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Optical Storage: CD and DVD Drives

There was a time when floppy disks were the only way to move large amounts of data around.  As programs got bigger and more complex, the need for mass, portable storage became more apparent.  It started to get ridiculous when programs were coming on 20 different floppy disks.  When the CD-ROM was brought to the market, everything changed.  You could then move around about 600 MB of data (or 300 floppy disks-worth) on a single compact disc.  Talk about a world of difference!

The early CD-ROM drives were spotty, really spotty.  They ran at 1x and 2x the normal speed of an audio CD player.  The funny thing was, developers and programmers hadn’t yet caught up with this massive jump in storage.  Many CD-ROM based programs were just above the limit of floppy disk usefulness.  As a result, many programs that came on CD only used about 10% of the disc’s storage.  The major difference about a CD was that you could not write anything to it.  They were ’as is’ and could never be changed.

Of course, with the new capacity came new ideas and possibilities.  Soon, programs were coming on multiple CDs.  People began to demand the ability to copy CDs and back-up data to them.  The first CD-R drives came out in the late 90’s.  They were horrible when it came to reliability.  But really this just reflected inadequate system specifications as a whole.  Now, the modern CD-R/RW can write a complete CD in 2 minutes at 52x the original speed.

As I write this, the industry is poised at the edge of another transition.  With the development of the DVD, the DVD-ROM has begun penetrating into the PC market.  There are some programs now coming out on 4-6 CDs that could easily fit onto one DVD.  Now that DVD-R technology is slowly catching up with CD-R technology in price and performance, it’s only a matter of time before all programs are distributed through DVDs.

The latest and greatest development in optical drive technology is the combo drive.  I recently picked up one of these by LG and it’s been great.  The idea is to combine a DVD-ROM with a CD-R/RW drive.  You can get a 16x DVD-ROM + 52x24x52x (read, re-write, and write speeds) CD-ROM built into the same physical drive.  This helps reduce the number of drives in your system but it’s usually a good idea to have at least one writer drive and one reader drive if you ever want to copy straight off another CD.

Proposed advancements in the field of optical drives are the HD-DVD and the Blu-Ray discs.  Right now, the two standards are competing with each other to be the next generation in DVD storage.  HD-DVD is headed by Toshiba, while the Blu-Ray disc is headed by Sony.  As of right now, it looks like the HD-DVD is winning more support.