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Disc Drives: An Endangered Species

More and more computers are shipping sans-disc drive leading many industry watchers to proclaim the optical disc an endangered species on its way out. Do you still use your drive or are you letting the disc go?

CNN Tech reports on the trend:

Apple’s new iMac, its flagship desktop computer, was released Friday. For the first time, it has no disc drive. This marks a trend that has already begun on some laptops, like Apple’s MacBook Airs, and of course with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

“Over time, an optical disc will be as much of an historical curiosity as a floppy disk,” said Michael Gartenberg, a tech-industry analyst with research firm Gartner Inc.

According to Apple, where sleeker, thinner designs are always en vogue, dumping the disc drive was a no-brainer.

In addition to Apple phasing out the drive, Sony announced they’ll no longer be manufacturing optical drives and other computer manufacturers are clearly moving towards disc drive-less computers. Although it’s hard to believe such a previously ubiquitous technology is on the way out he door, a quick survey around just our office, for example, shows that only 2 of 7 computers nearby have optical drives (and one of them has a drive that was only used once, to install the operating system off a DVD). Are you in a similar situation in your home/work computing life or are optical discs still a significant part of your workflow?

Why Disc Drives Are an Endangered Species [CNN Tech]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/6/12

Comments (51)

  1. debsawyer

    Everything is networked in my home. I haven’t used a CD or DVD in a long time. I can see everything from pictures, videos and stream music over my network.

  2. Cynic

    One reason might to be reduce piracy from DVD media ripping.

    Now there are credible online alternatives to physical media (iTunes, Netflix, Lovefilm, etc.) there must no doubt also be industry pressure to encourage their use…

  3. Luis

    You get the poitn Cynic, also i think to encourage the cloud service shift.

  4. OldSalt

    My latest desktop came with a HDD with an SSD piggy backed on it. The boot time has significantly dropped since the boot programs are cached on the SSD. Also, the sleep-to-awake time has also significantly dropped. If price was less, I’d opt for pure SSD over HDD.

  5. Andrew

    I disconnected my DVD drives from my desktop because I needed the SATA cables. That was like 8 months ago, and I haven’t missed them yet.

  6. MeThree

    No way I’m giving up my dvd drive…I not only have a computer attached to my TV to play movies, but I also have gigs of backups on DVD. I won’t be giving mine up for a long time. And I distrust cloud services. If you want something done right, do it yourself….

  7. NSDCars5

    *bangs his head on the wall* Why didn’t I get an ultrabook when I had the chance?!

  8. GeekinTexas

    Hard disk, CD-ROM drive, DVD-ROM drive, optical disk, floppy disk drive… I wish you guys would learn the differences and use them appropriately.

  9. fraser

    What happens computer fails and there is no other way to reinstall the os? (probally repeating what people were saying during the downturn of the floppy drive)

  10. Jean-Francois Messier

    I know now that I never burn CD/DVD’s anymore, as I always use USB Keys when installing/testing new versions/distros of Linux. The point is simple: I can re-use a USB disk, not a CD/DVD. Those rewritable disks are mostly unreliable. So I have a stack of blank disks that I rarely use now. I also have a stack of CD’s back from the time when they were in individual plastic cases. those are expired, as far as I know.

  11. TheFu

    As long as at least 1 machine on the network has a DVD drive, I´m fine. However, I picked up 2 SATA DVD+RW drives cheap last year as spares. $12 brings too much convenience to be without.

    Only a netbook and Android tablet do not have DVD drives installed. All other systems do.

    I´ve considered switching to DRM-free blueray for photo and media storage, but the math didn´t work out. At least, not yet.

    However, I am using these drives less and less for OS installation. Yumi with ISO files on a USB Flash disk for the different OSes has worked well the last few years. I have not tried it with anything except Linux-based OSes.

  12. Michael

    The manufacturers are making recovery media available on flash media instead of (or rather, in addition to) optical drives. A few people still own computers that can’t boot from a USB device, but they’re disappearing in a hurry.

