by Jerry Jackson
The ever-growing world of ultraportable laptops brings mobile convenience at the cost of some features. We all want a smaller notebook computer for travel, but sometimes that means we can’t have a built-in CD/DVD drive. Plextor comes to the rescue with the PX-608CU external drive. This USB-powered drive eliminates the need to carry another bulky AC adapter … and might just be the perfect accessory for your new ultraportable laptop.
USB-powered (bus-powered) external CD/DVD drives and external hard drives have been around for several years now, but most consumers are only now beginning to recognize how valuable these devices are when paired with mobile workstations. Sure, most notebooks have built-in optical drives, but ultra-thin notebooks like the Apple MacBook Air and subnotebooks like the Asus Eee PC or Everex Cloudbook sacrifice the optical drive in order to reduce weight and bulk.
Old-fashioned external optical drives work fine, but they require a separate AC power adapter … and no one wants to carry one power adapter for their laptop and a second power adapter for an external drive. USB-powered drives obtain operating voltage via a standard USB cable and make life easier for notebook users. The Plextor PX-608CU is one such drive and it packs some solid features inside a tiny case.
- Supported writable media: DVD+R DL, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-R DL, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, CD-R, CD-RW
- Buffer: 2MB
- Random Access Time: DVD-ROM<160ms, CD-ROM<150ms
- Interface: USB 2.0 port
- DVD writing modes: Multi-session recording, random recording, disc-at-once, multi-border recording, restricted overwrite
- CD writing modes: track-at-once, dics-at-once, session-at-once, packet write (variable and fixed)
- DVD formats supported: DVD-RAM, DVD-ROM, DVD-Video
- CD formats supported: CD-DA, CD-Extra, CD-ROM Mode1, CD-ROM Mode2, CD-ROM XA, Photo-CD, Video-CD, CD Text, Mixed CD.
- Dimensions (W/H/D): 5.39" x 0.63" x 5.63" (137mm x 16mm x 143mm)
- Weight: 0.55 lbs (250g) without AC adapter
- Warranty: One-year parts and labor
The hardware requirements are modest even for budget ultraportable notebooks like the Asus Eee PC or Everex Cloudbook. You only need a Pentium III 800MHz or faster processor, 250MB of RAM, and 1GB of free space on your hard drive for copying a CD image or 6GB-10GB free space for DVD authoring.
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Build and Design
The Plextor PX-608CU is remarkably compact compared to most external DVD drives on the market. Measuring just 5.63 inches at its largest dimension this drive is barely larger than a full-sized DVD or CD. The entire body is made of reasonably durable plastic so the weight comes in at just more than a half pound. We didn’t have any concern about tossing the drive into a backpack or laptop case, but it’s pretty clear the thin plastic lid won’t survive being crushed under a dozen text books every day. Resist the urge to stand on the drive and it should last as long as other external drives.
As mentioned previously, the PX-608CU is a bus-powered drive that works by using one USB cable for power and a second USB cable for data. This setup works quite well and is a great solution for laptop owners who need an external DVD drive. Plextor also includes a standard AC power adapter in case you don’t need to travel with the drive and want to leave it plugged in at your desk. In that case you just remove the USB power cable and replace it with the AC power cable.
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We couldn’t find much wrong with the overall design of the PX-608CU, but we did run into a couple of minor issues that will be frustrating for laptop users. First, there’s no manual on/off switch for the drive. As soon as you plug the drive into your USB port it starts powering up. This isn’t a major problem unless you’re using your laptop on battery power and don’t want the drive using your precious battery life. You can always unplug the drive until you need it, but we would have liked to see a power button.
Additionally, the manual eject button is located on the bottom of the drive. If the drive is unplugged and you need to remove a DVD or CD that is still inside the drive you have to flip the drive upside down and flip a recessed switch to release the drive lid … which is now on the bottom since the drive is upside down. This simply wasn’t a well thought out idea. The recessed manual eject switch could have been placed on the front, side, or back of the drive.
The major selling point for the Plextor PX-608CU is the compact size and ability to run on USB power. We tested the drive with five different notebooks and experienced some mixed results. The PX-608CU ran perfectly on all five notebooks when we connected both USB cables to two USB ports. However, when we plugged both the data cable and the power cable into a portable USB hub several notebooks had difficulty powering the drive from a single USB port. The Apple MacBook Air was able to power the PX-608CU from a single USB port with a Belkin USB hub (see image below) but the Asus Eee PC and the HP dv2700t couldn’t provide enough power from a single USB port.
Bottom line, some laptops will need to use two USB ports and cannot provide enough power from a single USB port and USB hub.
Using a USB hub won’t work with all laptops. (view large image)
One minor drawback to the Plextor PX-608CU is that the drive doesn’t support bitsetting for DVD+R/RW media. For the most part, if you don’t know what bitsetting means then you probably don’t need to worry about it. That said, bitsetting is used when you have an old DVD player or DVD-ROM drive that doesn’t support DVD+R/RW media. If the PX-608CU supported bitsetting then you could create DVD+R/RW media that "fools" old DVD players and DVD-ROM drives into thinking they are DVD-ROM media. Again, this isn’t a major issue unless you need to create DVDs that are compatible with old DVD players.
Overall, the Plextor PX-608CU Super Multi Drive is a nearly perfect external drive for ultraportable notebook and subnotebook users. If your laptop doesn’t have a built-in DVD drive then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better external drive than this one.
However, the PX-608CU still has room for improvement. We would have liked to see a manual on/off button so that you don’t have to unplug the drive when you don’t need it or are concerned about laptop battery life. Additionally, the manual eject switch needs to be moved so you don’t have to flip the drive upside down in order to eject a DVD without power. The lack of bitsetting for DVD+R/RW will be a deal killer for some, but most consumers won’t need or care about this missing feature.
- Attractive, compact design
- Supports DVD±R/RW/CD-R/RW writing and reading at up to 24x
- Reads 100 min CD-Rs
- Reasonable price for a compact external drive
- USB2.0 bus-powered (see below)
- No manual on/off button
- Not-so-great location for manual eject button
- Some notebooks cannot provide enough power from one USB port
- No Bitsetting support for DVD+R/RW media