Recently, I purchased a new Western Digital (WD) “My Book Essential” 1.5 TB USB hard drive to use as part of pool of backup media that I use to stores file system snapshots. I’m a Linux user and generally use the command line to create encrypted containers with cryptsetup and then format them using mkfs.ext4. The process is usually straight forward, and the first thing that I do after unpacking and hooking up a new USB hard drive. In the case of the WD My Book Essential drive however I quickly discovered that cryptsetup didn’t create a container spanning the whole drive. Instead, whenever I powered up the drive I was presented with an encrypted partition as well as something known as  VCD (Virtual CD) that contained the WD SmartWare software. This software is aimed strictly at Windows users and there is no need or benefit to retaining it on a Linux system, so I wanted to eliminate it before loading data onto the drive.

I thought this should be easy an easy task but I spent a quite a bit of time with Google before finding and confirming the solution. Moreover, I went down some dead ends trying to use Windows based software to remove the WD SmartWare VCD.  One link suggested using HP Windows Format Utility for USB Drive Key version 2.1.8A to reformat the drive. I tried this using a Windows XP Virtual Machine (VM) and it failed miserably on my drive. It appears that WD updated the drive firmware since this tip was first published nullifying the suggestion.

In this link WD provides instructions for hiding the VCD from Windows and Mac using the WD SmartWare Virtual CD Manager. The process however only hides the partition and does NOT remove it! Clearly WD isnt’ thinking well here and they should make it easy for people to do what they wish with the drive after they purchase it.

Undeterred, I kept looking and eventually discovered a link suggesting that it was possible to remove the SmartWare partition using the Ubuntu  Disk Utility. Before doing so however it also suggested updating the drive firmware to the latest release. I did this using the WD Firmware Updater software running under the Windows XP VM. The process was easy and took only a few minutes. After the firmware upgrade was done, all I had to do was select the drive in the Ubuntu Disk Utility and Format it using the Master Boot Record option. You can then create an empty partition covering the whole drive and encrypt it using the same tool. Job done! Glad that was over! What should have been a 10 minute job turned into a whole mornings worth of sifting through forum posts and monkeying with software that didn’t work.

So, in summary, based on my research and experience to date, it appears there isn’t a good way to remove the SmartWare partition using Mac or Windows based software. So, if you’ve been frustrated with your inability to remove the SmartWare annoyance I suggest you find a friend with a Linux machine or create a Linux Virtual Machine (VM) yourself so you can wipe the drive and partition it how you wish.

I hope this post saves you some time and frustration! If anyone has better proven solutions to this problem please post them below. Thanks!

PS – While I can’t say for sure, it seems to me that the VCD software could be something of a security risk since it automounts by default. Should someone get hold of your drive and load malware on that partition you could be setup for some serious problems. To avoid this, I prefer to have my disks appear as a giant block of random data so I opted for going through the process of removing the “SmartWare” and encrypting the whole drive.

Update: I’ve posted instructions here on how to create a Ubuntu 11.04 VM that you can use to solve the SmartWare issue.