What is Optical Drive? Function, Types, Pros & Cons

What is Optical Drive?

An optical drive refers to the disk drive that allows reading data from or to an optical disc using laser beam technology. These drives can be either internal or external and use CD, DVD and Blu-ray technology.


  • The optical drives use electromagnetic waves to read or write data from the disc inserted in the drive and use SCSI, ATA, Serial ATA bus to transfer data.
  • Different types of optical discs are used such as CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, and Blu-ray optical drives such as BD-R, BD-RE and BD-XL.
  • Depending on the application, an optical drive has different functions such as read and write data on discs, install programs, store data and information, play multimedia and games.
  • Since laser beams are used for reading and writing data, optical drives are less prone to damage. These drives also allow easier access and working on specific data stored in the disc.
  • The optical drives need to be compatible with the discs to use and data retrieval takes some time due to their build.

Understanding Optical Drive

Understanding Optical Drive

An optical drive on a computer works by rotating the disc inserted at a specific speed, which is calculated in Revolution Per Minute also known as RPM, generally racing from 1600 to 1400 RPM.

The disk inserted in the optical drive is read with the help of a laser beam or electromagnetic waves.

“Optical” in the electronic sense means to require electromagnetic radiation for its operation and the optical drive uses electromagnetic waves to read/write data in the optical disc inserted in its optical drive.

The optical disk includes CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray disks. The laser or the electromagnetic waves in the optical drive used for reading the data of the disk, are comparatively less powerful than the laser used for writing data, as it “burns” the disk to write data.

The laser beam in the optical drive which is used to read the rotating disk inside the optical drive is generated using the lenses built in the head of the optical drive.

Different types of disk needed different wavelengths, for instance, a CD’s wavelength ranges to 780 nm (nanometer) for DVD it is 680 nm and lastly, for blu-ray disk, a wavelength of 405 nm is used.

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There are different optical drives for different optical disks but if an optical drive can work for multiple disks then the optical drives consist of multiple lasers.

The speed of the rotation of the disc while inserted varies the speed needed for rotation for music, CDs, and movies differ from the speed used for writing types of data.

Advanced Technology Attachment known as the ATA bus or a Serial ATA  bus is mostly used by optical drives along with SCSI known as a Small Computer System Interface used to transfer data from the computer.

Being a prominent part of electronic devices such as CD players, Blu-ray players, VCD players, DVD players, and even video game consoles like Sony PlayStation 3, 4 and 5, Xbox series x, Nintendo Wii U and few more.

Revolution of better data management systems and storage devices has come up. The demand for optical devices has decreased and has become less common these days.

Laptop computers hardly come with an optical disk drive because customers demand lighter and budget-friendly devices. In case if one requires an optical disc then one can always purchase an external optical drive for the computer.

Types of Optical Disk

What is Optical Drive

A disk that is used to read and write data, it stores data digitally and uses electromagnetic waves to read/write the data.

The optical disk is portable and is a secondary storage device, it can store a lot of music, images, videos, and transfer data to different computers and help in backing up data. CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray disks are commonly used optical disks.

  • CD

CD also known as the compact disc, have been an important part of the world of computers for a long time now even though they are becoming obsolete.

The compact discs are still being sold by many and are quite reasonable and cheap because they can be used for quick backups. It is portable and can be carried from one place to another.

CD-ROM (Read Only Memory) is where one can only read the data and cannot alter or erase the data present.

CD-R (Recordable) a disk that can be written once and read many times, can be recordable but comes with a drawback, that once the data is deleted the space taken by the deleted data cannot be retrieved.

CD-RW (Read and Write) where one can delete and also alter the data and the storage deleted can also be retrieved just like a USB. The highest storage provided by Compact Disks is 700mb.

  • DVD
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DVDs and CDs have many things in common. DVD (Digital versatile disc) is also optical disk storage which was invented in 1995, similar to the Compact Disk but cannot hold 6 times more data like a DVD.

