Section 10.14. Buying a CD or DVD Drive

10.14. Buying a CD or DVD Drive

Just as with hard drives, CD and DVD drives come in both internal and external versions. External drives are a snap to install. Just plug them into your USB 2.0 or FireWire port; install the software, if necessary, and you're ready to burn. Internal drives take longer to install, and they require removing your PC's case and connecting cablesnot a task for the timid.

If your laptop didn't come with a CD or DVD burner, an external burner 's the only way to add one. Plus, only mythical teenagers haunting the minds of record company executives use their CD burners on a 24- hour basis; a real family can easily share one external burner among several PCs and laptops.

Internal drives usually aren't any faster than external drives, and they're priced about the same. Your decision may ultimately depend upon how cluttered your desk looks. If there's no room for an external burner, buy the internal.

10.14.1. Choosing a CD Drive

Once you decide where the drive will liveinside or outside your PCthe next step is deciphering the drive's numbering system. CD drives come rated in a string of three "x" numbers : 32x16x40x, for instance. Here's the breakdown:

  • The first "x" number carries the most weight; it refers to how quickly your drive burns CD-Rs, the discs used for creating music CDs and just about every other project. CD burners have maxed out at 52x, so a drive at that speed won't be obsolete by the weekend . Before putting down your money, though, look for a 48x drive at a bargain price. There's not a noticeable speed difference between 48 and 52.

  • The second "x" number is also the drive's writing speed, but it reflects how quickly your drive burns CD-RWs (Section 10.3), the discs used for temporary storage. Unlike their brethren, CD-RW discs are erasable, so they're ideal for temporary backups that you write over on a regular basis.

  • The third "x" number refers to how quickly the drive reads information from the CD. You probably notice this most when viewing slideshows off digital photos stored on a CD. The higher the number, the less time you wait for the CD to grab your information. (Even the slowest speed has no trouble playing music CDs.)

10.14.2. Choosing a DVD Drive

Shopping for a DVD drive feels like an exercise in polynomials . Anxious to prove that their drives have metaphysical powers, drive manufacturers pack their spec sheets with long strings of numbers.

For instance, DVD burners also can burn CDs, so they carry the three strings of CD specs described above. Combine that with DVD's two compatibility modes, and a typical DVD burner's specs look like this: 16x/4x/16x DVD+RW, 16x/4x/16x DVD-RW.

The numbers are easier to understand if you break apart the strings at the commas, like this:

  • 16x/4x/16x DVD+RW

  • 16x/4x/16x DVD-RW

These are the same familiar numbers used in rating CD drives, but here they describe a DVD's reading and writing speed. In order, the numbers listed above describe the following speeds: writing to regular DVDs, writing to rewritable DVDs, and reading from DVDs. The manufacturer repeated the numbers to show that the drive supports both (minus) and + (plus) DVD formats. (They could have simplified things by using the "-+" or " ±" abbreviation, but they're trying to make their drive sound super compatible.) Here's another DVD rating string:

  • 4x DVD+R DL

This drive supports the new DVD Dual Layer format, so it can pack 8.5 GB onto a DVDif you remember to buy blank 8.5 GBsized DVDs. And finally, here's a rating in which the CD burning specs appear at the end of the string:

  • 32x/24x/40x CD-RW

Some friendly DVD burner manufacturers graciously label each "x" number, making it easier to figure out what they're talking about. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the numbers, the faster the drive.

Reliability and compatibility with other players are much more important than speed, though, so ask your friends about their drives and read reviews at sites like PC World (, CD Freaks (, Tom's Hardware Guide (, PC Magazine (, and Amazon (

PCs: The Missing Manual
ISBN: 0596100930
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 206
Authors: Andy Rathbone

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