We’ve been recommending Plextor’s B940SA 12x drive on our Best of the Best list for more than a year now, so we were delighted to receive a challenger that could shake things up—even if it was another Plextor drive. Hey, why not build on that good track record?
Our excitement waned, however, when the drive we received—Plextor’s PX-LB950SA—bore the exact same specs as its predecessor.
Are you wondering whether it’s finally time to spring for a Blu-ray burner? Lite-On’s iHBS212 might provide the best argument yet for taking the plunge. That’s certainly the case if cost is a deciding factor. At $160, the iHBS212 is the least expensive Blu-ray burner we’ve tested yet. That’s $40 less than our Best of the Best pick, Plextor’s B940SA—a savings you could put toward the purchase of Blu-ray media. And the two drives have virtually identical write-speed ratings: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD+/-R, 8x DVD+/-R DL, to name a few key specs. In fact, it’s likely the drives contain identical parts, given that Lite-On and Plextor use the same manufacturing line.
But even drives produced on the same line can achieve differentiation by way of firmware and performance tweaks, as happens to be the case here. While Plextor’s drive is tuned to reach 12x BD-R write speeds with both Panasonic and Sony media, the Lite-On iHBS212 favors only the latter brand. When testing the iHBS212 with a Sony disc, the drive managed to write 22.5GB worth of data in 12:04 (min:sec). With a Verbatim disc, our standard for drive testing, the iHBS212 filled a single-layer BD-R in 23:12. Those numbers aren’t as impressive as Plextor’s 12x drive: 10:57 and 11:13 for Sony and Verbatim, respectively.
Once Blu-ray burners reached 8x writes, enabling them to fill a 25GB disc with data in less than 15 minutes, speed stopped being a major argument against the technology—now it’s just price and consumer need that stand in the way of widespread adoption. Still, for what it’s worth, Blu-ray write speeds continue to improve at a steady pace, and now, a mere six months after reviewing our first 8x drive, we’ve been presented with Plextor’s 12x B940SA.
But, you’ll probably wonder, what good is a 12x drive when today’s BD-R media has a maximum rating of 6x? As is the case with DVD and Blu-ray drives alike, hardware is often tuned to exceed the media’s spec, but typically such tuning is tied to a particular brand of media. Plextor’s B940SA, for example, reaches peak speed when writing to Sony and Panasonic BD discs.
Thus, we were able to write 22.56GB of data to a Sony BD-R single-layer disc in 10:57 (min:sec), a 36 percent improvement over our 8x champ, Pioneer’s BDR-2203 (reviewed September 2009), which took 14:56 at the task. When writing to a Panasonic BD-R double-layer disc, we achieved an unprecedented time of 22:05—that’s for a 50GB disc, folks!
In December, we reviewed Plextor’s PX-B320SA combination Blu-ray reader/DVD burner and found it a worthy product for the dual purpose of writing DVD discs and watching Blu-ray movies. But that internal drive does little good for folks who do all their computing on a laptop. For them, Asus’s SBC-04D1S-U combo drive could be the answer.
The SBC-04D1S-U external drive is not only slim and stylish, but also very portable, measuring approximately 5.5x6x1 inches and weighing less than 1.5 pounds, and it takes up little room on a desktop when perched vertically in its included stand.
Unfortunately, despite its conveniences, the SBC-04D1S-U doesn’t sport quite the same performance muscle as its internal counterparts. The SBC-04D1S-U, which connects to a PC using a dual-head USB 2.0 cable (included with the drive), is capable of writing to DVD+/-R at 8x—the internal combo drives we’ve tested, Plextor’s included, are rated at 16x. Put into real-world terms, Asus’s drive wrote 4.38GB of data to a DVD+R in 10:46 (min:sec) compared with the Plextor’s time of 5:20. With double-layer media, the Asus drive is rated at 4x while the Plextor drive is rated at 8x—the Asus took 29:36 to write 7.96GB of data to a DL disc, while the Plextor took just 16:58.
Blu-ray has yet to prove itself as a sensible storage medium—there are just too many less-costly solutions for backing up data. But just because you’re satisfied with a standard DVD drive for your burning chores, doesn’t mean you should be denied the enjoyment of watching Blu-ray movies on your PC—especially now that large 1920x1080 monitors are so affordable.
Enter Plextor’s PX-B320SA DVD burner/BD-ROM combo. We can’t say it offers the best of both worlds, but it strikes a nice balance. The drive’s DVD speeds aren’t up to the likes of, say, Samung’s SH-S223 performance DVD drive. For example, the Plextor is rated at 16x for DVD+R writes compared with the Samsung’s 22x. In our tests, that amounted to a 5:20 (min:sec) time to fill a single-layer disc vs. 4:46—not such a big deal. With double-layer media, the Plextor took 16:58 vs. the Samsung’s 13:16—yes, over time those minutes can add up.
