Installing An Optical Drive Guide
Selecting Fast, Inexpensive
CD/DVD/HD DVD/BluRay Optical Drives, What to Look For in a Optical
Drive, and How to Install Them
What Is An Optical Drive?
To the hi-tech newcomer, the term
optical drive may not mean very much. Simply put, the optical drives
read (and may write) CDs; DVDs, HD DVDs; and BluRays. Virtually
every modern PC contains an optical drive (either internally or
externally), used as a media player, for installing new software, or
as large capacity storage medium for computers.
Information is stored on
high-density disks in the form of tiny pits "read" by laser. The
term refers to the general category of disk drives that read
information optically, using a low-powered laser. Large 12inch
Pioneer LaserDiscs drives (1982) were the first optical units
available on PCs, with CD-ROM drives from Sony appearing in 1983.
CD-ROM drives were the breakthrough product, that began as novelties
for high-end users and then grew in popularity as they dropped in
price and increased in performance. By The mid-1990's, the
point arrived where they were mandatory equipment on any new PC
Optical drives are considered a
part of the storage subsystem of your computer, be it a notebook, a
desktop, or a server. They usually interface either through
the standard IDE/ATA controller ports on the motherboard, a SCSI
interface host adapter, or a dedicated adaptor card, but may also
interface through a USB port or a Firewire port, or integrated into a network storage
device. The optical
drive in a system is an important factor in the PC's ability to
install and run software, since most software is now distributed on
optical disks (CDs, and now more than ever on DVDs, in the future
perhaps Blu-ray). In the case of
writeable optional drives (CD or DVD Burners), they also are often
the only real backup devices in the PC (as hard disks continue to
increase their capacity, optical media is somewhat keeping pace).
Types of Optical Drives
|CD & CD-ROM Players
CD-R & CD-RW Burners
|DVD & DVD-ROM Players
DVD-R & DVD-RW Burners
drives usually have a physical connection to the sound card, or
audio circuits on the motherboard. Optical drives also usually send
data to the system through the motherboard. When you purchase an
optical drive you want too match the interface to that of the system, usually IDE/ATA or SCSI.
Today we have not just CD-ROM
drives, but DVD drives, and Blu-ray drivers.
We also have writeable and rewriteable CD-ROM drives, called CD-R
and CD-RW respectively. These expand the capabilities of optical
drives by letting you actually write to CD-ROM media.
Adding a fast optical drive will
increase your PCís flexibility an life span.
What Happened To HD DVD?
In February 2008, Toshiba (the creator and
promoter of HD DVD) acknowledged that it was not winning the HD
media battle. Toshiba announced that it would discontinue all
HD DVD player production, but that it might keep producing PC HD DVD
players and burners. How long this continues is very much open
at this point. Thus, while HD DVD exists in the marketplace,
it is by definition a dead-end platform. Sony, for once, not
only introduced a superior media (remember Betamax?), but succeeded
in making it dominant. For the purposes of this article, HD
DVD is really no longer recommended.
Speed - How Much
Almost all CD/DVD burners are relatively fast. Even second-tier
products can can write an entire disk in less than 5 minutes. Plus,
CD burning speeds are fast enough that the difference between one
speed an another isnít critical. In other words, if you are on a budget there is
no reason to pay for a high-end DVD burner or insist on
buying the fastest CD-RW drives you can find. However, speed
may naturally be a benefit if you want other features.
Optical drives are normally specified with an "X" rating, intended
to represent the speed of the drive. For example, a CD-ROM drive may
be specified as "56X", or a DVD drive as "20X". This is supposed to
mean that these units operate at 56 times and 20 times the speed of
the first CD-ROM and DVD drives, respectively. These "X" ratings do
indicate approximate drive speed, but they have become "magic
numbers" and don't really represent as much of the performance
picture as you might think. Note that the CD and DVD standards are
different; a 1X DVD drive actually has throughput of about eight
times that of a 1X CD-ROM drive.
