If you’re thinking about buying an external USB-powered external optical drive, because there are a few things you should know about them.
Why buy an external USB-powered optical drive?
a. Your existing laptop’s optical drive is busted or semi-busted (i.e. sometimes it will work and other times not).
b. Your laptop has no optical drive to speak of (which is becoming increasingly common).
c. You’ve constructed or bought a tiny media center PC and it has no optical drive because there’s simply no room for it in the case.
d. An external USB-powered optical drive allows you to place you PC behind your desk and out of the way (up to 16 feet away as that’s the maximum length of a USB cable you could use for this particular application).
There are other reasons, but you get the general idea.
My reason was A, as my laptop has no optical drive, so I bought a Rosewill ROD-EX003-R, and went with that particular model for four reasons. First, it had to come provided with all the necessary stuff I needed (which I’ll list in a moment). Second, it had to connect to my laptop with absolutely no additional drivers needed. Third, it needed to be powered by USB alone and nothing else and fourth, it needed to be bootable.
And this is where things get interesting when it comes to external USB DVD burner drives.
If the burner drive requires a specific driver to work, that’s a large indicator that it’s probably not bootable, meaning you cannot select it as a boot device on computer startup. To me that’s a total deal-breaker right there, because if the optical drive can’t be booted from, it’s worthless.
Some external DVD burners while higher in price don’t come with all the stuff you need to use the thing right out of the box. The Rosewill model I bought does come with the proper USB cable you need that will power it and all you to boot from the thing. And it’s nice that it’s a Y-style cable that allows you to “piggyback” other devices to it if you want.
“Wall warts” suck. All of them. The Rosewill only needs a USB cable to be powered and work. That’s it. No power adapter required (although it does have the port for it).
Upon reflection, I should have bought a top-load model. The Rosewill DVD burner is small, light and has a plastic shell, meaning you have to hold your finger on top of the thing when closing the tray otherwise you’ll just push it back. I didn’t consider that a front-load may not be the best thing in the world when used on the desk, but oh well, it works. The next time I have to buy one of these things, I’m getting a top-load system like this one.
There’s no way to make plastic sturdy with a DVD burner this small. While the Rosewill drive works, you definitely know it’s plastic, and not in a good way. Models with aluminum shells are available like this one, but you have to pay significantly more to get it. Again, were it a top-load, the plastic shell wouldn’t bother me too much.
Connecting a USB-powered DVD burner to a USB hub is completely hit-or-miss. I have a powered USB hub, but the drive didn’t seem to be too “happy” with that. Sometimes it would detect and other times not. However whenever directly connected to any USB port on my laptop, it always works. I honestly don’t know why this happens, but my best guess is that it’s a power draw issue.
Does it work?
It works as expected. It’s slower compared to a full-size optical drive, but it gets the job done. ImgBurn has no issues with it whatsoever.
Is it loud?
This one surprised me a bit. It’s a lot quieter than I thought it would be. So quiet that I actually thought something was wrong with it, but that wasn’t the case. DVDs burn like they’re supposed to, and disc reads also work as expected.
Are buffer overruns common?
Yes, but this is really no different compared to an internal DVD burner.
Windows in general – even in 64-bit Win7 – has never gotten the “multitask while burning a disc” thing quite right. If for example you’re burning a disc, and you decide to minimize the burner app and do something in the web browser, chances are your disc burn will be messed up in some way (probably a bad file write) and you’ll have to do it again. You’re better off just giving Windows task dedication when burning a disc no matter what burner drive you use.
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