OWC Announces External Optical Drive

Subject: Storage | December 28, 2015 - 06:28 PM |
Tagged: owc, dvd, blu-ray, m-disc, external drive

The idea of an external optical drive is not new by any means, but they can be useful. This is especially true if you have multiple computers. I would argue that average users should still have a CD, DVD, and potentially Blu-ray drive, maybe even one with writing capabilities, but I think we're long past the point of needing a dedicated one for each PC.

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OWC has just announced two new models, one with a 24x DVD burner, and another with a 16x Blu-ray burner (I think this is the right link???). Interestingly, the press release states that they are compatible with USB 3.1 although a 16x Blu-ray transfers at 72 MB/s, which isn't even close to USB 3.0, let alone 3.1. I should note that the product pages seem to state USB 3.0, though. It seems a little silly to go for the higher-end link, but maybe it didn't cost them anything, so why not? They also supports the M-DISC format, which uses a high-durability medium (instead of the typical metal foil) that is supposed to not degrade for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years.

OWC also sells a 3-pack of 25GB M-DISC discs for about $15, which works out to about 20c/GB. This isn't too bad but, with cloud storage being in the ~3c/GB range and external harddrives in the ~4c/GB range, it might be of limited use since you could just make like 5-6 copies per M-DISC copy. You will also need to consider whether you will have the ability to read these discs in the future, although similar considerations must be made for all storage archival solutions (will AWS be around in 50 years, etc.). It might make sense for some, especially enterprises, though.

These drives are available now.

Source: OWC

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December 28, 2015 | 06:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This is actually something I'm really interested in, I'm not fully sold on "everything is digital now," and many of the higher-end computer cases are no longer coming with 5.25" drive bays.

December 28, 2015 | 06:45 PM - Posted by serpico (not verified)

All optical discs store data digitally.

December 28, 2015 | 07:19 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

I think they mean "digital distribution."

December 29, 2015 | 01:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

We need better words for this stuff. Unless you are talking about vinyl, there isn't much analog distribution left these days. I would still prefer to have a cd for music to some extent. Pressed CDs should last a very long time, so I consider it an archive back-up. It is also (hopefully) DRM-free copy that you actually "own".

December 29, 2015 | 02:08 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

I definitely agree with your there. "Digital" referring to both discretized data on a rigid, physical medium, and data over a fluid, transport medium is confusing.

December 29, 2015 | 09:24 AM - Posted by onion uk (not verified)


December 28, 2015 | 07:19 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i have the Pioneer BDR-XD05T Slim External Blu Ray Writer its a lot smaller

December 28, 2015 | 07:19 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Nice. Thanks for the recommendation.

December 28, 2015 | 07:21 PM - Posted by Andrew Wanca (not verified)

Every Apple user in the world just rejoiced as they now have an option aside from the "unapologeticlly aluminum" one that Jony Ive allowed them to buy...

December 28, 2015 | 07:33 PM - Posted by KevinF (not verified)

Yeh I think "Compatible with USB 3.1" means it can plug into a Type-A port and that's all it means. Ie, compatible with USB x.x whatever.

December 28, 2015 | 07:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I use Blu-ray as a secondary back-up solution. Works great for video projects that are less than 50GB. I get about 30-45MB/s while burning to 12x BD-R media. The OWC webpage states this is a BD-XL burner with up to 128 GB per disc. I agree, the USB 3.1 interface is an interesting choice.

December 28, 2015 | 09:11 PM - Posted by hoxlund

you can get a 16x external bluray burner from newegg for $95. why would you spend $134?

16x lg burner is $50 and $45 for vantec external 5.25" enclosure

December 29, 2015 | 12:49 AM - Posted by RabbitKing

My desktop PC has a Bluray burner I'd love to make portable, but LOOK at those reviews for the Vantec boxes! The thing does not have a great track record, and it's expensive for what it is. It's really just a drive adapter and a plastic box.

And there don't seem to be many options left besides that one Vantec box.

December 29, 2015 | 10:39 AM - Posted by willmore (not verified)

I made myself one of these a year or so back. I had an old 5.25" external HD box that I put an optical drive in as well as a USB3 <> SATA bridge cable.

