How to Use CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs on a Computer Without a Disc Drive

Cd

Physical disc drives are going the way of the dodo. Modern laptops — and even many modern desktop PCs — are dropping disc drives. If you still have discs with software, music, videos, or anything else on them, there are still ways to use them.

Your options range from purchasing an external drive you can plug in via USB when you need the discs to converting those discs to digital formats so you can access them on demand. It’s up to you.

Get an External Disc Drive

Purchase an external disc drive that plugs in via USB and you can use discs the old-fashioned way. These are fairly inexpensive. Search Amazon, for example, and you’ll see options ranging from $12 drives that can read DVDs and CDs as well as burn CDs, to $25 options that can burn DVDs, too.  Blu-ray-capable drives are a bit expensive, starting at around $37.

Once you’ve purchased one, just plug it in via USB, insert a disc, and you’re done. You only have to plug in the drive while using a disc, so you can share the same USB disc drive among multiple computers and use it for your future computers, too.

External Optical Disc Writer. Compact Device Connected Via Usb Port

Create ISO Files and Use Virtual Discs

If you’re dealing with software CDs, you can create ISO files from them and use those ISO files whenever you need to install the software. This is useful for old PC software discs — games, for example — especially ones that need to be inserted for the game to be playable.

There are many tools you can use to create ISO files on Windows, including InfraRecorder. Once you install it, you can insert a disc, right-click it, and select “Create image from CD/DVD.” This will create an ISO file. Since Windows 8, Windows has allowed you to “mount” ISOs (and IMG files) as virtual discs by double-clicking them. You can then use them as if they were inserted in your computer.

Once you have an ISO file, you can unplug your external disc drive or move it to another computer without a disc drive.

Rip Audio CDs

You can rip your audio CDs to create digital music files in MP3, AAC, FLAC, or another format and listen to those rather than rely on the physical discs themselves. Ripping CDs is fairly simple, and you can use iTunes or a more advanced program like EAC to do it.

Once you’re done, move those digital music files to the computer without the disc drive — or upload them to a free music-streaming service like Google Play Music so you can stream them from anywhere.

Rip DVD or Blu-ray Movies

DVDs and Blu-ray movies are harder to rip to digital video files thanks to their copyright protection. DVDs are much easier to rip using a wide variety of programs while Blu-ray discs can only be ripped using a few programs.

This only applies to commercial video discs, of course — if you’ve burned home videos to a DVD or Blu-ray disc, it’s easy to rip them because there’s no copy-protection.

These videos can be ripped using a variety of programs, but you’ll need to ensure your program of choice has a way to bypass that obnoxious copy-protection. You’ll probably want to encode those videos to another format, creating a smaller file so they won’t take as much space on your internal drive, too.

Access a Disc Drive Over the Network

It’s also possible to access a disc drive over the network by sharing it as a network share. If you have a computer with a disc drive on the same network as your computer without a disc drive, you can share that disc drive over the network.

Mac OS X provides a “remote disc sharing” feature, while it’s possible to share discs over the network on Windows, too. However, this won’t work with all types of discs — software discs that use copy protection won’t function this way, for example. Still, it’s worth a shot for accessing those files over the network without copying them to a drive or making an ISO file first.


Consider avoiding physical media in the future and going digital to reduce your need to bother with discs. For example, if you play old PC games that came on discs, you can often re-purchase them on GOG or Steam for a small amount of money — especially during sales — and install those instead of relying on your old physical discs.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.