Hardware Review: Western Digital My Book Thunderbolt Duo

Since I have a Mac mini with a Thunderbolt connector, I’d been wanting to try out a Thunderbolt hard disk for some time. About a year ago, Western Digital My Book Thunderbolt Duo (that’s a name that needs shortening; I’ll just call it My Book in the rest of this article). I wrote a “first impressions” post back then; it’s time to update that.

I have a lot of data to back up, notably my very large music collection, plus important work archives. I have a very strict backup routine, where I back up my backups, and the fewer devices I have, the better. The My Book is a single unit holding two hard disks, with capacities of either 4 or 6 TB (I chose the 4 TB model).

There are many advantages to this type of device. Fewer power bricks and data cables make it easier to set up, and the single Thunderbolt cable allows me to connect it either to my Mac, or to my Thunderbolt Cinema Display. In addition, this device has no fan, which I really appreciate. I have long been on a quest for silence in my office, and the external hard disks that I use all day long are single enclosures without fans.

Setting up the My Book is very simple. You plug in the power cord, then the Thunderbolt cable (not included with the device; this costs about $50, though Western Digital now sells the device in a package with a cable, for about $50 more). Then, you can use Western Digital’s WD Drive Utilities to format the disk. It comes set up in a RAID 0 format, where the two disks show as a single 4 TB disk; this is the fastest way to use it. You can also use RAID 1 (redundant RAID), or JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) to have the two disks mount separately. I chose this latter option because I want the full 4 TB, but I also want multiple partitions. (You’ll need to use Disk Utility to partition the disks after you’ve set them up for JBOD in the WD Drive Utilities software.)

In real-world use, I get 80-90 MB/sec, or about 3 times the speed of FireWire 800. One of the limitations of this drive compared to others is that it uses 5900 RPM hard disks to save energy, and to keep heat low enough so it doesn’t need a fan. (That’s not a typo: these drives are indeed 5900 RPM.) So it’s not the fastest Thunderbolt storage device; if you really need speed, you’ll want something with faster disks.

But for me, this is sufficient, and my backups are much faster than before. It’s an ideal solution for a standard office setup. Of course, I’m comparing the speed to the previous fastest technology I had, FireWire 800. When I first got a Mac with FireWire 800, and got some compatible hard drives, I was amazed by how much faster they were than FireWire 400. I’m sure that, in a few years, this Thunderbolt drive will seem slow.

Another plus to the My Book is that, if necessary, the hard disks are easy to replace. I’m not planning on them going bad, but if, in a few years, I need larger disks, I can switch them (as long as they are Western Digital Caviar Green drives; the devices only works with these, again, because of the heat they give off).

I’m very happy with this drive. It has replaced two individual drives that were connected to my Mac via FireWire 800, and it gives me the flexibility of connecting it either directly to the Mac, or to my Cinema Display. At around $500, this drive isn’t cheap – and don’t forget to factor in the $50 for the cable – but it’s good value for the money. It’s easy to set up, fast, and it’s quiet. Exactly what I wanted.

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14 replies
    • kirk says:

      That’s what I thought too, the first time I saw these drives a couple of years ago. They use a lot less power, apparently.

      Reply
  1. David Toub says:

    Thanks Kirk. My only concern would be, honestly, the lack of a fan. I had two or three LaCie drives go bad on me in a very short period (one lasted literally a day), and the only LaCie drives that lasted were the ones with fans, Even WD, which I’ve found to be far more reliable, makes portable drives without fans, and one of them did go bad on me. I had heard that the lack of a fan, while resulting in lower costs and some quiet, can compromise the longevity of a hard drive. I’d be interested in what you think about that.

    Reply
    • kirk says:

      I’ve been using fanless enclosures for years, and never had a drive go bad. This device has a plastic grille on the top which lets heat out, and it seems pretty efficient. I’m not really worried about that.

      Again, these disks are slightly slower than what others use, so that keeps the heat down. And this isn’t a device that I’ll be using a lot, it’s more for backups. It’ll be on all day, but I won’t be reading and writing to it constantly.

      Reply
  2. Ingomar says:

    I have a WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo and it has a tiny fan.
    The fan is located behind the rounded front and it becomes quite noisy after a few hours of use. Due to it’s size the noise is very annoying. In my case, it sits on top of a HP micro server and althought the Microserver has fans and 5×3,5″ disks, it is not as annoying.
    Very few reviews pick this up as it seems the fan only kicks in after a few hours of constant use.

    It took me a while to find it :-)
    (Shutdown device, unplug, remove disks. re-plug power and thunderbolt and you can hear the fan spinning).

    Reply
  3. Ed Ski says:

    Thanks for that review. These are likely the WD “green” models which I don’t like* (rather have Black or Red or even the SE model). *I’ve had to recover data from their USB 3.0 MyBook models and take-apart to access the drives is easier to extract a wisdom tooth! I don’t recommend Raid 0 unless dumping video to edit, but Mirrored for data might be best for some, even as a TimeMachine Drive. Otherwise, choices for a Tbolt External under $600 are slim to none with that capacity. Personally, I am opting for a Tbolt JBOD carrier like DataTale Smart 4-Bay ($600 w/o drives) or wishing for the Areca 8bay RAID (anyone wanna give $1500?).

    Reply
  4. mark says:

    I was surprised by this comment “hard disks are easy to replace”. This must be very different construction than other My Books. I’ve purchased several WD My Book drives, no fan, nice looking vertical case. But when I had a problem, I couldn’t find any way to open the case non-destructively to extract the drive so I could recover my data. So now I won’t buy a drive unless I know I can open the case.

    Reply
  5. Jeremy says:

    Would you know what will happen if i inserted a non-WD drive! Say, Seagate, into it? but also 5400 or 5900rpm. Just wondering if it checks that only WD harddisk should be used. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      No, I don’t know, I’ve never tried it. I’ll think about checking that in a few days.

      Reply
      • Jeremy says:

        Thanks Kirk! :) Im planning to get one but was thinking if it would work on my other non-wd drives. :)

        Reply

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