How to Take Your DVD With You When You Upgrade

Laptop computers have been getter smaller and lighter as well as faster. One of the most noticeable casualties has been the presence of an optical drive, which you use to play your various discs.

What are Optical Drives?

Unlike hard drives which work with internal disks that provide fixed storage, these drives use removable optical media. Prior to the spread of downloadable software, they were the primary method of loading programs onto computer HDDs. There were three main kinds of drive:

  • CD Drives: Originally for CD-ROMs, these drives later gained the ability to write to CD-R and CD-RW as well as read discs.
  • DVD Drives: The next step up from CDs, these increased the data capacity to 4.7 GB from approximately 700 MB and also allowed people to watch movies on their computers.
  • Blu-Ray Drives: Blu-ray discs were developed for high definition video and offer even more storage than either preceding optical format, with shorter wavelength lasers giving up to 50 GB on a dual layer disc.

How Can You Add One to Your Laptop?

Since so many laptops don't come with these drives, and there is no way to open one up and make room to install one, the obvious option is to go with an external drive. While you can find a dedicated external drive, it's often easier to simply take the drive out of your last computer and use that in an external enclosure. Some of the things to look for include:

  • USB: Some external enclosures use FireWire or Thunderbolt, but in most cases, USB is the appropriate option. You can just plug it in and your enclosure will immediately work. USB 3.0 offers practical speeds of 300 MB/sec, which is as good as SATA II. Most will work at USB 2.0 speeds, but the earlier USB generation offers about 1/10th the speed.
  • Size: While a hard drive enclosure is usually designed for 3.5 or 2.5-inch hard drives, optical drives require the larger 5.25-inch size. Luckily, many also include adapters that can let you install a smaller drive in a full size enclosure.

Using Enclosures

Whether you use USB2 or USB3, you also have to make sure that the internal interface is properly connected. In most cases, this will be a SATA interface to match the one on the drive itself. One nice thing with enclosures is that they are generally swappable, so you can always change out the drive if you need to. In addition to standard drives, you can also get trayless models where the optical disc feeds in through a slot on the drive. The advantage of this approach is that these drives have fewer moving parts.