Many new laptop computers don't have a CD/DVD drive; this is fine if you're installing software over the internet but not all suppliers provide downloadable installers. And then there's all those reference manuals on CD that you sometimes need.

There are two fairly simple alternatives: a USB optical drive,or a software drive emulator.

Hardware solution

At some point you need a computer with an optical drive. If you don't have another computer with a drive then you're only choice is to buy one.

External, USB connected optical drives retail in the $50-$100 range (Aug 2012). Not only do you solve the immediate problem, but a separate device will keep it solved in the future. Plus you can impress your friends by showing off your nifty new device (Ok, that part is probably just me...)

Software solution

If you have, or can borrow a different computer with an optical drive, there is a software solution.

The process is to rip the CD/DVD contents to an iso image (this is the bit that needs the optical drive) then use virtual optical drive software to mount the iso file as though it was in a physical drive.

There are many different options for iso creation and vitrual drive software, I use LCISOCCreator[1] and Virtual Clone Drive [2]. The actual processes depend on which software packages you use, but the general process is the same.

  1. Load the CD or DVD and note the drive letter (usually D: or E:, but your PC may be different).
  2. Run LCISOCCreator, select the appropriate drive letter (you may only have one choice), click 'Create ISO' and select an output filename (the iso image).
  3. Depending on the amount of data on the disc, speed of the drive etc, the iso file will take a few minutes to create.
  4. Copy the iso file to your drive-less computer.
  5. Install (and start) Virtual Clone Drive.
  6. Double-click the iso file to 'mount' it as a virtual drive. Your computer might show a different drive letter depending on how you configured Virtual Clone Drive.

Your 'virtual' cd is now ready to use.

Of course if you're only interested in the files on the CD, you can just copy them directly to a local directory and not bother with the ISO image.


You still need to have appropriate licenses for any copyright material or software you access in this way and individual copyright holders may impose specific restrictions that prohibit using this technique.

Don't break the law (and don't blame me if you do).

Network share

If you have a network and a computer with an optical drive, you could share that drive across the network. This can work, but it ties up the drive on the other machine.


[1] LCISOCCreator

[2] Virtual clone drive

Wikipedia article about ISO images