Optical drives, which most of us know as CD or DVD drives, are standard in virtually all new personal computers. CD and DVD technologies are based on similar principles, although DVD is a newer technology that offers much higher capacity.
The CD drives used in personal computers come in several different types: CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-RW. All CD-R and CD-RW drives can also function as CD-ROM drives, and virtually all CD-RW drives can also burn CD-R discs. We’ll cover CD media and formats in depth in Chapter 15, but for now, here’s a short overview of the basics.
CD-ROM stands for Compact Disc-Read Only Memory. CD-ROM drives can read several types of data CDs (including, often, CD-RW discs) and play standard audio CDs. CD-ROM drives can also “rip” songs from audio CDs to your computer’s hard drive (see Chapter 11).
CD-R stands for CD-Recordable. Once you record something on a CD-R disc, you can’t erase or edit the information. CD-Rs are good for making custom audio CDs, sending large files to other people, and making permanent backups of computer data.
CD-RW stands for CD-Rewritable. CD-RW discs can be erased and re-recorded hundreds of times. CD-RWs work well for short-term backups, but they are not good a choice for recording standard audio CDs, because CD-RWs won’t work in many standard CD players.