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Types of Optical Drives and Media


An optical drive such as a DVD burner is an integral data storage solution that can be used to install programs, back up data, play multimedia content, distribute presentations, and more. Despite the growth of downloadable software, some tasks necessitate the use of optical drives and media. The information below will detail the various optical formats and drives.


There have been many different optical media formats over the years, though only a few are still commonly used.

Compact Disc

A format that is popular for a variety of purposes, from program installation to audio playback. In recent years, the use of CDs has declined partly due to the higher capacities offered by DVD and Blu-ray™.

  • Max Capacity: 800 MB
  • 1X Speed: 153.6 KBps

The successor to CD, it is commonly used for software, multimedia playback, and data backup. Many—though not all—pre-assembleddesktop and laptop computers have internal DVD drives included as standard.

  • Max Capacity:
    • 4.7 GB (single-layer)
    • 8.7 GB (dual-layer)
    • 9.4 GB (double-sided, single-layer)
  • 1X Speed: 1.35 MBps

Blu-ray is the latest optical media standard and it offers much more storage capacity than DVD. But while it is a popular format for entertainment media such as movies, it is not often used for software distribution.

  • Max Capacity:
    • 25 GB (single-layer)
    • 50 GB (dual-layer)
    • 128 GB (BDXL™)
  • 1X Speed: 4.39 Mbps

Performance Factors

When shopping for a DVD burner, CD writer, or any other optical drive, factors such as read speed, write speed, and cache size are useful comparison tools. If you wish to know what those ratings mean, then the information below will be beneficial.

Read Speed

The read speed of an optical drive determines how quickly information on the disc can be accessed by the computer. CD, DVD, and Blu-ray drives all have read speed ratings that are represented as multiples of X. For example, a DVD burner with a 16X read speed is 16 times faster than a DVD burner with a 1X read speed.

So what does X mean? For each of the three formats, X represents a different data transfer rate. For CDs, X is equal to 153.6 KBps. For DVD and Blu-ray disc, X is 1.35 MBps and 4.39 MBps respectively. So a CD drive that has a read speed of 50X can read up to 50 × 153.6 KBps, or 7,680 KBps.

Write Speed

Similar to read-only drives, recorders will have their speeds rated in multiples of X. However, when looking at the performance of a writer or recorder, you will find different speed ratings for different formats. A typical Blu-ray burner for example, will have independent read/write ratings for each of the formats.


Many computer components, including optical drives, employ a small amount of cache memory to temporarily store data. For writers and burners, the cache stores data that will be burned onto the disc.

When burning an optical disc, data from the hard drive is sent in packets to the DVD burner and stored in cache memory. The contents of the cache are then burned onto disc and another data packet from the hard drive is sent. Larger caches reduce the number of data packets needed to be sent from the hard drive.


Though downloadable software and content is continuing to grow in popularity, optical drives such as a Blu-ray or DVD burner are still crucial for many uses. It is a good precaution to have one available. By utilizing the information above, you will be able to find the ideal CD recorder, Blu-ray drive, or DVD burner for your needs.