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What is an Optical Drive

An optical drive is any kind of drive which uses a laser to read the media. Optical media includes things such as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray disks. Today, most computers come with DVD drives, although higher-end machines come with Blu-ray drives for playing the latest high-definition movies. Most software and video games are still provided on CDs or DVDs, although it is becoming more popular to purchase and download software, games and multimedia over the Internet rather than installing things from optical media. In fact, many laptop computers, especially ultra-lightweight ones do not even have optical drives.

The speed of an optical drive is given in one or two figures followed by the letter 'x'. The speed provided is the maximum possible speed obtainable for that drive. It's also a multiple of the standard media playback speed. For example, a DVD movie will play at 1x. A DVD drive which can read data at 22x, can read data up to 22 times faster than it does when it is playing a movie from a DVD video disk. Write and rewrite speeds are also given in the specifications of optical drives.

One of the most convenient characteristics of optical drives is that they are all backwards compatible with previous popular optical technology. CDs and DVDs are still very widely used and this will likely remain the case for many years to come. A DVD drive can read any CD while a Blu-ray drive can read any DVD or CD. Most of today's optical drives also allow you to copy or "burn" your own DVDs and CDs, although optical drives which allow you to write to Blu-ray disks are still considerably rarer and a lot more expensive.

Another characteristic of higher-end optical drives is Lightscribe technology. Using compatible optical media with a drive that supports Lightscribe, it is possible to directly label media inside the drive using laser-etching techniques instead of having to use separate printed labels.

Installing an optical drive in a desktop computer is typically an extremely straightforward process and you don't need to install any extra drivers or software in most cases. Modern optical drives use the SATA-II interface, as do modern hard disks. All you need to do is install the optical drive into a free 5.25" drive bay in the front of the case, plug in an available connector from the power supply and connect a SATA-II cable between the drive and an available port on the mainboard inside your PC. You should be able to start using the drive as soon as you start up your computer again.


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