Buffalo MediaStation External Blu-ray Writer
They say that you can't tell a book by its cover, and that is definitely true for Buffalo's MediaStation 8X External Blu-ray Writer. Its clunky black case--with the flimsy door that doesn't match the putty-colored drive mechanism it holds--looks like a bit like a do-it-yourself job assembled from the cheapest parts at Fry's. And, in fact, the spring came off of the little door that flips open when the tray is ejected, and after struggling with it for a few minutes, I finally decided to just leave the thing off. But despite its outward appearance, the Buffalo turned out to be one of the fastest, most stable Blu-ray drives we tested.
As its name implies, the MediaStation 8X External Blu-ray Writer can burn 25GB Blu-ray (BD-R) discs at speeds up to 8x. It can also record 50GB BD-R DL discs at 4X. Burning data BD-R/RW is supported by OS X's disk burning capabilities, or through a third-party application like Roxio Toast. You can burn high definition Blu-ray discs to watch on your home theatre, component Blu-ray players using the latest version of Apple's Compressor ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) (part of the Final Cut Studio), or with a $20 Toast Titanium plug-in. And though some Windows software allows you to watch Blu-ray movies on your PC, these high definition discs are not viewable on your Mac. Aside from Blu-ray media, the drive can burn all flavors of DVD, +/-, RW, DL, as well as CDs and CD-R discs.
You can connect the MediaStation to your Mac via USB 2.0 or if you have an eSATA card installed, the MediaStation includes a port for that too. Interestingly, despite that eSATA is supposed to be a faster connection, three different eSATA-equipped BD-R drives I tested delivered little, if any, speed benefit over USB 2.0 or FireWire connections. So, unless you have an eSATA port that you're just itching to put to work, you're better off sticking with the native connections on your Mac.
In terms of speed, the MediaStation took about 11 minutes to burn and verify 4.7GB to a DVD-R disc in the Finder using either USB or eSATA, a task that took the stock SuperDrive in our 3.0GHz 8-core Mac Pro 22 minutes and 43 seconds to complete. Copying that data back to the desktop took just under 5 minutes using eSATA and 16 seconds longer over USB. In both of these tests, the Buffalo's eSATA times were the fastest we've seen in the five Blu-ray burners we tested. In fact, the Buffalo was the fastest in 4 out of the 5 tests we ran on this group of drives.
Macworld's buying advice
The MediaStation 8X External Blu-ray Writer may not be the prettiest, but it gets the job done the fastest, and all via a USB connection. If you're looking for an external optical drive that does it all, including burn high definition discs playable on your widescreen TV, the MediaStation 8X Blu-ray Writer should be on your list.
[James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director.]