Hardware Notes: LG BE14 External CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Drive

415iuvQWaFL._SX385_.jpgI needed a new optical drive to connect to my Mac mini. I have a self-powered Plextor Blu-Ray drive, which I bought several years ago, but it’s not very fast, and its performance has declined with age. It’s also very noisy; I rip a lot of CDs, and it’s annoying to hear how much noise that drive produces.

After doing some research, I settled on the LG BE14 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which, while not the cheapest drive available, seemed to have the highest specs for the money. It reads Blu-Rays at up to 14x, DVDs at up to 16x, and CDs at up to 40x. It has high write speeds, but I can’t recall the last time I wrote an optical disc; I’m only planning to use this device for ripping.

It’s a bulky device, a full-sized unit with a power supply, unlike my slim Plextor. It’s a front load, which means I needed to clear my desk a bit, but it’s a lot quieter than the Plextor. And it is fast.

My first tests involved ripping a few CDs. It starts at around 20x at the beginnings of CDs, reaching 40x at times near the end. (CDs spin at a fixed rotational speed, but the amount of data read increases as the laser moves from the beginning of the disc – the center – to the outside. Each “track,” as it moves outward, holds more data than the previous one, so read speeds are fastest near the end.)

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This is the fastest I’ve ever ripped CDs; even faster than the theoretical 52x drive I had back in my 2006 Mac Pro. And it hits the maximum rated read speed of 40x; I wonder if it could go even a bit faster.

This means that it takes less than three minutes to rip a CD. I ripped ten CDs, all between 70 and 78 minutes, and, while it took a few seconds more for discs with shorter tracks – which is normal – most finished in three minutes or less. The occasional disc was slower, and this is something one sees with any drive; I don’t know why, but it probably has to do with the pressing. (I rip my discs using error correction.) But even slow rips were less than five minutes, which is twice as fast as my Plextor with similar discs.

The device is rated for 12x read speed from single-layer Blu-Ray discs and 8x from dual layer discs. The DVD read speed is rated from 8x to 12x. I did just one test with a DVD, ripping it using RipIt, which just copies the contents of the DVD to disk – so this tested only the read speed, not any compression. With the LG BE14, it took 11:58 to rip the disc; with the Plextor, it took 12:05. (There should be more of a difference; I’ll try a couple more DVDs and see.) However, comparing the two drives with a Blu-Ray disc, the LG BE14 took 24:04 to copy a disc that contains 29 GB, with an average overall read speed of 6.0x; the Plextor took 36:46 to copy the same disc. If I had a USB 3 device, I might get higher Blu-Ray throughput. The maximum for USB 2 is 35 MB/sec, and, in Activity Monitor, I was seeing read speeds of 22 to just under 35 MB/sec.

Update: I got a Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) which gives my Mac USB 3 ports. The Blu-Ray rip was noticeably faster, coming in at 18:42.

Obviously, if you plan to burn discs, then the write speeds would interest you, but I’m not going to bother testing that, as I have no need to write discs. But if you want a fast drive for ripping discs – such as if you’re planning to rip a lot of DVDs or Blu-Rays, which I’m going to do – this drive will save you a lot of time.

One final note: I generally rip all my CDs, but I do sometimes want to play a CD without ripping it. I had been hoping to use this as a CD drive to occasionally play CDs through iTunes. The drive is a bit noisy for such a purpose, so I won’t be doing that often.