External optical drives seem to be losing their appeal with every passing day. When a modern internal multi-format recorder can be got for less than $60, it is no big problem to equip even a low-end desktop computer with a DVD-burner. The cost of the optical drive won’t affect the total cost of the system much. Modern midrange and high-end notebooks all come out currently with DVD-recorders, too. There is of course the low-end sector left where combo-drives are traditionally used, but it is a specific feature of this market sector, especially as concerns mobile equipment, that the manufacturer has to save on virtually everything to reduce the cost of the end product.
As a result, it becomes ever more difficult to find an application for external optical drives even though they are still being manufactured. Thinking of one, I’d conjure up obsolete notebooks that are still quite capable of performing office tasks but require a small upgrade. One of the upgrade opportunities would be a replacement of the installed CD-ROM or DVD-ROM with a DVD-recorder. In this case it may be difficult to find an internal notebook drive in retail shops and inexperienced users may also find it problematic to install the drive into the notebook. As for desktop systems, the use of an external optical drive may be justifiable when it is undesirable to equip each workplace with a stationary drive due to money-saving reasons or to corporate security considerations. I could also imagine an unlikely situation when a user runs short of IDE ports and has to use an external DVD-burner just because he/she doesn’t want to get rid of the already installed IDE devices.
So, despite the widest popularity of internal drives, there can still be some situations, maybe not very common, when you may want an external optical drive. That’s why almost all leading makers of optical drives are still developing new models.
There are currently two approaches to making an external optical drive. The first approach is meant mostly for desktop systems users and involves putting an ordinary DVD-burner with the IDE interface into a plastic or metallic case with a power adapter and an IDE-USB or IDE-FireWire converter. This approach is not free from drawbacks. First, the resulting device is rather large and heavy (especially when you add the AC/DC power adapter), so you can call it external, but not portable. Of course, it’s no big deal to carry it over from one desk to another, but you won’t want to take this load with you on a long trip. On the other hand, the user can replace the drive with a more advanced one or in case of failure (the external casing can usually be dismantled and the upgrade procedure only involves connecting some cables). The user also receives all the advantages of a full-featured desktop drive, i.e. a fully protected optical unit that is going to work longer than a notebook drive’s, advanced error correction functions and a better driving mechanism.
You may have guessed the second approach – a small form-factor optical drive can be packed into a protective case, too. Smaller dimensions and weight are obvious advantages of this solution, and the result is also going to be more aesthetic, I think. But still, all the drawbacks of portable drives remain here: the open optical unit makes the user be very careful when putting a disc into the drive and avoid dust getting to the optical lens. Also, optical drives employed in notebooks are generally worse than their desktop counterparts at reading damaged media. On the other hand, the advantage of size and weight makes up for these deficiencies, especially if you use the device with proper care.
The SDRW-0804P model from ASUS belongs to this second class of external optical drives and is going to make the subject of this review.