When recordable CD-ROM drives came out, computer users were ecstatic that there was finally a form of removable media that dwarfed floppy disks in capacity. At 650MB (per layer, per side), CD-ROMs held roughly 451 times the data of 1.44MB floppy disks. No longer did people have to deal with stacks of floppy disks; software could be distributed on a single CD-ROM and lots of data could be backed up to one as well. But as it turned out, 650MB wasn’t considered very big for very long.
A similar situation existed when recordable DVD drives came out; at 4.7GB (per side, per layer), DVDs could fit more than seven times the data of a CD-ROM. It occurred all over again when Blu-ray drives came out. At 25GB (per side, per layer), Blu-ray discs offer more than five times the capacity of DVDs.
Blu-ray hasn’t gained the traction of DVD, and probably never will, but it is nonetheless one of the least expensive ways to hand someone 25GB of anything. It’s also one of the best ways to distribute and enjoy high-definition video and a very affordable form of backup media.
If your computer doesn’t have Blu-ray but you would like it to, now is a good time to upgrade. The drives are inexpensive and so are the discs. Installation is relatively simple, too. Read on if you would like to make the upgrade to Blu-ray.
The first thing you have to decide is the type of Blu-ray drive you want. Most computers that came with an optical drive have a DVD reader/writer, which is an optical drive that can read and write to all forms of CDs and DVDs, but they can’t read or record to Blu-ray media. Some computers feature combo drives that can read and write to CD and DVDs, and can read or play Blu-ray discs, but they can’t record to or burn blank Blu-ray media.
If all you want to do is play Blu-ray movies on your computer, you can save a few bucks by buying a combo drive that can read and write to CD and DVDs, but can only play pre-recorded Blu-ray movies and read Blu-ray discs burned by other drives. If you look at the selection of Blu-ray drives that B&H carries, the least expensive units are this type. Be warned, though, that Mac computers don’t natively support the playback of Blu-ray movies. There are third-party software solutions on the market that allow it, but it may or may not work with your Mac. Blu-ray playback on a PC is not a problem.
If you don’t mind spending a little extra, it’s definitely worth it to buy a drive that can read and write to Blu-ray media, as well as CD and DVD media. All of the Blu-ray drives come with software that supports PCs. You still might have trouble playing Blu-ray movies with one of these drives in a Mac, but you’ll have no trouble burning Blu-ray discs on a Mac as long as the drive comes with the right software. Look for a drive that comes with the latest version of Toast if you want to burn Blu-ray discs on a Mac.
Next you have to decide whether you want an internal or external drive. If you have a desktop system, it’s no problem to install an internal Blu-ray drive; you can either replace the current drive or add a Blu-ray drive if there’s an empty drive bay. This will also give you disc-to-disc copying capability. Note that your computer must have internal SATA if you want to install an internal Blu-ray drive, since there are no PATA Blu-ray drives on the market.
Depending on the style of your desktop system, removing either the top panel or one of the side panels will grant access to the innards. Usually, you have to remove a couple of screws and the panel will slide off. Once you get the system open, you can tell whether you have SATA or PATA. It goes without saying that if you’re doing anything inside a computer, the power cord should be unplugged.
Older computers contain PATA, or IDE drives, and newer ones contain SATA drives. The connectors on PATA drives consist of double rows of metal pins, while the connectors on SATA drives consist of two flat tabs. Also, PATA drives use flat, wide ribbon cables that are usually gray in color, while SATA drives use thicker, narrower cables that are usually red in color. SATA drives use two similar-looking cables, while PATA drives use one ribbon cable and a separate 4-pin power connector. So again, if your desktop system has SATA, you can install an internal SATA Blu-ray drive. If it doesn’t have SATA you have to go with an external unit.
If you’re swapping the current drive in a desktop system, it’s a simple matter of figuring out how the drive is secured in place, undoing the hardware, disconnecting the cables and removing the drive. Then just install the new drive the same way the old one was. If you have an empty drive bay and want to add a new drive you have to first mount the new drive and then locate and attach the unused SATA cables to the new drive.
If you want to install an internal drive in a notebook computer you should consult the user’s manual or contact the manufacturer to determine the exact requirements and specifications for the drive, and you may have to buy the drive from the manufacturer. But the easiest and the most versatile route is to go with an external Blu-ray drive. You can use it with your current computer and any that you might buy down the road. You can use it with a notebook or desktop computer. You can also bring the drive to a friend’s house and use it there.
Now you have to determine the type of interface you need, but this part is easy. If you’re interested in an internal drive it’s going to be SATA, and if you’re looking for an external drive it’s most likely going to be USB 2.0. USB 2.0 is by far the most common interface in use today. External drives can also be had with USB 3.0, FireWire and eSATA interfaces, but if you’re looking for extreme versatility, then it’s best to go with a triple-interface drive that features all three of those input types.