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Buy Smarter: what you need to know about... optical disc drives

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Buyer's Guide Optical drive is the collective term for CD, DVD and Blu-ray readers, recorders and rewriters, the mainstay of swap-in-swap-out storage in notebook and desktop computers.

At its simplest, an optical disc can load applications or play music or films, and at its most complex, in the form of a dual-layer, Blu-ray BD-RE disc, it can play high-definition (HD) movies and record up to 50GB of data.

You may be wanting to upgrade an optical drive, or move from CD to DVD or DVD to Blu-ray, or you may want to add an extra drive to a machine with a spare bay. Whatever it is, there is a variety of drives to choose from.

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Optical drive types

You will find it increasingly difficult to buy a CD-only drive, as effectively all DVD drives play all varieties of CD in addition to handling a range of DVD types. Blu-ray drives can similarly read, and usually write, both DVDs and CDs.

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There is only one type of recordable and one type of rewriteable CD, but there are two complementary standards of DVDs: DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. These DVD-plus and DVD-minus formats are distinct, but most modern drives can read and write both of them.

The rewriteable Blu-ray drive uses the abbreviation BD-RE, rather than BD-RW, as the drive has to be fully Erased before rewriting.

DVD drives are available as standard 3.5in internal and half-height, laptop-style devices. Both of these can also be had as external drives in separate enclosures, linked via USB, Firewire or eSATA cables.The Samsung Ultra-Slim AA-ES3P95B charges easily using one USB cable and has a hidden power cord. If you are after an external drive, make sure you get the appropriate type for the connection you have available.

Optical Disc Formats

Optical Disc Formats

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Next page: Specialist drives

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