    With the advent of very high capacity storage on Bluray and the ease of filing a large number of CD/DVD/BDs, i would prefer optical disks for local backup storage. And i really feel a little queasy about going with a pure online backup strategy – while that’s probably much more reliable and convenient than having multiple hard drives and optical disks, trust-but-verify with private and confidential information is very difficult for most computer users. Plus, i’m starting to feel nickel-and-dimed to death among the phone company, the cable company, the ISP (if different), cellular carriers, and on-line services. It’s expensive enough to buy software in the first place, but i get the feeling we are paying a lot more overall, or will be, as cloud-based applications come more to the fore. Once upon a time, you could pay for your entire communications bill with a day’s worth of wages, but that’s becoming less true for a lot of people – if you’re minimum wage, you can’t even pay for one of these services after putting in a full day.

  13. pcpro178

    What is a sans disk drive?

  14. Ray

    I routinely use the DVD drive on both my laptop and desktop. I can not picture my life without them.

  15. mooseman645

    As MeThree said above, I won’t be getting rid of my disc drives anytime soon. I backup copies of games from steam on dvd rather often. I also don’t really trust my data out in the cloud, recently I’ve set up my own cloud running on my server to get around that trust issue.

  16. David Lindberg

    I build all of my own computers. I have an immense amount of data on optical disks. I use them regularly, I also use flash drives. I even have floppy drives in all of my desktop machines. I am an anacronism, I guess. I am always experimenting with computers. I am the ultimate tinkerer.

  17. Mike

    Those of you using DVD’s and CD’s for backups – take a look at the expected life expectancy of your media and the conditions under which it needs to be stored to even get that life.

  18. Asgaro

    The only reason I still have a DVD drive is because I sometimes burn CD’s to listen to while driving. Or to burn CD’s for my 2 younger nephews when they ask for it.

    Installing operating system: I now always install from USB.
    For listening to music on my PC, I use Spotify.
    For games, I use Steam. Best. service. ever.
    For movies: Netflix or any other legal online movie service are simply not available in my country (Belgium), so I resort to less legal services…

  19. Jerry Lyles

    Disc drive is gone but reference only to optical drives? Which is it?

  20. Dennis

    @pcpro178 The phrase “sans disc drive” means “without disc drive”

  21. SansAplomb

    I regularly watch movies on disk. I certainly hope the switch to ‘cloud and streaming only’ takes longer than I’ll be around.

  22. LadyFitzgerald

    I haven’t stored data on CDs in years (too expensive and too ephemeral) but I still frequently use my optical drive for legally ripping my music CDs (and will rip all my movies in the not all that distant future). Much of the music I purchase is available only on CD or I buy the CDs instead of the downloads to get the album jacket art and data (downloads usually don’t have all of that information and it can be hard to impossible to find elsewhere online). Also, most commercial programs come on CD/DVDs. Some may be available for download but having them on physical media is handy, especially if a good internet connection isn’t available. However, I won’t bother with burning a downloaded program to a DVD/CD due to the limited lifespan of CD/DVDs (I just make sure the instsllation files are well backed up). I also use CDs for sharing photos I’ve taken with others (pretty much the only thing I burn anymore, especially those with limited or no broadband internet connections) and or I have a large number of large photo files to share.

    Reliable cloud storage sites (that leaves out the freebies and even some of the paid ones) are good for keeping up to date offsite backups but should not be solely relied on for backups. A backup scheme should have, at the bare minimum, one onsite back up and one offsite. Redundant backups ensure against backup failure. Onsite backups tend to be more up to date but the same disasters that can take out your computer (fire, flood, theft, etc.) can take out your backup. Having an additional backup offsite helps protect against that loss. However, even offsite backups can fail, tend to be less up to date, and are inconvenient to access for data recovery. Cloud storage is far more up to date than other offsite storage schemes but are painfully slow when recovering large amounts of data (usually, cloud backups can be used to recover data only, not complete system images) and even they can fail.