A 5 inch dual-layer DVD disk can hold 8.5 GB of data. Most stand-alone DVD players can play the
dual-layer discs that these drives burn, boosting the amount of
video, audio, or data that will fit on one disc. Youíll pay a small price premium
for early dual-layer drives, and for compatible media. Also, writing to dual-layer discs is slower than
writing to single-layer, but depending on your need, may well be
worth it. Generally speaking, buy the
most compatible drive, with the best performance your budget will
Adding an Extra Drive to an
Unfortunately, this process often requires more technology
than merely plugging in the new optical drive. Your older PCs may use parallel ATA technology - 2
drives share one cable (known as a channel, and most PCs came with
at least two IDE channels for a maximum of 4 drives.
So before buying a drive,
investigate the computer you have to determine what you will need.
It is entirely possible that the deference between buying the
components you will need, and buying a new PC, may only be a couple
of hundred dollars. We suggest you make a buy vs. build
decision, since the new PC will probably come with a new optical
drive. Or, you can upgrade the chassis & motherboard (and
processor). These are all options to carefully consider.
If you go forward with the upgrade
to your old PC, there are several things you will encounter.
Take each step carefully, and make sure you have the 3T's (tools,
time, and temperment) you need.
If you old system as a parallel ATA interface
(IDE) - setting a
jumper designates each drive as either a master or a slave, which
permits a single cable to connect two drives to one IDE channel. The
jumper settings for each designation are usually labeled on the
drive itself. A few simple rules should guide your configuration
choices. If possible, each drive should sit on its own IDE channel
configured as a master drive, but this may not be possible because
of hard disk drives in your system already configured as Master(s). If you have two drives on one channel
always make the faster drive the master drive. For example, suppose
that you wanted to add a second hard drive and a DVD burner to a PC
equipped with one hard drive and one CD-RW drive. In that case, you
would want to set the new, faster hard drive as master on the
primary IDE channel. Your older hard drive should be the slave drive
on the primary channel, with the two optical drives as master and
slave on the secondary channel (keep in mind this would require
re-installation of software, since the drive letters may change).
||Installing your optical drives is an easy process that requires a
bit of attention to detail. Hereís an easy-to-follow-installation
Gather up all your drives. Many
cases use removable drive rails or cages to house drives. Use the
included screws to attach your drives to the rails or cage, and
slide them into the case. For externally accessible drives such as a
DVD recorder, you can save time by installing one drive rail and
sliding the drive in for a test fitting to make sure that its front
is flush with the case. When the drives are installed, connect power
and data cables to each one. Parallel ATA drives use wide, flat data
cables that can be installed only in the correct way.
|1. First, if your PC is running,
shut it down and turn off the power switch.
|2. Next, remove the power cord
just in case - itís an important safety measure.
|3. Now find and remove the
screws holding the case together.
|4. Next, remove the case cover
or panel from your PC.
|5. Find the 5.25-inch external
drive cover. Thatís where the drive will be installed. Remove the
|6. Before sliding the drive into
the drive bay, use the jumpers to set the drive to be either a
master or slave. If the drive will reside on its own IDE cable,
select the master setting. If the drive will be added to an existing
IDE cable, choose slave.
|7. Note: if your drive bay
requires slide rails, attach the drive rails onto the sides of the
|8. Next, Slide the drive into
the drive bay.
|9. If the case does not use
drive rails, attach the drive to the bay using screws.
|10. Attach the CD-Audio cable to
the connector on the drive.
|11. Attach the other end of the
CD-Audio cable to the motherboard or audio card.
|12. Next, plug the IDE cable
into the motherboard, if one isnít already in place.
|13. Plug the drive connector of
the IDE cable into the drive.
|14. Attach the 4-pin power
adapter in the drive.
|15. Replace the case cover or
|16. Attach the case cover or
panel with the screws.
|17. Reattach the power cord to
|18. Finally, turn the power
switch on the power supply back on.
||Now your drive is installed (physically) into your computer. When
you power up the system, it should detect the new drive. You
may need to install drivers that came with the drive, and it
is always a good idea to go online to see if updated drivers