Thursday, July 22, 2010

WD SmartWare (comes with WD external hard drives)

UPDATE: Western Digital now has updated software for these drives that fixes the memory use issue. I haven't tested it, but credits to them for addressing this issue. That is the difference between a bad company and a good one -- if they address found bugs (all software has bugs, it is inevitable given the complexity of software development and the various environments the software is dropped into). Software companies who update their software are essentially saying 'we care'. Those who don't update their software are saying the opposite.

Hardware manufacturers are notoriously bad at caring if their software is updated or not, but Western Digital seems to be doing a fine job.

I have always been a great fan of Western Digital. I've tried Seagate, and have always found their drives unreliable and/or much louder than their Western Digital counterparts. Of course, my experience is limited, and I can't even speak for other manufacturers (if any other ones still exist).

Anwyay, this WD SmartWare software doesn't need an extensive review. The review is simple: It could be just right, but it ends up sucking. I'm reviewing the latest version available, WD claims this update is 5 times faster than the last version. Well, I'd hate to see what the last version was like..

Put simply, it performs terribly, often bringing your system to a stall without additional measures (e.g. Process Lasso's ProBalance). It eats resources like you wouldn't believe. You can't exclude specific files or folders, you can only exclude (or include) whole types of files. For example, all videos. And the file types are pre-defined, you can't add your own types. It sure makes it simple, but I need just a few more options myself - ya know?

It runs as several different processes. One rescans your drives at startup and continually consumes an entire core. They were nice enough to keep its priority set to Idle, but still its a major hog of both virtual memory and CPU cycles.

Notice this screenshot, taken a full 2 hours after reboot, with WDFME.EXE (the file management engine) *still* scanning for changed files and consuming an entire core on this quad-core system. If it were a single CPU system, consumption would be near 100% (if no other higher priority processes exist). Also notice the user interface (WDSmartWare.exe) periodically stalls while the WDFME.EXE process is in its scanning stage. There is (I'm guessing) some thread messaging going on between them. Regardless, the user interface is completely unusable while WDFME is doing its background scanning.

The nice part is its great integration with the drive itself. You can plug-in the drive, unlock it with a password, then have access to its backups. The bad part is the software is just ... just... argh!!

  • Integrated with drive
  • Easy to use
  • Uses native file system
  • Can lock/unlock drive with password (does work quite well)
  • Very few options, can only exclude files by pre-defined types (no specific user defined exclusions of any kind)
  • Integration between its background file scanning engine and user interface is terrible
  • Old versions had a memory leak that would eventually result in a sluggish system, then a system totally out of virtual memory (over some time). This was reported to be FIXED though, so no worries now. Kudos to the developers for addressing this.
I *hope* they improve this software in the future. It is not far from being great --- they just need to correct these major issues. Please WD, fix these issues, give us some advanced exclusion options, and you'll be sitting pretty ;)

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