. On it were redundant, backed up files (480GB worth and about 478GB she already has on another drive) but also contained a directory of images she’d taken at a European trade show. In its soft case, it slipped from her grasp about two feet from the floor and subsequently wouldn’t mount on her computer desktop.

Fearing the worse, I began diagnostics on it and was able to see it as attached storage and determine that the read/write head wasn’t doing any damage to the disks themselves. None of my recovery programs would work though—and professional data recovery starts at $695 and can run to $1,995 (from Kroll OnTrack 5 minutes from our offices)—so I tried other recovery attempts.

This portable hard drive is the Western Digital (WD) 1TB My Passport, now available at Costco for $129. Apparently to make their portable hard drives smaller than the competition, WD took a shortcut and has taken to soldering the USB connector directly to the controller board on the drive. What this means is that I couldn’t do what I’ve done in the past with other portable drives: pop open the case, take the drive out, and plug it in to my desktop tower (or even to an external case) and bypass what is likely a broken USB connection.

My only other options were to spend what would likely be ~$1,000 to recover my wife’s photos or to try just one more recovery method.

Since I had a desktop external 1TB hard drive I could use to recover the files using DDRescue, I started that block-by-block copying process the next morning (Friday). That afternoon I talked to a buddy of mine who runs service for a large retailer and mentioned I was three hours in to the process. He asked me to place my hand on the external hard drive to which the data was being copied. “Damn!“, I exclaimed, “It is very hot!” His response to me was, “At the rate of recovery and the amount of data on your diskit will take 10 days to recover but you’ll burn up your hard drive before the weekend is out.

Besides the knowledge they have of recovery, it turns out the pros have very expensive recovery drives that are cooled and run thousands apiece. “Don’t be a tightwad. Spend the money Borsch” was his parting advice.

That’s my cautionary tale to you today if you’re considering owning one of these portable drives (or already do). Even if you’re rigorous about backing up, if you’re enroute to the place where you do backup and drop this drive before you have a chance to do so (especially one of these WD drives) you can kiss your data or many hundreds of dollars goodbye.

About Steve Borsch

I’m CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you’re already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.


  1. The only portable drive I’ve had go south so far was a Western Digital. Haven’t bought one since.

  2. I have the exact drive. Never dropped it or placed it in adverse conditions such as cold, hot, humid environments.

    My plan was to use it for a business I’m starting up.
    I plugged it in and it would only come up as D Disk. Nothing else and even then that was after a very long wait.
    Explorer would run what appeared to be a GREEN loading progress in the area of the directory path bar or whatever you call it. Once it reached the [X] it would not go any further and even then it would only fill up half of the [X].

    I just finished looking at recovery prices and yes they are ridiculously high.
    I know i didn’t put a lot on the drive, but I honestly can’t remember everything that I did have on it.
    My plan was to keep downloads on it which might be the case, but I’m sure I have other files of interest as well.

    I’ve used them before without issue. But this is a huge disappointment.
    Luckily no business files are sitting on their and luckily I didn’t use the drive to hold scanned copies of files I’m saving to DVD that I’ve already shredded.

    But this will make that copying TO DVD process from another smaller drive receive high priority for sure.

    I’m wondering if the issue is the same because I honestly didn’t drop or bump this drive.

Leave a Comment