CD-RW? CD-R? What’s the difference?

Question: What is a CD-R or CD-RW drive? –Jimmy

Answer: A CD-R (or CD-RW) drive is a device that slots into or attaches externally to a computer. It is a CD drive that allows the creation of compact discs (creating these CDs is also called “burning” them). It also plays traditional/retail audio CDs and will read data CDs.

There are a couple of types of CDs that can be used to burn (another word for “record”) to a blank CD. The first is a CD-Recordable (or CD-R) which means the CD can only be burned once, and can’t be erased.

The other type of CD that can be used with a CD writer is called CD-Rewriteable (CD-RW). These CDs can be recorded, erased, and re-recorded. They are reusable up to 1,000 times.

Your CD drive can be used to create audio CDs and data CDs. About 74 minutes of audio can be recorded, or they can hold about 650 MB of data. Some CD-R discs have slightly higher capacities.

I’ve always preferred the drives from Hewlett Packard, but that’s probably because they have good Web site support and it’s easy to find Windows drivers for them. They also tend to be reliable and affordable, but companies like Creative Labs, Sony, and Mitsumi all make great CD-R/CD-RW drives.

To record CDs, you’ll need a computer that has a 100 MHz (or better) Pentium processor, and at least 16MB of RAM and 700MB of available hard drive space.
The hard drive space is optional, but becomes necessary if you will be saving data to your computer from a CD before copying them onto a blank. You’ll want to do this if you’re making multiple copies of the same CD.

When shopping for a CD-RW drive, look at the speeds on the box. You’ll see something like this: 2X / 4X / 32X. All numbers refer to how fast the drive is compared to the speed at which a CD player reads a music CD (which is considered 1 times or “1X”).

  • The first number in the sequence above is how fast the drive “writes” to a blank from a source CD.
  • The second X number is how fast the drive can copy data from the hard drive to a CD.
  • The last number is the “read” speed. That’s is how fast the drive reads data from a CD.

Most drives come with software that will also do data backups as well as audio CD creation. If you want to buy a package because the software your drive came with isn’t that great, consider Roxio Easy Media Creator 8.0.

See related audio questions: