Bad experience with Western Digital external 5 TB drive with my new MBP

This is the first time I’ve had a bad experience with a WD drive. If the replacement is better I’ll change my review. The model I got was WD Portable Hard Drive 5TB USB3.0 Black WD Elements Portable External Hard Drive / WDBU6Y0050BBK-WESN.

I got it to use for Time Machine backups with my new MBP M1 Pro. It formatted ok, and Time Machine ran fine for two days. Then it just stopped working. All attempts to repair or erase and start again with Disk Utility failed with errors.

Amazon was helpful in arranging a pickup and replacement (which should arrive today). If it’s ok this time I’ll be sure to update my review. I was really surprised at how cooperative Amazon was in arranging for a free pickup and quick replacement. I hope it works better this time.

Another smaller WD 2 TB on the same hub that I use for CCC backups continues to work with no problems.

I had similar issues with a WD drive on my new iMac, and searching implied that WD doesn’t play well with Apple Silicon. I replaced it with a Seagate drive.

There was a second issue, though, that the Xcode folder in my Library seemed to cause problems for Time Machine, and excluding it has seen no further problems.

Interesting. The 2 TB WD drive I got for CCC has been ok so far. Anyway, if the replacement 5 TB drive, which should arrive today (same day replacement) runs into problems I’ll return it and try Seagate.

WD makes a wide variety of drives, both consumer and enterprise. It’s important to look at the specs.

In particular, I would be especially cautious about “green” drives, which can switch into low-power modes seemingly without notice, messing up any timing-critical applications. This, for instance, is known to make RAID systems think the drive has failed.

I’m not sure I would trust any portable pocket-size drive for backups. They are not high performance devices (typically 5400 RPM or slower) and I don’t think they’re designed for extended-run usage.

This is why I prefer to build my backup devices. I buy 3.5" 7200 RPM SATA drives that are rated for 24/7 operation and install them in a USB enclosure with a cooling fan. There’s nothing guaranteed, of course, but this approach has served me well over the years.

I do use portable drives (2TB WD Elements, FWIW), but only for occasional use. Not for something that will be connected and in use all the time.

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Second the suggestion to build your own. You want to control exactly what platter goes in there. And you want to be able to switch the USB bridge should it go sideways without having to throw away the whole drive. Plus, use the savings from rolling your own towards a better/larger HDD.

Re: Carbon Copy Cloner - Choosing a hard drive

5400RPM Rotational HDDs, aka “Slim”, “Portable” or 2.5" hard drives:

"These disks are cheap and can be acquired by the palette at your local Costco. Unfortunately, APFS is not tuned to perform well on rotational disks, and that performance is just unacceptable on these “slowest of the slow” rotational disks. The following disks are examples of these slower devices, and we do not recommend using these for macOS bootable backups:

  • Seagate Backup Plus Slim Portable Drive
  • Western Digital My Passport Ultra Portable
  • LaCie Mobile Drive
  • G-Technology G-DRIVE Mobile USB 3.0 Portable External Hard Drive

“If you have one of these devices you can format the device with Apple’s legacy “Mac OS Extended, Journaled” format instead of APFS, and use it for data-only backups.”

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No disagreement with the CCC knowledge-base. Which is one of the reasons why I use 7200 RPM desktop drives for my backups.

But performance is a subjective thing. If you’re OK with backups taking a long time to complete (especially the initial backup), slower drives should work. But there’s really no point - assembling your own external drive is really easy to do and you can get 7200 RPM drives for about the same price as a portable drive.

For example (using Micro Center as a price reference, not counting in-store-only special deals):

Portable drives range in price from $50 (Seagate 1TB) to $160 (Seagate 5TB FireCuda gaming drive), and $190 (HGST 4TB ArmorATD ruggedized).

To build your own…

The price for building your own is just the cost of an enclosure and a drive. It is very easy (takes less than 10 minutes) to install a drive in an enclosure.

The cheapest portable drives will cost less, but you probably won’t be happy with the result. Once you get up to larger drives (e.g. 4TB), then building your own can cost less. And if you build your own, you can build much larger drives (up to 16 TB based on what I could find, although that is probably too expensive for most consumers).

You can get lower prices than these, but I didn’t list them because I don’t consider the following appropriate for backup devices:

  • Enclosure without a fan. HDDs can get hot when powered 24/7. A case without a fan can lead to overheating and unreliable behavior.
  • Slower drives. 5400 RPM drives are significantly slower. I don’t think it’s worth the small cost savings.
  • Drives not rated for 24/7 operation. This rules out many popular models like Seagate Barracuda, WD Blue, WD Black, Toshiba X300
  • SMR recording. SMR has performance problems I consider unacceptable, especially for backups where you will be writing a lot of data during a single session. This rules out popular models like Seagate Barracuda and WD Red (but WD Red Pro is CMR, and is a good model to consider)
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I’m using a 2 TB WD Elements drive for my CCC backup. Although I like the idea of a bootable clone, CCC recommends against it these days. And, in fact, when you start up the first time it warns that a bootable drive won’t work with migration assistant. Since they were warning against the bootable drive I went with their default recommendations. I have not had a problem with my CCC daily backup. And it’s been quite quick.