    @ pcpro178. Sans means without so sans disk drive, in this case, means without an optical drive (the use of the term disk for optical is confusing here since HDDs and even SSDs are drives).

  23. Rick S

    I wouldn’t buy a computer unless it had a disc drive. I use it all the time.

  24. Rick

    The reason for this is that MS and Apple both want to eliminate OS piracy and as long as the install is home based they can’t do it.

  25. Kevalin

    When the cloud companies find a way to INVARIABLY protect my information from hackers and nosy federal officials (not because I have anything to hide, but just a matter of pride and privacy), I’ll get rid of all my “optical” drives.

    ‘Til then, guess I’d better stock up.

  26. kim

    I’m mad at the way the end user is manipulated , herded like sheep into a corner that the ‘pony tails’ find convenient and then ‘shorn’ till we bleed.

    Too bad if some of us use optical drives on a daily basis , too bad if some of us still are dependent on them – just make a decision and viola -onto the next money making scheme.

    We haven’t yet had a chance to properly warm up our new blu ray drives -with better quality (scratch proof) disks , able to store 50x more data -and we hear that the pony tails are already sick of plying with this toy and want to move on!

    Consumerism stinks -no value for money any more -just a big shearing shed with hapless victims expected to keep up with these kids who have no attention span.

    I for one do not want to give these guys all my information -I refuse to use “cloud” they have never earned my trust (M$oft or Apple etc.) they have an appalling record and many court judgements (especially in Europe reflect that -so whilst the younger (naive) generation are happy to let these big corporations hold all their data on their servers -I want to back mine up locally and I want to use optical drives to burn,store and catalogue a good deal of it.

  27. John

    I haven’t used discs in quite a while, all my movies, music, backups, os’s, etc are all on usb drives. for one thing it’s quicker to transfer than burning a disc and I can play my music in my car from a usb drive or an sd card. most new tv’s can play directly off of a usb drive also, who needs discs anymore?

  28. Dic

    @Mike: I still, from time to time, use 15-year-old floppies, all still in good nick. I do so because they have programmes on them that once were free but now are not. PowerDesk is one such.

    That said, one day, I’ll probably make copies – to CD.

  29. LadyFitzgerald

    @ Those who fear their data can be stolen from cloud backup. If your data is properly encrypted before uploading it, no one will be able to access it. The danger of losing the data due to a server failure or human error is much, much greater (hence, the need for redundant backups). Paid cloud backup services, such as Carbonite, etc., encryt your data before it ever leaves your computer and decrypt it after it is returned to your computer. Free cloud storage doesn’t do that but one can always use their own encryption.

    One use for CDs I still use and forgot to mention is for playing mp3s in my truck’s CD player. My next truck will have the ability to play from a USB stick so even that use of CDs will evaporate when I replace my truck.

  30. Chris

    I rely on the local hard drive and optical media on my computers. I keep my backup archives on DVD’s. I would hate to see them go obsolete anytime soon.
    The cloud services are inconvenient as high speed internet is unavailable in my rural area. Even if it was available & convenient, I would want to keep a local copy.

  31. jeepmanjr

    I still use my drives fairly often. While I have two servers at home, I still have quite a bit of software on discs. I still burn video to DVD/DL to watch on TV. However, it’s rare that I use CD’s. I pretty much stopped using those back in the day when music went digital. I’m gonna keep ‘em for a while…you never know when you’re gonna need it.

  32. Z

    I use my DVD drive a lot. I’m too stupid and too untrusting about viruses and other malware so if I feel I have any problems I just do a clean reinstall of the OS. I don’t quite know how to do it from a flash drive but at the same time.. I honestly don’t have a dozen or two flash drives to waste. Another thing is there it is a hell of a lot easier labeling CD/DVD/BluRay then a thumbdrive, espectially a black thumbdrive.

