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CD, DVD or Blu-ray discs: Which drive is best for your PC?

DVD Writer
DVD Writer

Back in the day, it was required for media to be stored on physical objects, known as discs. Nowadays, most content can be streamed or downloaded, and many PCs don't even have drives to play such media. But should you need to purchase a drive to load up old discs (or make backups), there are three types you can invest in: CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays. We'll run through each of these to determine which is best suited for your needs.

Why discs?

As touched on already, CD, DVD, and Blu-ray make up the three types of physical disc media one can use on a PC or home entertainment system. This media can be relied on for system backups, with the ability to store such objects off-site, not to mention music and film are still distributed on CD and DVD, respectively. Also, not everyone has a 100MB connection to the outside world for stable streaming.

CDs came first, slowly replaced by DVDs for storage aside from music. Blu-ray followed with even more capacity, killing off both DVD and its successor, HD-DVD. When it comes to drives, you have a few options available:

  • CD/DVD rewriter.
  • Blu-ray rewriter.
  • BD-XL rewriter.

Speeds at which drives are able to read and write data to and from a disc depend on the format, the model, and branding. To keep things relatively simple for consumers, manufacturers may not list all format speeds, but this is definitely worth researching if you plan to use a Blu-ray drive for not only Blu-ray discs but also DVDs.

We know there are the different type of drives, but which is the best option for your PC?

CD or DVD

CD DVD

CD DVD

It's rather difficult to pick up a new CD drive, but to be honest DVD drives are affordable so it really isn't an issue. DVD drives are not only able to play and write to DVD media, but also CDs. The main difference between CDs and DVDs is the size of available storage. With a CD, you'll get around 700MB at the most. A DVD, on the other hand, will be able to hold just shy of 5GB (4.7GB) worth of data.

A huge increase in available storage was driven by the need for physical media to house HD movies. This also allows for vastly more content to be stored on the discs, making them ideal for smaller system backups. DVDs can be single- or dual-layered, with the latter supporting up to 8.5GB of data. Not all players and drives will be able to access the dual-layered discs, so be sure to check before parting with any money. It's easy to check, simply watch out for "DVD+R DL" or "DVD-R DL."

If you need to throw together a physical package containing a bunch of important files or media, DVD is the way to go unless you have more than around 10GB, whereby Blu-ray would make more sense. Most games of today are also still released on DVD for PCs, which opens up an avenue of physical video game purchases. (Fun fact: Grand Theft Auto V is so big the physical PC version requires a total of seven DVD discs!)

Pros:

  • Cheap.
  • Support HD media.

Cons:

  • Don't support Blu-ray.
  • Maximum storage capacity of 8.5GB.

Prices for internal DVD drives, which can installed inside a PC, will set you back around $19. As for external units, you'll have to pay slightly more for the casing, which will increase the price to around $27.

Blu-ray

Blu-ray

Blu-ray

Blu-ray was developed and launched to tackle the issue of even more capacity being needed for higher quality video. 128GB of data can be stored on a single disc, making it a versatile means of storage. While Blu-ray media isn't supported on DVD drives and is not backward compatible with DVD players, it is possible to load up and write to both CDs and DVDs with a Blu-ray drive.

It can get rather confusing with the differences between each format but note that a Blu-ray drive or player can play anything, while DVD drives cannot load up Blu-ray discs. Finally, there are "combo drives" that can not only read and write to Blu-ray discs and read CD and DVDs but also have the ability to write to the older formats. This is the best option if you plan to read and write to different disc formats, though these drives are slightly more expensive.

Much like DVDs, Blu-ray also has more than a single layer option. There are older single layered discs (25GB), dual-layer (50GB), triple layer (100GB) and finally quadruple layer (128GB). The latter two are available only for BD-XL classified drives. Generally speaking, discs with the Blu-ray logo will be more than capable of handling a full Windows system backup, as well as a vault for personal files. Consoles generally use Blu-ray discs now to house games that are forever growing in size.

Pros:

  • Increased storage (up to 128GB).
  • Support for higher-definition media.
  • Can read and write to CDs and DVDs.

Cons:

  • More expensive.
  • Blu-ray not supported on DVD drives or players.

When it comes to actually buying a Blu-ray PC drive, they are fairly expensive, setting the purchaser back $50 and beyond, depending on features and speed support. We'll highlight below an internal LG Blu-ray drive that will be able to handle up to 575.44 MB/s (16x) with BD-XL (128GB) Blu-ray discs. It essentially supports the highest capacity of Blu-ray (excluding Ultra HD Blu-ray) and will be super-fast.

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

24 Comments
  • Physical media is still best for me. Best quality, best forward/reverse for movies, cheap, no DRM headaches, etc. The only downside vs streaming services is the huge libraries and instant access. But I frickin HATE it when I'm streaming a movie and the damn player starts spinning. It makes me homicidal. So for the sake of humanity I use discs!
  • Agreed. With physical discs you always have a hard backup yet the flexibility to rip them to your PC to have digital access to them as well. It's the best of both worlds.
  • Meanwhile, a CD/DVD drive is required on all DoD machines because they've completely banned USB use outside of keyboard & mouse. 
  • Is it true that you need additional software (that costs as much as the drive itself) to play Blu-ray discs?
  • It is not true. Just get VLC player.
  • Thanks for the reply. So if I get one of those external Blu-ray drives, I can play using any software, correct?
  • I haven't used external ones, you should be good though if you use VLC player to watch bluerays. The desktop version not the windows store version.
  • Last I checked, VLC had problems playing protected Blu-ray movies. Color reproduction isn't as nice as it could be in VLC, either. If you want a good Blu-ray player, PowerDVD would probably be a good choice.
  • Depends on the disk. If you bought a prebuilt system with an optical drive, you will already have some type of software that will play it. I also have VLC, some Blurays don't play correctly. Watchmen plays a random chapter when I start playing it, I can't get to the menu to select "play movie".
  • As a music guy, I still need a CDs
  • *I still need CDs
  • Me too. I have a suscription to Spotify. But I still buy (and plan on keep buying) music CDs, I've bought 3 recently, and have at least 5 on my wishlist.
  • This article really should have talked to 4K Bluray/UHD discs. I think the lack of options in the market for those players for computers is pretty telling.
  • "pretty telling" of what?
  • Yeah, what's up with 4K drives for PC? I'm planning to build a PC next year, and I would like to have a 4K Blu-ray drive
  • Does that still exist? LOL
  • DVDs?  WHAT YEAR IS THIS?!!  :p
  • I'm a freelance videographer/editor and I sell thousands of DVD's to clients every year. I offer BluRay's but most don't want them (as usual, price is the reason.
  • Of course Bluray, who in their right mind would buy a CD or DVD drive in 2017?
  • John, how about someone who just wants to rip Cd's?
  • Makes a nice retractable cup holder :P
  • Honestly I haven't used any type of disk in the last 3 years. Everything is on my flash drive.
  • It only costs $99 AUD for a Bluray burner, why the Hell wouldn't you get one over a DVD drive. Let's ignore CD drives since they aren't even available to purchase here new any more. Actually, I've found some for as little as $79. Compared to the rest of the PC, that's a pittance.
  • If you were building a system today (a good system), Dont even look at a standard CD/DVD player. Get a BLu-ray writer. You might not need it now but, you are building a system to last you a while, why would you use old tech ?