Choose a New Optical Drive for Your PC - dummies

By Dan Gookin

A second optical drive may seem excessive, but sometimes it’s necessary. For example, you might have a DVD drive and want a DVD-R/RW combo drive. Or, maybe you’re a gamer and you like to keep game discs in the drives rather than swap discs all the time. Or, your needs might be as simple as wanting to replace a dead optical drive.

However you slice it, when there’s room, you can upgrade the computer with another optical drive. The variety is there.

CD or DVD?

Optical drives come with two flavors: CD and DVD. You want a DVD. All DVD drives can read CDs, so there’s no point in buying a plain CD drive.

The next decision is whether you want to record discs. Although several recording standards exist, most optical drives that record support all the standards. Even so, if you also want to record CDs, you need a combo drive. Be sure to check.

Finally, there’s the interface: SATA or ATA.

ATA: The daddy of all hard drive and optical drive connectors is the ATA, which stands for AT Attachment. The AT came from the IBM PC AT computer, introduced in the 1980s. Yes, it’s an old standard. It uses a flat ribbon cable and a boxy 50-pin connector. Other names for the ATA data cable include ATAPI, IDE, PATA, and UDMA.

SATA: The current and best standard for connecting disk drives inside the console is the SATA, or Serial ATA. It fixes some annoying issues that are present with the ATA data cable. Variations on SATA are eSATA, the external version of SATA, and Ultra ATA, which is an older version of the standard.

Remember to buy an internal optical drive. An internal drive is cheaper than an external model, which must be enclosed in a case, supply an interface, and have its own power supply.

What about Blu-ray?

The current top-of-the-line optical drive standard is Sony’s Blu-ray. A Blu-ray disc stores twice as much information as a standard DVD, but the drives are expensive. Plus, relatively few software programs are available on Blu-ray, which limit you to watching Blu-ray movies on your PC.

Some pundits predict that Blu-ray won’t move in as the replacement for DVDs and CDs. That’s because coming up fast is the solid-state drive, or SSD. Essentially large media cards, the SSDs will most likely become the removable storage media of choice.