    I dislike the idea of cloud services. There are way to many if’s, and’s, and but’s to it with a whole swath of grey area. Along with every company with an online presence being hacked left and right why would anyone think that the cloud could be more secure then a box with a lock on it in your own home? It might be nice to have everything stored in the cloud, but access is limited by your ISP which in the US is pretty shitty and that is IF the US government doesn’t take down the website where “your” cloud is. Cloud opens a ton of privacy issues which can be solved by not using it.

    Netflix is nice, same thing, it is limited by your ISP. Netflix also doesn’t have the latest movies or all the movies made. For people like me who has a very clean library of media I would rather just get up grab a sandwich and DVD if the movie isn’t on my HDD then trying to navigate a website that has very odd genres. If your looking for a really rare movie or film you would still have to go through less legimate routes to get it, but when you do, you can burn it and keep it forever and make however many copies you want.

    If you want to give up the right to have ownership of something and give up your privacy then yea go ahead and support your cloud but this person won’t.

  33. khendar

    In Australia it’s very hard to purchase media digitally. If you don’t want to use iTunes and don’t want to rely on a streaming service, there are precious few sites where you can legally buy mp3s. There’s even fewer sites where you can purchase movies. If they start phasing out CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMSs/BluRays it’s going to make it difficult for Australians to access new music and movies.

  34. gifi4

    I have my optical drive still connected to my PC. When I eventually do run out of HDD space (Have no free SATA ports) I’ll switch the optical drive for a new HDD. I really oughta backup my data, one of my HDD’s is on it’s way out, grinding and stuff =(

  35. dragonbite

    I think the few reasons I still use an optical disk is to play movies on the computer (from the Library, costs me nothing), install Linux distros if the USB method doesn’t work or when I receive the media from someone else, like our school. My wife uses it for playing music during her art classes.

    I have contemplated removing the drive from my laptop to make sure no battery juice is being sucked out for it. Chances are I wouldn’t miss it (except for the gaping hole).

    I think, though, I would keep the optical disk drive for a similar reason for keeping Windows installed; for those occasional times when you need it. But I could get away with just ONE in the house :)

  36. sorinc

    Looking at the big picture, when we moved from mainframes/minis to PCs we became more independent, being able to have local computing power and storage.
    The trend seems to reverse towards centralization, with the much-touted cloud being a gigantic mainframe.
    Think of it — if one part of the puzzle fails (e.g. the excavator digging for the foundation next door cuts your cable/phoneline, or your ISP has a downtime, etc.) your data is unavailable if it’s located on the cloud.
    On top of that, let’s not forget that a good portion (majority?) of the users are nowadays subject to data quotas. How can I back up my terrabytes of data online when I am limited to 60-90-120 or 300GB a month? When I exceed my quota, the ISP charges me $1-2+ per gig. I find the optical drive solution much cheaper, even if using BD’s, that are quite expensive.

  37. PB

    It would be a disaster if optical drives no longer can be bought at the computer store. Why? Because my many years of digital history is stored on a huge pile of CD’s and DVD’s. That’s why. Bringing that pile of data into a cloud service would cost me a fortune every year. Killing the optical drive is killing digital history too, and I think that goes for many, many users.

  38. Juninho

    I haven’t used phsyical discs such as DVDs/CDs/Blurays for over 3 years now, I mean most televisions have some form of USB support, I can stream videos and media from my Samsung Galaxy S3 to my TV, I can hook up my laptop to my TV etc etc there’s really no need for a disc drive anymore for me. I use stuff like Dropbox (50gb of free storage because of my S3) to backup documents etc for work/study as well as keeping a copy on a hard drive, I have 4 external harddrives and most of my important stuff is backed up twice, it’s probably cheaper too as you get a lot more storage for your money on an external hard drive than you get from buying numerous dvds/blurays

  39. Jer

    I just share the one drive on the beast and pull discs over the network if I need them on the laptops. (I also have an external for really hard failures)

  40. Alex R

    I remember years ago Larry Ellison the CEO of SUN I beileve pushed so hard from cloud based systems. This was in the late 80′s and I remember him saying how foolish it is to run to a store to buy plastic with bits on when it can be stored in a central computer. I like most here would never trust my data to the cloud! I know there’s no real way to say this without sounded paranoid, but I powerfully believe that all this is just another way for the powers that be to control us further. The thought of having all your data “out there” without a copy stored anywhere on your system is mind boggling! As secure as these online backup services are, it’s the fact that you’re not in control of “your” data period!