In separate email, Mike Bombitch wrote me these advantages of the daily backup beyond bootable:

Time Machine offers a very basic backup that’s fine for someone that uses their Mac for leisure. Folks that use their Mac for important, production work often have more demanding requirements from their backups, and that’s the market that we’re targeting. CCC is an advanced backup and file copying utility. We offer “point in time” restores comparable to Time Machine, but with CCC you can also:

  • Create non-proprietary copies of your data, on locally-attached or network volumes
  • Perform folder-to-folder copies
  • Copy one external volume to another
  • Apply advanced filters to define precisely what should be excluded from or included in a file copying task
  • Verify, and re-verify later, the integrity of the files that were copied by CCC
  • Schedule your backup tasks with greater flexibility (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, apply time limits based on the day of week or the hour of day)
  • Configure backup/file copying tasks to run in response to a volume mount event, e.g. when you attach the backup disk to your Mac
  • Get detailed insight into which files are changing on your Mac
  • Examine the differences between your source and destination
  • Preview changes to the destination before actually making them
  • Proactively detect (and address on the destination) and deter “bit rot” on your source and destination hard drives
  • Get insight into the performance and health of your hardware, now and over time

Anyway, I’m just considering it one extra backup,

I really don’t want to bother with constructing my own Time Machine drive. The WD Elements 5 TB is thicker and heavier than the 2 TB, but it’s inexpensive, and WD has always been reliable for me in the past. The replacement drive did arrive and unlike the one which went bad after a few days, was immediately formatted. The initial backup (1.1 TB of data) just finished, so it did take about 6-7 hours to complete.

I’ll see how it goes over the next week or so. If it fails again I’ll just return it for a refund and purchase something else.


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Of course if you get a bad drive, you’re going to be disinclined to purchase that brand again. But looking at the overall stats, WD drives seem to at least hold their own. (I think @ace occasionally re-publishes these stats from Backblaze): Hard Drive Reliability: A Look at HDD and SDD Failure Rates


I agree regarding WD reliability as I’ve had many external and internal ones which have never gone down thankfully. I also have some Toshiba external drives and SSD’s and those have held up as well with some Seagate years ago. I do recall some of the very slim Seagate portable drives had some issues due to heat which I suppose can affect any portable. I use mine for backup but not daily and file storage and audio digitizing. I have a 5TB Easystore portable purchased two years ago which works fine.

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That is so interesting! It completely upended my image as to how Backblaze operates. Never in a million years did I imagine them operating hundreds of thousands of drives! How do they possibly do it? I imagined some slower-but-larger long-term storage technology that didn’t require random access, etc. Interesting!

@Shamino I’m wondering how many of the drive setups you mention require and external power supply rather than the USB? I appreciate your clarity in your suggestions. Thank you.

Mine requires none, fortunately.

They have RAIDs and mirrors of those and redundant data centers. It wouldn’t surprise me …but I have no specific knowledge…if they actually had SANs instead of normal RAIDs…the striping and redundancy capabilities of a SAn make normal RAID look simple. It is essentially impossible to look at a single file on a SAN and tell which physical drive it is stored on…because SANs generally divide data into chunks and a file is likely across multiple drives even before all the striping and redundancy and parity stuff happens. They’re really cool devices…and folks like BB have several data centers so data is in more than one location and the way all the striping, etc works the redundant data center is not a physical duplicate of which drives actually hold the data.

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I have a bunch of 4TB cheap seagate portable usb 3 drives that I use for rotating off site data backups and to put in the go bags. I only rotate every few months, and they’ve been fine for that for up to 5 years now (not all the same age). I tried to find bare 4TB 2.5" drives, but they’re rare and very expensive compared to the prebuilt ones.

For off site I don’t care about size or power, but 3.5" drives are heavy for carrying on the bus even without an enclosure. For the go bags, I want an enclosure and bus-powered–they need to be as non-fuss as possible and size and weight matter, so external power is a non-starter.

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For the drives I build, they all do. I don’t think a normal USB port can provide sufficient power for a 3.5" desktop drive and even if it could, I wouldn’t trust the stability of that power. The enclosures I use all include a power brick, which I use.

You can get bus-powered enclosures for 2.5" (laptop-style) drives, but those drives tend to not be high performance, and they aren’t available in the really large capacities. And if you want to be bus powered, to need to do a bit of homework to make sure the drive you select can be comfortably be powered that way - the larger ones are often designed for server, not portable use and may draw too much power for a bus-powered enclosure.

Thank you David. That was what I thought and I really appreciate your guidance.

I’ve had 0 problems with WD drives on apple silicon. I do not use the WD crapware, stick completely with MacOS.

No disagreement here. There is never a need to run any of the software that comes bundled with consumer drives. All drives sold conform to standard protocols (e.g. USB Mass Storage or UAS), which every modern operating system supports natively using only its build-in device drivers.

The bundled software typically is designed to provide additional features like:

  • Security (file/volume encryption)
  • Automated backups
  • Drive cloning
  • Drive partitioning, formatting, repair

These features are almost always better provided by software from other sources. For example:

  • File Vault (macOS encryption) or BitLocker (Windows encryption)
  • Time Machine (macOS automated backups)
  • Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper (macOS drive cloning)
  • Disk Utility

But this is all independent from selecting the drive itself. As I wrote above, all manufacturers sell a wide variety of different drives that have a variety of performance, reliability and convenience characteristics. It is important to pick a drive suitable for your task, whichever brand you choose.

For a backup device that is expected to be used 24x7 (e.g. for Time Machine), you want a device rated for that kind of behavior. If you want a device that is primarily for transporting files between locations (and not generally connected when not in use), then a portable bus-powered device will likely be more appropriate.

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What enclosures do you tend to use for your external drives?

I’ve not tested a range of enclosures enough to have a strong opinion. I’d like to hear yours.