Plextor PX-B310U (BD)
Chris takes a look at this external BD drive from those clever folks at Plextor
Plextor PX-B310U Blu-ray Disc Combo Review
For some adding a Blu-ray drive to their PC can be a real headache. If my day job has taught me one thing it's that the majority of people are afraid of technology and simply aren't confident enough to crack open the case and have a go themselves (which is good for my continued employment I guess). This leaves them with the option of roping in a technically savvy friend or family member do the job or taking their PC to a local PC store and paying for what is actually a relatively simple operation. Thankfully companies like Plextor offer a third option with their external Blu-ray Disc drives, and in this review we're going to be taking a look at their latest model, the PX-B310U.
Okay, so the first thing you’ll probably want to know is just what you can expect to find inside of the box. Along with the PX-B310U itself you'll find the power adaptor, a USB cable, and a stand for vertically mounting the drive. On the software front Cyberlink's BD Suite (with TTHD) is also included. This allows you to do all sorts of things with the drive, including playing back Blu-ray movies with PowerDVD 8, burning discs, and creating video.
The main drive specifications can be found on the right-hand side of this page, but I thought it might be useful to include a link to the Plextor product page and a table summary of the main specifications below.
As you can see, the PX-B310U supports reading of all major DVD and Blu-ray formats, along with writing of many DVD formats. Blu-ray writing is not supported, so if that particular feature is something that you desperately need you'll have to look elsewhere. The drive itself measures 163 x 51.5 x 224.7 mm and is finished in a glossy black with a large Blu-ray logo, which looks very pretty but acts as a magnet for fingerprints. The rear of the drive features power and USB connectors along with an on/off switch, while the front features an eject button and a blue status LED. Oh, it also has an emergency eject button for those who like to keep a paper clip handy. The included stand slots into groves on either side of the unit, allowing you to chose the orientation of the vertical mounting, and there are four rubber feet on the base of the unit should you chose to go with the more traditional horizontal option.
Two DVD-ROM discs are included with the PX-B310U. The first is PlexUTILITIES, a diagnostic program that details various bits of information about the drive, allows you to perform health checks, and provides a number of media tests. It also provides easy access to program and firmware updates, although at the time of writing there were no new firmware updates available. The second disc features Cyberlink's BD Solution, a set of applications that enable you to play back DVD and Blu-ray Discs, author DVDs and Blu-rays, edit video, burn/archive information, enable packet writing, and create/print labels. This should be familiar to anyone who's ever bought an optical drive before, as this sort of bundle is commonplace.
Installation and Testing
Unlike internal drives, installation of the external PX-B310U is just about as easy as you can get. Simply connect the supplied 12V power supply and then attach to your PC via the included USB cable and you're good to go! To test the read/write capabilities of the drive I used Nero CD-DVD Speed (version 126.96.36.199) with a variety of media. For reference my test system comprises of the following key components:
- CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 @ 2.66Ghz
- M/B: Gigabyte P35-DS3L (Intel P35 Express)
- RAM: OCZ PC2-6400 DDR2 Vista Performance Gold 4GB @ 800Mhz
- GPU: ASUS nVidia GeForce GTS 250 512MB DDR3
- HDD: 2x Samsung Spinpoint 500GB SATA
- OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64
For the first test I used the included Cyberlink BD Solution CD (around 617MB) to examine the PX-B310U's CD read performance. The test results can be seen below, and it's worth noting that they compared favourably to my internal Blu-ray drive (outperforming it in every area).
Next I ran a simulated CD-R burn test using an ISO image of around 629MB. The results of this test can be found below, and they also compare very favourably to my internal dive (once again outperforming it across the board).
Next I gave the drive a DVD-ROM containing 3.65GB of data to test. Although the performance wasn't up to the advertised 16x read speed the PX-B310U annihilated my internal drive, which suffered from a massive drop off in speed half way through the test before recovering to finish fairly respectably.
For the final DVD test I decided to run a simulated DVD-R burn of 4.38GB. Again the performance here was good, achieving parity with my internal drive.
Burn quality seemed consistent across different brands of media. There was one anomaly with a Verbatim branded CD-R that reported a lot of errors, but upon closer inspection the media had a few imperfections. When burning other CD-Rs I experienced no such issues, as you can see by the following quality report for Memorex branded media.
