Which external DVD drive is best?
Internal disc drives have become less common in both desktop and laptop computers, which has given rise to another product: the external DVD drive. External DVD drives plug into a computer or device using a USB or other cable. Today, nearly all disc drives support DVD formats, though there are a few notable differences to consider before making your decision.
For MacBooks and other Apple computers, the Apple USB Superdrive is the perfect pick, featuring high-speed dual-sided burning and high-quality CD and DVD playback.
What to know before you buy an external DVD drive
First and foremost, external DVD drives are designed for computers and don’t usually work with other devices without some workarounds. And most external DVD drive buyers purchase for a specific use. Some want to play DVDs or CDs on their computer, while others mean to copy files to or from a disc. It’s crucial to ensure the drive you choose works for the purpose you want and with the formats you need.
Reading vs. writing DVD drives
Disc drives perform two primary functions — reading and writing. Reading refers to playing back media, such as watching DVDs or listening to CDs. Writing refers to burning DVDs and CDs, or writing file information to the disc to be read later. While most today can do both, some only read discs, or only write for certain DVD or CD formats. If you hope to burn discs, ensure that the drive you choose supports writing in the format you want.
DVD and CD formats
While many external DVD drives support multiple formats in each of the disc types, not all of them do. It’s important to make sure the drive you buy works with any DVD or CD formats you plan to use. In addition, you may want to consider if your drive can read and write Blu-ray discs or reading and writing on dual-sided discs.
Common CD and DVD formats include:
- CD-ROM: CD-ROMs are typically made for commercial use. This disc type includes read-only memory, which can’t be erased or re-written after being created.
- CD-R: These discs are recorded on once and also cannot be re-written, effectively creating a CD-ROM. This is the name given to discs you can buy for non-commercial use.
- CD-RW: CD-RW discs are readable, writable and rewritable as many times as needed.
- DVD: A standard DVD can store significantly more data than a CD.
- DVD+R and DVD-R: These disc formats are similar to CD-R in that they can only be recorded to once, before becoming permanent on the disc.
- DVD+RW and DVD-RW: These discs can be read, written and rewritten as many times as the user wants.
- DVD+RW DL: Dual-layer DVDs can be both read and written on, with information storage on both top and bottom.
What to look for in a quality external DVD drive
Most external DVD drives connect to your computer using a USB-A drive. However, many computers instead have quick-performing USB-C ports, which may require drives with the same type of cable. In other cases, users of DVD drives must purchase USB-C adapters.
Read and write speeds
Some external DVD drives can read and write at faster speeds than others. While media playback requires at least 8x speed, which most drives offer, writing times can often be prolonged by lower-quality drives. If you want to ensure the fastest drives possible when copying or opening media, be sure to check the product’s reading and writing times.
Many disc drives, such as Apple’s Superdrive, feature aesthetically pleasing designs that match a brand’s other hardware. Many are also made extra thin for the added benefit of portability. You can also buy drives with shockproof construction, which prevents damage if the drive is dropped or knocked around from daily travel.
How much you can expect to spend on an external DVD drive
Cheap external DVD drives can cost as little as $20, while mid-tier drives usually cost from $30-$70. For high-quality DVD drives with faster speeds and high-resolution format support, expect to spend $90-$150.
External DVD drive FAQ
Do external DVD drives play PC games?
A. Some do. Many external DVD drives that support the CD-ROM and DVD-ROM formats can play games of the same formats, with a few limitations. But most external drives run more slowly than internal disc drives, which can make some games hard to run.
Can external DVD drives read and write CDs?
A. Most external DVD drives today also support common CD formats such as CD-ROM, CD-R and CD-RW. However, it’s important to check before you buy, since format support can vary.
What’s the best external DVD drive to buy?
Top external DVD drive
What you need to know: This drive’s thin, metallic design goes great with Apple’s computers, and it offers high-speed reading and writing for both CDs and DVDs.
What you’ll love: This DVD drive uses a standard USB-A 2.0 port and works with both single and dual-sided DVDs. It’s also lightweight and makes a great option for portable use. It operates more quietly than other drives and can burn CDs, as well as single and double-sided DVDs.
What you should consider: This is most suitable for use with Apple devices. Buyers with a USB-C port device must purchase an adapter separately.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top external DVD drive for the money
What you need to know: This is an excellent low-priced drive that can both read and write CDs and DVDs, while coming with a USB-C adapter.
What you’ll love: This DVD drive features a USB-A 3.0 cable and can write a range of CD and DVD formats at up to 24x and 8x, respectively. It also reads and writes dual-sided DVDs and features a handy eject button.
What you should consider: This drive isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as others, and many buyers found the USB cable too short.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This external drive can read and write Blu-ray discs, as well as a handful of other CD and DVD formats.
What you’ll love: This drive uses a USB-A 2.0 connection and supports various CD and DVD formats, including dual-sided writing. It’s also super slim and easy to transport in backpacks or other bags.
What you should consider: Blu-ray playback on computers usually requires non-stock software downloads. It also has minimum system requirements, so check before you buy.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Peter McGuthrie writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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