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Lifewire / Scott Gercken
Very fast read and write capabilities
Aluminum casing looks fantastic
Easy tray loading drive
The OWC Mercury Pro External USB 3.1 Gen 1 Optical Drive provides best in class read and write speeds, making this imposing drive the top choice if you’re looking for pure performance.
The Blu-ray burner market has a lot of drives that look and feel the same, and simultaneously many people are moving away from physical media to go to cloud storage and streaming. Can the OWC Mercury Pro External USB 3.1 Gen 1 Optical Drive stand out in a crowd of clones or will it blend in like the rest? We tested it to find out.
Check out our buyers guide for more information on what you should look for in an optical drive.
The Mercury Pro Optical Drive is encased in matte aluminum with a strip of shiny brushed aluminum down the center. In the middle of it, there’s an OWC logo. The drive weighs a lot, almost four pounds, which gives it some gravitas.
The feet under the drive are made of a soft clear plastic that keeps the OWC Mercury Pro from sliding around on hard surfaces. Everything about this drive is designed to make it look solid and reliable, even the weight. The back of the drive has a USB-B 3.0 slot, a DC input, a power switch, and a Kensington security slot for a computer lock devices.
Having a power switch is a nice design feature that many USB Blu-ray drives don’t have. The drive is tray loading, so a drive tray slides out for the Blu-ray disc. This kind of tray-loading drive is different from the slim Blu-ray burner versions. They have a center spindle onto which you have to press the Blu-ray for it to go into the drive. The Mercury Pro has an old-school tray drive that’s much easier to use. You simply drop the Blu-ray into the drive without worrying about pressing.
It might seem like a small distinction, but having big hands makes the other drives annoying. The drive comes with two discs in their cases, but the discs don’t have any markings to indicate what format of Blu-ray they are, and there’s no documentation included that drops any hints either.
The setup process for the Mercury Pro is really straightforward. We just plugged the power supply into the drive and attached the USB cord to the computer and the drive. The drive spun up and worked right away.
The drive works with all the major formats, including M-Disc, an archival quality disc format that lasts longer than standard Blu-rays. It’s rated to last for 1,000 years (or at least until we come up with a better storage medium). Most Blu-ray burners aren’t compatible with these long-lasting discs, because of the way the discs are constructed. If you want to go pro with your archives, you need a drive like the Mercury Pro. It’s also compatible right out of the box with both MacOS and Windows, too.
To test the read speeds, we ripped a copy of Die Hard, about a 37 GB file, using MakeMKV. The Mercury Pro ripped it in a blazing fast 24 minutes, more than twice as fast as most of the drives we’ve tested. That’s a big deal—if you want to make streaming copies of your Blu-rays, it will take you half as long with this drive compared to most others.
The OWC Mercury Pro’s write speed didn’t disappoint either. We tested it by making a copy of a 13.3 GB photo library. The Mercury Pro burned it onto a BR-R in just under 20 minutes, including the verification process. If you burn a lot of Blu-rays, this drive is the one to get.
The Mercury Pro ripped that Blu-ray in a blazing fast 24 minutes, more than twice as fast as most of the Blu-ray drives we’ve tested.
Like most Blu-ray optical drives, it can get a little noisy when it’s working on a data disc at high speeds, but it’s fairly quiet when playing movies. That’s because the drive runs at a higher speed to read data discs as fast as possible, but it can slow down when it’s playing a medium designed to play in real time.
We did notice one problem, though. Occasionally, the Mercury Pro failed to recognize a blank BR-R disc. We’d put the disc into the tray-loading drive, and nothing would happen. To fix it, we had to unplug the USB cable and put it back, and then it worked just fine.
The drive read Blu-ray movies like you’d expect, with no issues. Films looked spectacular on our laptop, sharp and clear, but when we connected the computer to our HDTV by HDMI, the picture quality really suffered. Images were pixelated, and the color depth and contrast were off. It lost the nuances that we saw on the laptop that we expect from a Blu-ray. Don’t expect this drive to fill in for a dedicated Blu-ray player.
Films looked spectacular on our laptop, sharp and clear, but when we connected the computer to our HDTV by HDMI, the picture quality really suffered.
The problems that come from a computer connected to an HDTV don’t appear when it comes to sound. Perhaps Blu-ray’s best feature is the sound quality, which accentuates both the high-end and low-end, so important for films. The rumble of an engine only sounds right with the full range of sound available on a Blu-ray (contrasted by the limited range of streaming media or DVDs). The Mercury Pro produced Blu-ray quality sound like we’d expect. Even on our tiny computer speakers, you could hear a difference between streaming movies and Blu-ray.
The Mercury Pro has an MSRP of $150, but you can usually find it online for about $20 less. If only use a Blu-ray drive occasionally, it might not be worth the $30 or $40 more this drive costs compared to many slim models. On the other hand, if you do a lot of Blu-ray burning, the extra money is worth it for the massive bump in write speed.
ASUS Powerful Blu-ray Drive with 16x Writing Speed and USB 3.0 for Both Mac/PC Optical Drive BW-16D1X-U: The Asus BW-16D1X-U is about the same size as the OWC Mercury Pro, but it isn’t as heavy. The design is pretty cool, with angular lines, multiple finishes, and interesting indicator lights. The Asus drive hides the disc tray behind a panel, giving the whole device a clean look. It costs a little less than the OWC Mercury Pro, MSRP $120, but it doesn’t deliver the same level of performance. Even though the stats are about the same, its write speeds are much slower. If you want performance, go with the Mercury Pro.
Buffalo MediaStation 16x Desktop BDXL Blu-ray Writer (BRXL-16U3): The Buffalo MediaStation 16x Desktop BDXL Blu-ray Writer is another desktop model, shaped like both the Mercury Pro and the Asus Blu-ray burner. It’s too big to be portable, but it’s also supposed to have faster read and write speeds. The price for the Buffalo MediaStation is MSRP $169, higher than the OWC Mercury Pro, though you can regularly find it for $150. We haven’t done a hands-on test of this drive, but that extra price would need to come with extra features to make this pricey drive worth it.
Pioneer BDR-XS06 Slot Loading Portable Blu-ray Burner: If you’re not looking for the fastest drive, this portable Blu-ray burner is a good choice. At $120 MSRP it’s $30 cheaper than the Mercury Pro, though the price break means you get much slower speeds, sometimes more than twice as long for reading and writing ops. It is both slim and light, so one can easily take it on the road. If you want something a little less expensive or need a portable drive, this is a good choice. If you want speed, the OWC Mercury Pro is the better option.
Killer performance, reasonable price.
The OWC Mercury Pro External USB 3.1 Gen 1 Optical Drive’s design exudes reliability and power and reads and writes at blazing fast speeds, much faster than the majority of its competition. If you’re looking for top-notch performance at a great price, this is the drive for you.