We often see Blu-ray drives inside PCs at the higher-priced end of our monthly PC charts. Yet even now, almost three years after the two-horse race for blue-laser optical discs was won by Sony, it’s difficult to find a Blu-ray drive that can write to BD discs as well as just read them.
Not so much ‘difficult’ perhaps, as simply expensive. While it’s easy to find an optical drive quite capable of reading and writing to just about every CD and DVD format you can think of and all for less than £50, the recording Blu-ray Disc drive is harder to come by.
As soon as you add 'BD' to your wishlist, the price rockets - particularly if you’re looking to connect an external BD drive to a laptop. Buffalo Technology has just such a drive, the Buffalo BR-PX68U2, although at a typical selling price of £200, you’d better really need one.
The Buffalo BR-PX68U2 drive takes a slim tray load mechanism, made for notebook computers by Sony's optical disc-drive division Optiarc, and neatly packaged into a glossy back plastic case just 20mm thick. On the rear is a mini-USB 2.0 port and a DC plug input, although we found the Buffalo BR-PX68U2 powered up reliably on a MacBook Pro without needing the included external power supply.
In a desktop PC, optical drives are typically connected to the fast SATA bus, so discs can be written as quickly as the format allows. The main limitation is currently the speed of the blank media itself at the moment. So does the lower bandwidth USB 2.0 connection slow down this unit?
The ‘1x’ base speed of BD media is 36Mbps (4.5MBps) and even at a more common 4x burn speed of 18MBps, the USB 2.0 connection ought to not constrict real world read/write speeds conspicuously.
We tried a combination of blank Blu-ray discs with the Buffalo BR-PX68U2, from Maxell and Verbatim, staring with BD-RE 25GB media from each brand. Recording a folder of mixed file types 21.1GB in size, the process took 40 minutes for both Maxell and Verbatim, plus or minus 10 seconds, depending on whether we used the OS' built-in burning capabilities or Roxio Toast.
That suggests an average transfer rate of just below 9MBps, well within 2.0’s practical bandwidth of around 30MBps. The Buffalo BR-PX68U2 is using a drive mechanism actually rated at 6x for single-layer BD-R discs.
We didn't have any 6x discs but tried Maxell 4x BD-R discs, where a 24.5GB HD film file burned smoothly in just over 31 minutes, suggesting an average transfer-rate of 13MBps, not unreasonable given that the early stage of the burn process was at 2x speed.
The Buffalo BR-PX68U2 itself is reasonably quiet in use, although there is the usual high speed whirr especially audible when copying data discs or writing to blank media at highest speeds.
For desktop PCs, an internal SATA drive is a much cheaper and tidier solution. If you must add Blu-ray read and write capabilities to a laptop, though, the Buffalo BR-PX68U2 is the device for you, provided you can stomach the high price. It performed flawlessly under test and its compact size and light weight make it well suited for carrying around in a notebook bag.