About the drive: best for all functions (playback, ripping (legal), burning). For EXTERNAL use, so if we're going for a bare drive, please recommend a casing, too, if possible!
About the software: most interested in discussing playback software here (ripping/burning software can be left for another day, UNLESS the best option does both, i suppose).
Looking for maximum control of playback, least restrictions on what you're "allowed" to do, most functionality.
My sincerest thanks in advance!