Blu-Ray for the Driveless

The Asus SBC-04D1S-U offers Blu-Ray and DVD in a slim external package, and it may be one of the nicest looking ones too! How does the performance of the external drive hold up to other options and can you find a use for this drive on your currently optical-less notebooks?
There’s a lot to love about ultra-thin or ultra-portable mobile PCs on today’s market: long battery life, a slim profile, nice designs, and decent performance for a small package. But because these computer bodies are designed with space constraints, an optical drive is often omitted in favour of more connectivity or giving space for a 6-cell battery.

So what is a notebook owner to do when they need to install a program from a disc, restore their OS, or watch a movie? Today we’re looking at the Asus SBC-04D1S-U (yeah, just try to remember that product name!), an external Blu-Ray drive that can solve all of your optical disc related pet-peeves with owning a portable PC system.

Specs and Packaging

  • Max. 4.8X BD-ROM/R/RE (SL)(DL)/ 8X DVD-ROM(SL)(DL)/8X DVD+R/ 8X DVD+RW – Read
  • Max. 8X DVD+R/ 8X DVD+RW – Write
  • Max. 5X DVD-RAM – Read & Write
At 4.8X BD-ROM read speed, the SBC-04D1S-U is not the fastest external BD-Rom drive on the market (the Plextor PX-B310U and Asus SBC-06D1S-U are both slightly faster at 6x read speed), but it should be sufficient for most tasks.

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The SBC-04D1S-U comes in a package that includes a split USB cable in case you need to draw more power for the drive, an installation DVD, and a quick installation guide. There is also a stand which can be attached to allow the unit to be stood up on its side, thus saving you some space on your desktop. It’s worth noting that the drive does not come with a carrying case, so you may want to take extra care not to scratch it.

On the software disc, you have CyberLink Power DVD, Light-Blu Tuner which controls the LED brightness on the drive, and Turbo Engine. Turbo Engine is a little tool that is supposed to improve the performance between the USB bus and the external drive. We will be testing this software to see the effects.

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The drive uses a notebook style spindle hub to lock discs in place when in use.

The SBC-04D1S-U design is pretty unique thanks to it’s chiseled edges that have a semblance to cut diamonds. When plugged in, the side of the drive lights up a cool blue colour which can be adjusted using the included Light-Blu Tuner software if you prefer something dimmer or turned off completely. I prefer having the LED on so at least I can see at a glance whether or not the drive is powered or not.

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The construction feels very good. Giving it several heavy twists, and banging it around the office didn’t seem to faze it. You can treat it nicely, but I think the drive can hold its own when it comes to being toted around in your notebook bag or carry-on.

General Usage

For the most part the drive itself can be powered by a single USB 2.0 connection. In all my testing the only time I needed to use both USB connections was to perform Windows restoration on two notebooks I had here on the test bench. In both cases the Windows restoration would fail just after the partitioning phase of the setup and just before the file copy stage. So while a single USB connection should be sufficient for most tasks, if you find yourself with read errors or other odd behaviour, plug in the second USB connection and see if the extra juice helps sort out the problem.

Installation is a no-brainer in Windows 7 – just plug it in a free USB port (just don’t use a hub). No software installation required or special drivers. Outside of Windows, the drive appears as a USB optical device in the system’s BIOS. This allows the Asus SBC-04D1S-U to be used as a boot drive or as a device in a non-Windows environment.

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Shifting the unit from flat to vertical orientation in the middle of a read operation did not appear to affect the unit at all. While it’s probably not recommended that you move it around while its in use, it’s good to know that at least you can reposition it if needed and not have to worry about the disc falling out of the tray.

The noise level can be a bit disruptive when doing lots of random reads from the disc as we found when running the SiSoft Sandra 2010 benchmark. A person sitting 12 feet from me asked me what that noise was and said  that it sounded like an inkjet printer. However when spinning up and down, the noise is similar to that of a notebook optical drive.

Watching movies and using the drive for data worked as expected. While it might take a split second to jump frames in a Blu-Ray movie, it streamed perfectly fine over USB 2.0 without any noticeable sychronization issues or any visual anomalies.

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