Fitting right in with the current crop of BD Combos, the PX-B310SA’s retail package includes, in addition to the drive itself, a Serial ATA (SATA) data cable, mounting screws and a catchall application suite — specifically, CyberLink’s BD Solution (which consists of PowerDVD 8 BD OEM 2CH, PowerProducer 5, Power2GO 6, InstantBurn 5, PowerBackup 2.5 and PowerDirector 6.5).
As well, happily, and with its appealing blend of disc testing and drive diagnostic abilities, Plextor’s companion PlexUTILITIES software comes along for the ride to set this kit apart from the pack. Oddly, however, it isn’t enclosed in the box and must be downloaded from the company’s website.
Nero’s DiscSpeed benchmarking tool confirms that the PX-B310SA is an able performer with solid reading and writing chops (see tables, below). For the most part, everything fell in line with my expectations during testing with solid transfer rates sufficient to keep up with most day-to-day tasks.
Alas, I was unable to experiment with the unit’s 12x DVD-RAM capabilities, as suitable blank discs are not widely available in North America.
To my mind it’s also essential that any recorder should support writing to blank discs from as many manufacturers as possible. In this regard the PX-B310SA didn’t disappoint. In particular, all of the fifteen 16x-rated DVD-R SLs and ten out of the ten DVD+R SLs I tested achieved full burning speed.
System requirements for the PX-B310SA, not surprisingly, are the same as any other Blu-ray drive (see The Authoritative BD FAQ). For example, when playing homemade or commercial movies, presume at least a Windows XP/Vista-equipped Pentium Core 2 Duo with 1 GB RAM, Serial ATA (SATA), an ATI Radeon HD series or NVIDIA PureVideo HD graphics card, an HDCP-compliant digital (or analog VGA D-Sub) display, and a broadband internet connection (to access updates and BD-Live features).
Since CyberLink’s BD software solution comes bundled with so many of the PX-B310SA’s competitors, I instead focused my review attention on PlexUTILITIES. A handy maintenance and all around good housekeeping tool, PlexUTILITIES checks for firmware updates, executes simple diagnostics and even provides helpful drive and low-level disc information (see Figure 1, below). Integrated hardware checks include everything from running self-tests to interrogating the condition of the unit’s CD and DVD laser diodes (Iop). And, for those so inclined, elements of disc quality can be evaluated by examining tracking, focus and DC jitter (DVD) as well as measuring digital errors such as C1/C2 (CD) and PIE/PIF (DVD). PlexUTILITIES also takes a stab at tracking erroneous bytes in LDC and BIS blocks for BDs but, unfortunaly, comes up short, as it doesn’t measure standard parameters (SER, RSER, etc.).
For the most part, I found these abilities to be unpolished but, nonetheless, helpful for keeping tabs on the drive and recorded discs. However, with no background information or explanations provided in the documentation, evaluations are obviously geared toward knowledgeable users. It’s also important to appreciate that calibration is not possible and, while meaningful in relation to the individual drive, tests assess disc quality on a relative rather than absolute basis.
Among the drive’s other notable features is PlexERASE. Designed to render unreadable any information stored on previously written CD-R and DVD±R discs, PlexERASE is an interesting option for those looking to destroy personal or other sensitive data. Accessible through PlexUTILITIES or its own dedicated application, PlexERASE functions by randomly overwriting either the complete disc (Full Erase) or, merely, its table of contents (Quick Erase). Quick Erase sanitizes a CD-R or DVD±R in 0:15 to 0:25 but the results are not considered secure by Plextor, since data recovery software may be able to piece together some or all of the original information. Full Erase, on the other hand, is more thorough but takes as much time as it does to create the original disc.
During testing, all worked as advertised and I indeed was unable to read from a handful of wiped discs. However, keep in mind that the degree of destruction needed to prevent recovery depends upon how determined someone is to salvage the information. For example, given sufficient motive, modified drives, custom spin stands, microscopy or other heroic measures might be employed. So, when it comes to erasing data, nothing beats physically obliterating the disc (NIST recommends that CDs and DVDs be reduced to particles no larger than 0.25mm2). That said, PlexERASE should come in handy for eliminating routine materials and preprocessing discs that sit around before being shredded or sent out for destruction, recycling or the like.
While it isn’t the least expensive option going, with its swiftness, attractive features and compelling software bundle, Plextor’s PX-B310SA offers the best performance, utility, and value of any BD Combo drive currently available. It’s a good entry point for anyone looking play BD movies and capable enough to act as a single reading and writing drive solution.
Hugh Bennett (hugh_bennett at compuserve.com), an EMedialive and EventDV contributing editor, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems (www.forgetmenot.ca), a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is the author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on EMedialive.com, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).