In our July issue, we reviewed OWC’s Mercury Pro 8x Blu-ray External and found the drive’s performance puzzling. In short, the Mercury Pro’s BD-R write speeds belied its 8x rating, with the drive taking nearly an hour to fill a 25GB disc with data, compared with the 22-plus minutes it took LG’s 6x GBW-H20L. It got us wondering whether the issues were more the fault of OWC’s external enclosure or the Pioneer 8x Blu-ray drive at its heart.
This month we were able to answer that question as we tested Pioneer’s BDR-2203, the same drive used in the Mercury Pro. We immediately cut to the chase, testing the BDR-2203’s BD-R write performance. While the Mercury Pro was incompatible with the Nero DiscSpeed app we use for our optical drive tests—forcing us to use Nero 8’s Burn Express instead—the BDR-2203 had no such problems. Using DiscSpeed along with 4x Verbatim media, the drive wrote 22.5GB of data to a BD-R disc in 14:56 (min:sec)—a Lab record!—maintaining 8x speeds through much of the job. With rewriteable media, the drive’s performance wasn’t quite as impressive. The BDR-2203 held a steady 2x speed when filling a 25GB BD-RE disc, for a time of 45:35, much like the Mercury Pro—and 15 percent slower than the LG GBW-H20L’s BD-RE write time.
On the surface, OWC’s Mercury Pro Blu-ray external drive could seem appealing. The cabinet is attractive and sturdy; it offers FireWire 400, FireWire 800, USB 2.0, and eSATA interfaces—including all the requisite cables; and it holds a Pioneer BDR-203 drive, which is rated at 8x for BD-R writes—the highest rating available—and 16x for DVD+/-R. Yet, after using the device, we’re unimpressed.
We first tried to test the drive with the eSATA interface but it failed to work with any of our test beds, which use the nForce 680i SLI chipset. It was recognized by motherboards using Intel’s P45 and X58 chipsets as well as those boards’ auxiliary Marvell controllers. However, we benchmarked using USB 2.0 on our standard test bed for continuity.
Now that Lite-On is sharing the same drive manufacturing line as Plextor (not to mention Sony, HP, and Philips), you might wonder whether there is any difference between this 22x DVD burner and the Plextor PX-850SA 22x burner we reviewed in March. In fact, the two burners are virtually the same in terms of parts and mechanics, so differences really come down to the firmware each company uses and the tweaks and optimizations each makes to the final product.
The first thing we discovered is that Lite-On didn’t tweak this drive with an over-speed feature. So, like the Plextor PX-850SA, the burner stayed within the confines of the DVD+R media’s 16x rating, writing 4.38GB of data to a single-layer disc in 5:43 (min:sec). Samsung’s SH-S223, which can reach 20x-plus speeds when writing to 16x media, was almost a minute faster, at 4:46.
If you read our disc-ripping challenge on page 62, then you already know that LG’s GH22LS30 22x SATA drive is a slowpoke at copying video discs. But if that’s not an activity that interests you, this drive offsets the shortcoming with other talents. For example, the GH22LS30 turned in the fastest time we’ve ever clocked at writing data to a single-layer DVD+R disc. Like Samsung’s SH-S223 (reviewed February), LG’s 22x burner isn’t daunted by 16x media; the drive peaked at a 20.1x speed when filling the disc and achieved an impressive write-speed average of 16.31x. Thus the GH22LS30 was able to write 4.38GB of data in 4:29 (min:sec) compared with the SH-S223’s time of 4:46. The GH22LS30 read the single-layer data disc in 4:58 to the SH-S223’s 4:55.
Last month we reviewed our first 22x DVD burner, Samsung’s SH-S223; this month, Plextor presents us with a challenger in the form of the PX-850SA—a similarly spec’d drive that rises to the occasion in some respects, but falls short in others.
Like Samsung’s new burner, the PX-850SA boasts an industry-leading 22x speed rating for DVD+/-R media. It lacks, however, the Samsung’s over-speed feature, which helped that drive eke out a 4:46 (min:sec) Lab record when writing 4.38GB of data to a single-layer DVD+R disc. By comparison, the Plextor took 5:36, never breaching the 16x speed limit imposed by our Verbatim media.
The difference between the two drives’ performance with double-layer media was more expected. After all, Plextor’s PX-850SA is rated at just 8x when writing to DVD+/- DL, compared to the Samsung drive’s rating of 16x. In practical terms, this means Plextor’s drive took 16:33 to fill an 8GB disc versus the Samsung drive’s time of 13:13.
But the Plextor PX-850SA did have its triumphs. Read on for the rest of the review.