Desktop CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray Buyer's Guide

Choose the right optical drive for your desktop PC

LG B16NS40 SATA Blu-ray Burner

LG Electronics

While optical disc drives are becoming less relevant, many people still like the option to load software from physical media, listen to CDs, play Blu-ray movies, and burn videos to DVDs on their computers. When buying a new PC, it's important to know which disc formats it supports.

Information in this article applies broadly to various hardware. Check the specifications for individual products to make sure they are compatible with your system.

Drive Types

There are three basic forms of optical storage used in computers: compact discs (CD), digital versatile discs (DVD), and Blu-ray (BD). The optical drives that run them are either read-only (ROM) or read/write drives (designated as R, RW, RE, or RAM). Read-only drives allow you to read data from discs, while read/write drives can be used to burn, or save, data such as music or videos to a disc.

CDs

CD-ROM storage was derived from the media used for audio CDs. Storage space on a CD is usually around 650 to 700 MB of data per disc. CDs can contain audio files and other data, such as album covers, on the same disc. Most computer software used to be distributed on CDs.

Drives listed as a CD-RW/DVD can read and write to CD media and read DVD media.

DVDs

DVDs were designed as a compact digital video format and, like CDs, evolved into a storage medium. The DVD format is primarily used for video content and has become the standard for physical software distribution. DVD drives can also be used to read CDs.

A variety of media types can be used with DVD recorders (DVD+R) including double-sided discs (typically listed as DL), which support almost twice the capacity of a regular DVD (8.5 GB instead of 4.7 GB).

Blu-ray

For a while, Blu-ray and HD-DVD competed for the top high-definition storage format, and Blu-ray won. Blu-ray discs are capable of storing high definition video signals or data capacities ranging from 25 GB to over 200 GB depending on the number of layers on the disc. HD-DVD compatible drives are no longer made, but Blu-ray drives are compatible with both CDs and DVDs.

Blu-ray drives come in three varieties.

  • Blu-ray Readers can read any format (CD, DVD, and Blu-ray).
  • Blu-ray Combo drives can read Blu-ray discs and read/write CDs and DVDs.
  • Blu-ray Burners can read and write to all three formats.

Optical Drive Speed

Optical drives are often rated by a multiplier that refers to the maximum speed at which the drive operates when compared to the original CD, DVD, or Blu-ray standards. This identifier may be confusing because it doesn't represent the sustained transfer rate while reading the whole disc. Some drives have multiple numbers listed for the read and write speeds, and others have none.

Read Speed

For a CD-ROM drive, a single speed is listed, representing the maximum data read speed. Sometimes a second CD ripping speed is also listed, referring to the speed at which data can be converted from an audio CD to a format such as MP3. DVD-ROM drives typically list two or three speeds, including the maximum data read speeds for DVDs and CDs. There may be an additional number listed for the write speed for CDs.

Write Speed

Manufacturers sometimes list a single number representing the media it can write, or record, to the fastest. For example, a 24x drive may run up to 24x when recording on DVD+R media, but it might only run at 8x when using DVD+R dual-layer media. Blu-ray burners may list the fastest recording speed for Blu-ray media (BD-R), although a drive may actually have a faster multiplier for handling DVD media.

Which Type of Optical Drive Do You Need for Your PC?

A DVD burner can handle tasks associated with CD and DVD media, so this type of drive should be adequate for people who only want to use it to burn CDs or create DVDs. If you want to burn video game discs or movies in 4K Ultra HD, then you need a Blu-ray recorder.

With the rise in popularity of streaming media, many computer manufacturers have eschewed optical drives in favor of more compact system designs. In fact, the Windows 10 operating system is now being distributed via USB flash drives rather than traditional media for this very reason. For systems that don't come with an optical drive, it's possible to add a SATA DVD burner or Blu-ray burner.