I tested Blu-ray performance with a variety of software players including PowerDVD, TotalMedia Theatre and Media Player Classic Home Cinema. All performed as expected, with smooth stutter-free playback. The drive even performed admirably when directly playing .m2ts files using MPC-HC. The only disc that refused to play was Panorama Distribution's Hong Kong release of Pulp Fiction, but this disc has tripped up more than one player in the past. As you can see, performance was some way off of the advertised 6x speed for single-layered media. I ran the test a number of times and achieved similar results, with the image below representing the slowest reported speeds. However, the access times were a lot lower than the advertised figures (and this is also true of CD and DVD media) and the drive's real-world performance was nippier than my internal unit, so take the results with a pinch of salt.
Because this is a portable drive I had hoped to test Blu-ray playback on an older system. Unfortunately my old desktop didn't meet the minimum system requirements in a number of areas, so my attempts were short-lived. I also tested the drive with an older laptop, but again it didn't meet the minimum specs and I was unable to continue. It's unfortunate that I was unable to test the drive with a wider variety of hardware, but my days of keeping up with the Jones' PC-wise are long behind me. Having said that, the only real bottleneck with my ageing Althlon XP 3000+ system was the GPU (and old vanilla GeForce 6800). If it hadn't been for the lack of video horsepower I might well have been up and running on a system that is now five or six years old, which is good news for people running similar systems with slightly more 'oomph' given that my card is only a single generation behind the minimum requirements.
I have to admit to being somewhat sceptical about USB 2.0's ability to handle the required throughput for high-definition playback, but the PX-B310U proved me wrong. Plextor's external combo drive is a solid performer that offers a worthwhile alternative to internal drives. Older non-SATA systems will benefit the most providing they have the processing power and necessary RAM for Blu-ray playback, but it could also provide an option for small form factor laptops without an internal bay. The drive could also be useful in an office environment where it's necessary to share data via BD media across multiple workstations. Obviously you're going to pay more for an external drive and the hefty £190 RRP might be enough to put some people off, but with a number of retailers advertising the drive for around £125 it becomes a more attractive proposition and you can expect the price to fall even further over time. If you are unable or unwilling to add an internal drive and the ability to write to Blu-ray Disc is not a priority, you could certainly do a lot worse than to pick up the Plextor PX-B310U (caveats about system requirements aside).
Review by Chris Gould
System Requirements: CPU: Intel Pentium 4 2.0 GHz or equivalent or higher; RAM: 512 MB (1GB recommended); Interface: USB 2.0; Operating System: Microsoft Windows® 7, or Vista (32 or 64 bit OS) or XP SP2; Hard disk Drive: 1 GB free space required for software installation, Up to 10 GB free space required for DVD authoring; Other: Internet connection recommended for updates; For BD Playback: Intel Pentium-D 3.0 or Higher CPU; 1GB RAM; HDCP supported graphic cards with 256MB RAM and 32-bit color support. ATI x1600 or nVidia 7600GT or later GPU; HDCP capable monitors required. Microsoft Windows XP SP2 or Vista or later required
Media Information: Supported BD Format: BD-R, BD-RE, BD-ROM, BD-R DL, BD-RE DL, BD-ROM-DL; Supported DVD Format: DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-RAM, DVD±R (Single/Multi Boarder), DVD±R DL (Single/Multi boarder), DVD±RW; Supported DVD Writing Method: Disc-at-Once, Incremental Recording, (DVD-RW) Restricted Overwrite, (DVD+RW/DVD-RAW) Random Access Write, (DVD-R DL_ Layer Jump; Supported DVD Size: 12cm or 8cm Diameter; Supported CD Format: CD-DA, CD-Text, CD ROM Mode-1/2, CD-ROM XA, CD-I, Photo CD, Video CD, CD Extra; Supported CD Writing Method: Disc-at-Once, Track-at-Once, Session-at-Once, Fixed Packet, Variable Packet; Supported CD Size: 12cm or 8cm Diameter
Reading speed: DVD+R 16 x; DVD-R 16 x; DVD-RW 6 x; DVD+RW 8 x; CD-R 48 x; CD-RW 32 x; BD-R 6 x; BD-RE 6 x; DVD-ROM 16 x; CD-ROM 48 x; BD-R Dual Layer 4 x; BD-RE Dual Layer 4 x
Writing speed: DVD-R 16 x; DVD+R 16 x; DVD-RW 6 x; DVD+RW 8 x; DVD+R Double Layer 8 x; DVD-R Double Layer 8 x
Access Time (Typical): BD Media 350 ms; DVD Media 160 ms; CD Media 150 ms; Buffer Size 2MB
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