At the time I was surprised to discover that such enclosuers weren't a common thing at stores. It's nice to see that they're now available. My father is moving from a desktop to a laptop based setup and he's going to need an external DVD burner. I was going to give hime mine, but now we have options.

Good find, Scott!

December 29, 2015 | 02:10 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Thanks! Yeah, if I didn't already have a Blu-ray drive, I'd probably just buy an external and float it between PCs.

December 29, 2015 | 11:30 AM - Posted by Gikero

I honestly thought this was some kind of joke post when I read the title.

December 29, 2015 | 11:39 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If they would put maybe an 80GB flash memory Cache Buffer in this device then I could see maybe having USB 3.1 speeds being necessary to write the data as quickly as possible then let the burner finish the job while the user's computer could go about its business more quickly. And no worries about any USB Type-C Plug form factors for any device, as with a Type-C to Type-A adapter would be all that any device will need to come with until the entire market shifts over fully to USB Type-C plugs. The USB 3.1 controllers are backwards compatible with USB 3.0/2.0 protocols anyways so it's just a matter of getting and adapter for the cable.

December 29, 2015 | 02:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Having a situation where you can send the data out really fast but you can't unplug the device for a while is usually a bad idea. It doesn't take much of any processing power to write data out to a device at such (comparatively) slow bandwidth. Some of it may happen via DMA with little processor involvement anyway. They probably do not transfer at full speed, even when filling the DRAM cache since the interface speeds are so much faster than the read and write speed at the media.

A lot of the former uses for writable CDs have been replaced by direct network transfer, network storage, or just USB flash sticks. They are mostly going to be used for back-ups or archival storage. You generally don't care that much about the write speed in that case; if you are writing a bunch of disk, you will need to wait for each one to finish anyway.

December 29, 2015 | 04:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The controller on that device is probably an Arm based processor running an embedded Linux! So while it may take up a USB slot it's not going to need to be managed by the computer's CPU if it had an SSD Cache integrated into it! That will be done by the controller on the device reading from the SSD cache and doing the writing anyways. If the device gets its power over USB from the computer rather than a dedicated power source it will have to remain plugged into the Computer after the data is transferred to the SSD cache, but it's a Blue Ray burner it must come with an outside power source for anyone not having any USB Type-C power delivery.

And this device has its own power supply so maybe with an SSD Cache, once the data was transferred to the Cache it connection(USB/whatever) data cable could be unplugged and the burner could go about its happy way with the right amount of software running on the embedded ARM/other based controller chip! The SSD cache would be integrated into the devices main-board and probably have a controller of its own to manage the SSD NAND, while the DVD/BR's main controller would do the writing/reading to/from the Blue Ray disk from the SSD cache, so once the SSD had the full contents ready in its memory the device could be disconnected from the computer and manage the burning job on its own.

Maybe for a laptop device this could be useful for it to have an embedded SSD cache in the drive, but yes I could see this device being connected to or a part of a Network Attached Storage server with maybe no need for the Embedded SSD, as the burning would be managed by the NAS and some tiered storage management software running on that NAS. Still though having a sizable SSD cache integrated into the DVD/BR burner is going to allow for faster transfers and the returning of the available bandwidth back to even a dedicated Server by allowing the device itself to have/manage the SSD Cache in the background after the data was spooled to the cache. So getting that available bandwidth returned after the data has be more quickly spooled to the burner's SSD Nand Cache is still nice to have, especially if more than one user is sharing the NAS's resources.

December 29, 2015 | 01:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Most people are obviously moving away from optical disk, but they still have their uses. Archiving data long term has been an issue. For things like 3D animated movies, if they want to archive all of the asset, it could be a massive amount of data. Keeping it in live hard drive storage is expensive and storing it on hard drives in cold storage often fails. If you leave a bunch of hard drives off for months or years, they have a not insignificant chance of failing to power up. I don't know if companies are using the archival CDs for this or magnetic tape. Magnetic tape has the advantage that the reading and writing hardware is separated from the media unlike a hard drive. Hopefully these are actually good quality devices. Most of the optical drives still being produced seem to have an unacceptably high failure rate. I would still want a blu-ray player for anything larger than a thin and light laptop. Unless you are going SFF for a desktop, there is generally plenty of room in a desktop, so why not have it just in case.

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