  41. JEB

    BlueRay are the BEST way to back up my tens of thousands of videos and photos; I keep a set of disc at work and at home!!

    Optical disc are very useful and should never go away.

  42. HJ Roman

    Well. In a lot of countries, the limited bandwidth & data caps make the cloud or streaming services unreliable. Moreover, even in the most developed countries, online services cannot match the Bluray quality (Full HD picture, TrueHD 7.1 sound, 3D & bonus materials).

  43. HJ Roman

    EDIT
    Well. In a lot of locations, the limited bandwidth & data caps make the cloud or streaming services unreliable. Streaming services are not available worldwide. Moreover, even in the most developed countries, online services cannot match the Bluray quality: Full HD image, TrueHD 7.1 sound, 3D & bonus materials. All this without stutering, lag or waiting time.

  44. akbozo

    keep the dvd drive, lose the hdd for ssd

  45. brandido2002

    I have to sell Ultrabooks at work and the first thing I ask people is, “when was the last time you used a cd/dvd in your computer?” they always admit they havnt for a long time. The only exception is movies, I still get DVD’s from netflix, so an optical drive is vital. but then if someone still needs an optical drive, they only cost $40. unless you want a blu-ray burner, which are now under a hundred.

    Also windows has been bootable from a usb thumb drive since vista, the tool to create a bootable thumb drive is free from microsoft. I do it all the time, new windows install start to finish in about 10 minutes! compared to 1-2 hours from a disc!

  46. Dude

    Apple sucks anyway.

  47. Paul (Other)

    I’ve got an external portable DVD drive (that connects via USB) just for this reason.

  48. vazarus

    If you live on the Eastern coast of the U.S. you will find this troubling. If companies can’t provide music or movies because they don’t have the means I can’t listen because I can no longer buy music cds or movies in the future. I guess this will lead to more live music events in communities because Saas has shown it is not 100% sustainable. Some might be thinking well how do you listen to music if you don’t have power…I still have a sony walkman cd player just for events like Sandy but I will have to listen to old music cause they want all the new stuff to be controlled by them…I mean bought in an ecosystem. Why can’t it just be a complimentary service to the consumer instead of forced on us?

  49. your humble narrator

    CDs and DVDs are still required for the vast amounts of data stored on the millions of discs around the world. I don’t know why there’s a push to kill it off so quickly. It’s still useful to many users. Do you give away flash drives or hard disks with data on to friends and family? A disc is so cheap it’s nothing to give away to someone. And I’d have more faith in recovering data from disc media than a failed solid state drive.

  50. Antje

    I still use CDs and DVDs as one forms of long term backups for individual files. Bear in mind that I still buy software in physical media.

  51. dvsspace

    Internet is too expensive and too slow still. Physical media is still one of the best ways to deliver Large Data.

    Example:
    Imagine that you have trained your St. Bernard, Bernie, to carry a box of three 8mm
    tapes instead of a flask of brandy. (When your disk fills up, you consider that an
    emergency.) These tapes each contain 7 gigabytes. The dog can travel to your side,
    wherever you may be, at 18 km/hour. For what range of distances does Bernie have a
    higher data rate than a transmission line whose data rate (excluding overhead) is 150
    Mbps?

    Answer:
    The dog can carry 21 gigabytes, or 168 gigabits. A speed of 18 km/hour equals 0.005 km/sec. The time to ravel distance x km is x/0.005=200x sec, yielding a data rate of 168/200x Gbps or 840 Mbps. For x < 5.6 km, the dog has a higher rate than the communication line.

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