Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s we all enjoyed increasingly faster CD and DVD drives, but then the growth curve leveled off. Will we ever see faster optical disc drives?

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

Curious SuperUser reader User1301428 wanted to know why disc drives haven’t been getting any faster. He writes:

I was thinking about the fact that in the last years I have never seen CDs and DVDs supporting writing/reading speeds higher than 52X and 16X, respectively.

Is this a commercial choice (i.e. manufacturers don’t care about optical discs anymore and focus more on flash memories and SSD drives) or a technical limitation (i.e. optical drives cannot support higher writing and reading speeds)?

Well, which is it? Are such drives impractical to market or impractical to build?

The Answers

SuperUser contributor PhonicUK offers up the following explanation:

It’s mostly a technical limitation. Put simply, if you spin the disk too fast it starts to become unstable and wobble around or even start to come apart under the sheer stress. At best this means read/write errors – and at worse means the possibility of it coming loose and causing damage.

At 52x speed, the disk is spinning at around 24000 RPM – at around 27000 RPM the disk would start to crack.

Dan Neely reminds us there were attempts to break through the speed barrier:

About a decade ago there were CD drives that used multiple laser beams to read 7 tracks at once for higher performance without having to spin the disk extremely fast. However they were expensive and apparently had reliability problems as well.

It’s also worth noting that it isn’t just a question of structural integrity of the disk at high RPMs, but also of noise.

Finally, Ramhound points out that it’s of course possible, but that it will never happen thanks to the advent of Blu-ray:

They could modify the disk in theory to suppor higher RPMs the problem of course is that they would create a new standard for a media that is slowly being discontinued. The simple fact is Blu-ray is the future, and most of the manufactures know that, so why waste money making a CD or DVD support faster burn times. You can already burn a double layer DVD in a few minutes.

Looks like we’ll all just have to be happy burning our DL-DVDs in only a few minutes.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

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Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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