It's hard to say much about an external optical drive in a world that's increasingly discarding them in favour of hard drives, flash drives or cloud storage, but we'll do our best.
Asus' mouthful of a drive, the SBW-06C1S-U, is a six-speed USB Blu-ray burner. It has an off-centre cross across the top that glows blue, a silver eject button, some orange status lights, but is otherwise gloss black. If you don't like the blue glow, you can turn it off with the included BluTuner software, or set it to 37.5, 50 or 75 per cent brightness.
It comes with a stand to mount it vertically, some red/blue 3D glasses and a disc containing CyberLink's Power2Go 6, PowerDVD 9, PowerBackup 2.5 and InstantBurn 5. What it doesn't come with is any blank media — unusual for burners. PowerDVD 9 is what enables the 3D glasses to be of any worth, although the software will only upconvert 2D media to anaglyph 3D if the source is SD — HD upconverting is not offered. For proper 3D Blu-ray playback, you'll need more hardware, like a 3D-capable screen and compatible glasses to match.
It's been some time since we've seen a Blu-ray writer, so we were pleasantly surprised to see that media prices have dropped, with decent 4x, single-layer media going for around AU$7; 6x dual-layer for around AU$13.
After picking up a Verbatim 6x dual-layer disc, we set about the task of burning. Things worked well, except that the media was only identified as being capable of 4x — a sadly common issue even among DVD±R discs where software and burner manufacturers need to keep issuing updates to keep pace with media speeds.
Given that our test media only hit 4x, the Asus still performed well, burning a 50GB disc in one hour, five minutes and 16 seconds using ImgBurn. It hit a peak speed of 17.5MBps, a speed that sadly a good external hard drive will outstrip even on USB 2.0. The first eighth was burned at 2x, which thereafter peaked at 4x, then returned back to 2x for the last eighth. Although it didn't affect the quality of the write, the write buffer of the drive constantly troughed and peaked once the 4x speed was engaged, but never hit 0 per cent.
The Asus does its job well, it's just that as a writer it has a niche purpose. If you're intent on storing data rather than playing back video, we'd suggest the significantly cheaper and faster external hard drive option, especially since USB 3.0 is starting to spread. If you have the need for Blu-ray burning and don't have a desktop though, at AU$319 it's hard to say no to this petite multi-format drive.