The 10 Best External Optical Drives
This wiki has been updated 33 times since it was first published in May of 2015. As computers become more compact and mobile, many will not be equipped with bulky, integrated optical drives. So if you want the option of watching and burning high-definition files to disc media, you'll need one of these external Blu-ray drives to get the job done. Many are backwards compatible with the DVD format and offer plug-and-play operation on your Mac, PC, or both. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 11, 2020:
For this update, we've added five new items. While they all offer Blu-ray functionality, there is quite a bit of variation in disc formats that might influence your choice. Most Blu-ray players also support DVDs, but things can quickly get complicated when looking at all the related acronyms. For example, there is BDXL which stands for "Blu-ray Disc EXtra Large", and there is also M-DISC which is the abbreviation of "Millennial Disc". Of course, there is the traditional Blu-ray format, which is different than Ultra HD Blu-ray. Perhaps more confusingly, Ultra HD Blu-ray is also called UHD, but is marketed as 4K Ultra HD. Definitely make sure to be aware of these differences if you're looking for something specific. Some of our included choices do support Ultra HD Blu-ray, and several have varying degrees of device playback compatibility. As long as you know what you are looking for, you can pick an option that accommodates your needs.
Several models have been added to our ranking for this update. The Buffalo Mediastation and the Piaek Row Burner Player are modestly priced options that have received positive customer feedback. The Wintale Player Slim has several features that might be helpful, such as integrated USB ports and a double connection interface. The Archgon Premium can read and write UHD as long as you have the appropriate software. Finally, the LG Ultra Slim Portable is a versatile and affordable model that is great for PC users. We also removed the MTHSTec Slim due to availability issues.
November 15, 2019:
There's not a ton to differentiate different PC Blu-ray drives from one another, but they aren't all exactly the same. The Pioneer BDR-XD05B and Pioneer BDR-XS06 do both perform measurably faster than most others, which isn't surprising given the manufacturer. The XD05B is a better overall choice because of its moderate price, though while the XS06 is absurdly pricey, it's pretty much the only slot-loading option on the market, which makes it a touch more durable. The MTHSTec Slim is true to its name, and just a hair thinner than the aforementioned Pioneer models. The Wihool Ultra Slim is notable because it's a bit less expensive than the cheapest brand-name options, and it also has both USB-A and USB-C plugs, so if you're using a MacBook you'll want to check it out.
If you're doing heavy data archival on a regular basis, consider the Asus BW-16D1X-U and OWC Mercury Pro. They're desktop-only drives, as they do require DC power, but they rip and burn more consistently than portable drives and of course they don't draw power from the computer they're plugged into.
If you don't need the ability to burn Blu-rays, you might prefer a standalone player, some of which are notably effective at decoding 4K Blu-rays, for your home theater setup. Or if you'd rather not run down your laptop battery while watching movies on the go, there are plenty of portable options available as well.
Zipping Toward Obsolescence
We know that the drives we've evaluated connect by a much faster USB 3.0, but other than that, how exactly do they work?
There's a scene in Zoolander during which Maurie Gold, played with effortless crotchety aplomb by Jerry Stiller, reveals to the film's villain that all the incriminating evidence that was just destroyed by an idiot male model is backed up at Gold's house on a Zip drive.
I just saw the film again for the first time in a decade, and the mention of a Zip drive sent me reeling. If you don't recognize the format, you're not alone. Zip drive was a short-lived, and ultimately unnecessary data storage method. It used proprietary disks and a proprietary drive, which was almost never found on the spec sheets of any available computer. Like these external Blu-ray drives, they existed outside the tower or laptop, connected by an old USB 1.0 cord.
Blu-ray is certainly a popular and more useful format that Zip drives ever could have been, and both their drives and discs are a lot more common. We know that the drives we've evaluated connect by a much faster USB 3.0, but other than that, how exactly do they work?
What makes Blu-ray significantly different from DVD is the light used to read the data on the disc. Traditional DVD players read their discs with red lasers, the wavelength of which is approximately 650 nanometers. Blu-ray, as its name implies, employs a blue laser, which has a shorter wavelength of approximately 405 nanometers, allowing it to be more sharply focused.
Blu-ray and DVD discs work about the same way, a lot like vinyl records, in which the grooves read by a needle translate back into the musical vibrations that imprinted them in the first place. The finer lasers on Blu-ray drives can accurately read smaller grooves in the disc, allowing more information to squeeze its way onto the format.
When that laser reads the information in the grooves, it heads through your USB port and to your video card, where your computer translates it back into the image captured by the camera, or back into whatever data you've stored on the disc.
Zip drives faded rather quickly, but the size, efficiency, and popularity of Blu-ray discs and movies ought to make investing in one of these external drives a safe bet.
Drive Yourself Crazy
From the outside, most of the external Blu-ray drives on our list look a lot alike. Some can function as vertical disc drives, so they stands on their sides as opposed to laying flat, but beyond that, it's tough to make a choice among them based on looks alone.
From the outside, most of the external Blu-ray drives on our list look a lot alike.
In addition to reading Blu-ray discs, these drives can also read and write to CD, DVD, and Blu-ray. Those write speeds will differ from drive to drive, so if you've got a high-quantity bootleg operation in the works, you'll want something that can write fast.
You should also look into the types of Blu-ray discs supported in reading and writing processes. If you fell victim to the agonizing and nearly inexplicable differences between DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-RW, and the other suspicious disc formats that cropped up around the advent of the DVD player, you know that slight differences in the design of a disc can leave your intentions for it in a lurch.
The same is true of the layering process on Blu-ray discs, which allows you to write multiple lines of grooves onto a single disc, potentially quadrupling its capacity. Just make sure you pick the proper hardware to handle the job, as not all of the drives on our list support that kind of work.
The Tale Of An Ugly Twin
Technologists at Sony and Pioneer knew that the DVD format had a ceiling to it. They knew that the beam cast by their red laser diodes could be better focused if it were simply a different color. They also knew that the thirst to store and share ever-increasing file sizes was one that would not, and still will not, be quenched.
Shortly after its birth, however, an ugly twin came screaming forth from the birth canal.
In 2000, the companies unveiled the first prototypes of DVR discs that read and wrote with a blue laser. By February of the following year, the inventors filed an intellectual copyright on the logo, and Blu-ray was born.
Shortly after its birth, however, an ugly twin came screaming forth from the birth canal. For all intents and purposes, it was an identical twin, but sometimes there are identical twins that somehow don't seem to get the same share in beauty or ability. This ugly twin needed a name, and the industry cooked up a moniker as ugly as the child: HD-DVD.
The companies vied for supremacy in the marketplace for a short while, with Microsoft mistakenly taking HD-DVD's miserable side. The first editions of their XBox 360 systems had external HD-DVD players available for purchase, though not built into the system tower itself.
Sony, on the other hand, launched its Playstation 3 with a Blu-ray drive built in, and sales of Blu-ray discs and drives so thoroughly outpaced those of HD-DVD, that the ugly twin found itself a handy burlap sack and promptly threw itself in the river, leaving Blu-ray to reign supreme.