At the risk of dating ourselves, not only do we remember when the highest-capacity hard drive you could buy was 10 megabytes (10MB), but some of us here at Computer Shopper actually owned machines with this piddling amount of storage in them. (A few of us go all the way back to when PCs had no hard drives at all, but instead stored the operating system and data on floppy disks that held less than a megabyte. Ah. Those were the days…) If you have that kind of perspective on the industry, you know that it’s remarkable not only that storage devices holding as much as 8 terabytes (8TB) exist, but also that you can buy them for less than $250.
As we wrote this in mid-March 2017, the subject of today’s review, the 8TB WD My Book, was on sale on Western Digital’s Web site for $229.99. That comes out to less than 3 cents per gigabyte (GB). Considering that at one time you would have paid as much as $10 per megabyte (or more)…well, then. In those days, though, you really couldn’t store and edit massive videos and photos on your personal computer, and computer games, such as they were, took up very little disk space. Even so, for many years we had to police what we stored on our PCs to control the capacity being used. Every few months or so, we’d have to prune data and program files to make room for others—all the while taking great care not to delete anything important, such as critical system or program files that kept our computers and applications running.
Not anymore. Nowadays, in this terabyte age, most of us download and install just about anything we want without much thought toward how much space it eats up. Take it from those of us who spent years operating from a mindset that computer storage was at a premium: A multi-terabyte drive, and the ability to save what and whenever you want, really does provide convenience and freedom.
Which brings us back to the product we’re reviewing. This new My Book is a multi-generational iteration of a product that has been around since 2006, with the first actual terabyte (1TB) version of the My Book showing up in late 2007. These days, Western Digital sells four versions of My Book, starting with a 3TB model for $100. You can also buy, in addition to the 8TB version, 4TB and 6TB My Books. The larger the drive, of course, the higher the overall price—but the lower the per-gigabyte cost.
Inexpensive storage is not unique to WD’s My Books. Seagate, one of the other big, established names in consumer data storage, offers the 8TB version of the Seagate Backup Plus Hub for about the same price. The primary reason this type of storage is so inexpensive is that spinning hard drives have reached a comfortable plateau. Top drive capacities still advance at a steady march, but the external desktop drive itself is, at the core, yesteryear’s technology. The drives are a bit bulky, and they contain moving parts, meaning they’ll never approach the speeds of today’s flash-memory-based drives.
Plus, desktop-style models (like the two mentioned here) employ big, cost-efficient 3.5-inch drives inside, the kind meant for desktop PCs or servers, and thus require an external power source. That’s in contrast to portable drives that use 2.5-inch mechanisms inside, the type used in laptops. Portable drives draw their power over the same USB connection that sends data back and forth between the storage device and the computing device.
All of these concerns—bulky size, external power, slower speeds—make desktop drives like this one less about portable storage than so-called near-line storage, a bulk repository for keeping your data at hand, but not by the fastest and costliest means. The WD My Book (and its competitors) are meant to stay put most of the time, and while they’re slow compared to flash solutions, that low cost per gigabyte is attractive for storing massive amounts of data cost-effectively.
If that’s what you’re looking for, we recommend the WD My Book (8TB), though Seagate’s offerings at this capacity are strong, too.