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WD Nomad Rugged Case

Rugged Case for Western Digital's My Passport external portable hard drives provides impact, dust and moisture protection
(edited by C. H. Blickenstorfer)

So there we are, about 300 nautical miles due west of Cabo San Lucas, on the 110-foot live-aboard expedition vessel Solmar V, just having finished a rather challenging scuba dive at Roca Partida, a solitary twin rock poking out of the water by about 90 feet in the middle of absolutely nowhere. On the dive around the rock we saw dozens of white tip sharks, silkies, a Galapagos shark or two, morays and more maritime wildlife than I'd seen on any single dive. The SD storage cards on my Canon and GoPro HD vidcam in their underwater housings were nearly full and needed to be offloaded in time for the next dive. But the 64GB solid state drive on the Handheld Algiz XRW rugged and waterproof netbook I'd taken along on the trip and used on the dive deck was almost full, and so I had to get out of my 7-mil wetsuit, dry off, and go downstairs to our cabin which was functional but very small indeed. There I retrieved my big MacBook Pro from a storage cubby, set it up on my yet unmade bunk, and uploaded the camera data on what was left on the rather more fragile big Mac's 250GB drive (not much). If I only had an external hard drive with big capacity, preferably one I could take on the dive deck. But I didn't have one and so we made do with what we had.

Well, wouldn't you know it--when I got back home I found a Western Digital external drive with a rugged case waiting in my office! Talk about timing being just a bit off. The drive was a sleek little My Passport Essential portable HD with 500GB capacity. The black polycarbonate WD Nomad case was specifically made for the My Passport drive.

Now that would have come in handy!

That's exactly what I had needed for the dive expedition. With this WD Nomad-protected My Passport external drive I wouldn't have had to spend hours offloading data to clear up space on my MacBook Pro. I could have loaded more nautical maps and data onto the SSD drive on the rugged Algiz XRT netbook. I wouldn't have had to worry about filling up my disks. And I could have had all the storage I needed exactly where I needed it. On the dive deck where things are wet, stuff gets dropped, and there's just no time to baby equipment.

But let me describe what Western Digital has cooked up here for those of us who need to take along high tech, but can't afford to have it break:

The My Passport is part of a line of handy external drives with capacities from 250 GB to 1 TB. The drives measure about 4.25 x 3.25 inches and are half an inch thick. They are encased in sleek, glossy plastic and you can get them in black, silver, red or blue (ours is blue). The My Passport Essential comes with 500 GB and a USB 3.0 interface that, of course, can also be used with USB 2.0.

The Passport drive itself is well made and doesn't need a power supply, but by itself it's not rugged or water-resistant. That's where the WD Nomad Rugged Case comes in. The hard outer shell is tough polycarbonate plastic. Inside is an elaborate mounting system of rubber and foam rubber to cradle and cushion the Passport drive. It does that so effectively that Western Digital rates the case for a seven foot drop!

The WD Nomad also protects from dust and moisture, though the company stops short of issuing a standard IP protection rating, like is used for rugged computing equipment. We did our own test by subjecting the Nomad to a good close-distance showering for a minute or so. A few drops of water did get in despite what looks like a O-ring style pressure seal around the perimeter. Our advice to Western Digital is to increase the thickness of the seal a bit so that it actually becomes a pressure seal. For now, it's a bit too thin for a reliable seal. This could easily be done. As is, it's good enough for a bit of rain, and I wouldn't have hesitated to use it on the dive deck. The ultimate here would have been a sealed cable that is somehow integrated into the case, but it's certainly workable as is.

Note that you can use the drive while it is inside its protective case. That's because the Nomad has a cutout (with a protective plug) to connect the USB cable. Note, though, that moisture and liquids can enter the case when the protective plug is opened and the USB cable connected, so some care must be taken in extreme conditions.

This page is really about the ruggedness aspects of the WD Nomad/My Passport combo, but here's a bit of information about the drive itself:

USB 3.0

First, what's the difference between USB 2.0 and 3.0? Primarily speed. USB 2.0 maxes out at 480 Mbit/second whereas USB 3.0's top speed is almost ten times higher, up to 5 Gbit/second. USB 3.0 isn't very common yet, but as of early summer 2011, most major notebook products include at least one USB 3.0 port. Do note that USB 3.0 cables are different since the new standard uses a total of eight wires instead of the older standard's simple twisted pair. The USB cable that comes with the My Passport drive therefore has a special USB 3.0 plug on the My Passport side (which means you cannot use a regular USB 2.0 cable with the drive). The other side of the cable, though, looks and works like a regular USB 2.0 plug and works with any USB 2.0 port.


Like most external drives, the My Passport Essential comes with a variety of utility software. There is WD SmartWare software that backs up your data automatically and continuously, and can bring back lost files effortlessly. You can also do password protection and hardware encryption. The software comes in both Windows and Mac OS versions.

Formatting considerations

What I am not going to discuss is the various ways the drive can be used with different versions of Windows and the Mac OS. That's where different formatting standards come into play, and you need to know what works best for you. Suffice it to say that you can set up the drive to work with just Windows, just the Mac, or both. And you do not have to use the supplied software if all you want is an external drive.

Anyway, the WD Nomad rugged case and My Passport Essential 500GB drive is a great product combo that certainly comes in handy for numerous applications and in numerous situations.

Info and availability

The WD Nomad rugged case (US$29.95 MSRP) and the 500GB Western Digital My Passport Essential (US$99.95 MSRP) are available now at WD's online store (