It again comes with DVD-ROM(Read Only Memory) where one cannot alter or erase the data from the disk similar to CD-ROM.

DVD-R (Recordable) having similarities like CD-R, where data can be recorded but once the data is deleted the space cannot be retrieved.

DVD-RW(Read and Write) this makes a Pendrive it can alter erase data and also the storage can be retrieved.

  • Blu-ray

Lastly, comes the Blu-ray optical disc which consists of more storage than CD and DVD combined BD-R is similar to DVD-R CD-R data can be recordable but once deleted the storage cannot be retrieved.

BD-RE just like DVD-RW and CD-RW can be altered and erased and the storage can be also retrieved lastly comes BD-XL which comes in layers and has a lot of storage space used for movies and other purposes.

Functions of Optical Drive

  • The optical drive is also known as ODD is used to read the disc inserted and transmit the data to the CPU to process it with the help of the electromagnetic waves or laser.
  • Commonly used in computers to read software and files in disk format.
  • An Optical Drive for computer provides an easy way to install programs and utilize external data that comes in the disk form.
  • An Optical Drive is a mass storage device used for permanent storage space.
  • It reads the data or writes the data on the disk inserted.
  • One can read as well as store data in one computer for different purposes like music, videos, movies, and even backups that can be stored in the disk optical drive.
  • Multiple lasers used for different disk vary from one optical drive to another, some optical drives are only compatible with CDs and DVDs having similar lasers in one optical drive whereas for Blu-ray disk it will require different lasers present in the optical drive, not the one similar to the optical drives used for CDs and DVDs.
  • Since gaming has become a profession and it is a worldwide sensation, optical drive is required for gaming consoles like Xbox One, Playstation 3,4 and 5, and a few more.
  • It is similar to Floppy disk, magnetic drums, disk drives, tape drives, and many more storage drives.
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The Pros of Optical Drive

  • The optical disk is read via lasers, unlike the tape media which has to be touched to be read or written.
  • The optical drives face less damage during the read/write process.
  • The optical drive provides a large storage capacity to the users.
  • Optical drives store movies, games, data and are very portable.
  • Archive data present cannot be overwritten (only for CD-ROM and DVD-ROM).
  • One can easily access and operate to the data where it is stored.

The Cons of Optical Drive

  • Optical drives can read/write disks similar to the one they’re built for, causing difficulty for the user. This becomes very time-consuming and right now customers look for devices that are all in one.
  • Optical drives provide very less storage compared to other storage devices.
  • If the Drive isn’t compatible with the optical disk then, the compatibility issue can occur using different devices.
  • Lack of standards for grading quality.
  • Some data cannot be rewritten for certain disks (CD-ROM and DVD-ROM).
  • Because of the build, it is slow in retrieving data.

Questions & Answers:

Is an optical drive necessary for a computer?

With the changing time, an optical drive is very less used for a computer. Streaming movies and music are available on third party services. So, an optical drive is not necessary for a computer until one requires it to read disks.

What does it mean when a computer has no optical drive?

It means that due to the demand for smaller and inexpensive computers, the optical drive has been replaced with inexpensive USB drives, Cloud Storage, and Back up.

Do you need an optical drive to install Windows 10?

One doesn’t need an optical drive to install Windows 10. Most computers don’t need optical drives anymore. One can always install by downloading the Windows 10 in your USB Drive.


Trying to catch up with the innovations in storage, technology marches on and things change.

One can witness the change from a floppy disk to an optical drive to USB and many more.

The prominence for the optical drive has been reduced and replaced by the new light and portable machines and devices for better use.

Even though the optical drive played a great role in the past, some users still use the optical drive for their convenience.

About Taylor Swift

Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift, a UOPEOPLE graduate is a freelance technology writer with in-depth knowledge about computers. She has an understanding of hardware and technology gained through over 10 years of experience. Follow Her at Linkedin