CD-ROMs are popularly used to distribute computer software, including games and multimedia applications, though any data can be stored (up to the capacity limit of a disc). Some CDs hold both computer data and audio with the latter capable of being played on a CD player, whilst data (such as software or digital video) is only usable on a computer (such as PC CD-ROMs). These are called Enhanced CDs.
Although many people use lowercase letters in this acronym, proper presentation is in all capital letters with a hyphen between CD and ROM. It was also suggested by some, especially soon after the technology was first released, that CD-ROM was an acronym for "Compact Disc read-only-media", or that it was a more "correct" definition. This was not the intention of the original team who developed the CD-ROM, and common acceptance of the "memory" definition is now almost universal. This is probably in no small part due to the widespread use of other "ROM" acronyms such as Flash-ROMs and EEPROMs where "memory" is usually the correct term.
There are several formats used for data stored on compact discs, known collectively as the Rainbow Books. These include the original Red Book standards for CD audio, White Book and Yellow Book CD-ROM. The ECMA-130 standard, which gives a thorough description of the physics and physical layer of the CD-ROM, inclusive of Cross-interleaved Reed-Solomon coding CIRC and Eight-to-Fourteen Modulation, can be downloaded from
ISO 9660 defines the standard file system of a CD-ROM, although it is due to be replaced by ISO 13490. UDF format is used on user-writeable CD-R and CD-RW discs that are intended to be extended or overwritten. The bootable CD specification, to make a CD emulate a hard disk or floppy, is called El Torito. Apparently named this because its design originated in an El Torito restaurant in Irvine, California.
A 1x speed CD drive reads 75 consecutive sectors per second.
|Layout Type||← 2,352 bytes block →|
|CD Digital Audio:||2,352 bytes of Digital Audio|
|CD-ROM (MODE1):||12||4||2,048 bytes of user data||4||8||276|
|CD-ROM (MODE2):||12||4||2,336 bytes of user data|
Pre-pressed CD-ROMs are mass-produced by a process of stamping where a glass master disc is created and used to make "stampers", which are in turn used to manufacture multiple copies of the final disc with the pits already present. Recordable (CD-R) and rewritable (CD-RW) discs are manufactured by a similar method, but the data are recorded on them by a laser changing the properties of a dye or phase change material in a process that is often referred to as "burning".
A standard 120 mm CD-ROM holds up to 703.1 MB (737 million bytes) of data (not counting error correction/detection data). To put this storage capacity into context, the average novel contains 100,000 words. Assume that average word length is 10 letters and that each letter occupies one byte. A novel therefore might occupy 1,000,000 bytes (1000 kB, without layout information). One CD can therefore contain around 700 novels. If each novel occupies at least one centimetre of bookshelf space, then one CD can contain the equivalent of seven metres of bookshelf. However, textual data can be compressed by more than a factor of ten, using compression algorithms, so a CD-ROM can accommodate close to 100 metres of bookshelf space.
In comparison a single layer DVD contains 4.4 GB of data, approximately 6 times the amount of a CD-ROM.
|Type||Sectors||Data max size||Audio max size|
|Note: Megabyte (MB) and minute (min) values are exact.|
CD capacities are always given in binary units, a "700 MB" CD has a nominal capacity of about 700.000 KB. DVD capacities, on the other hand, are given in decimal units: a "4.7 GB" DVD has a nominal capacity of about 4.377 GB.
CD-ROM discs are read using CD-ROM drives, which are now almost universal on personal computers. A CD-ROM drive may be connected to the computer via an IDE (ATA), SCSI, S-ATA, Firewire, or USB interface or a proprietary interface, such as the Panasonic CD interface. Virtually all modern CD-ROM drives can also play audio CDs as well as Video CDs and other data standards when used in conjunction with the right software.
CD-ROM drives employ a near-infrared 780 nm laser diode. The laser beam is directed onto the disc via an opto-electronic tracking module, which then detects whether the beam has been reflected or scattered.
CD-Recordable drives are often sold with three different speed ratings, one speed for write-once operations, one for re-write operations, and one for read-only operations. The speeds are typically listed in that order; ie a 12x/10x/32x CD drive can, CPU and media permitting, write to CD-R discs at 12x speed (1.80 MB/s), write to CD-RW discs at 10x speed (1.50 MB/s), and read from CD discs at 32x speed (4.80 MB/s).
The 1x speed rating for CD-ROM (150 KB/s) is different than 1x speed rating for audio CD (172.3 KB/s) and is not to be confused with the 1x speed rating for DVDs (1.32 MB/s).
Common transfer speeds:
There has been a move by the recording industry to make audio CDs (CDDAs, Red Book CDs) unplayable on computer CD-ROM drives, to prevent the copying of music. This is done by intentionally introducing errors onto the disc that the embedded circuits on most stand-alone audio players can automatically compensate for, but which may confuse CD-ROM drives. Consumer rights advocates are as of October 2001 pushing to require warning labels on compact discs that do not conform to the official Compact Disc Digital Audio standard (often called the Red Book) to inform consumers of which discs do not permit full fair use of their content.
In 2005, Sony BMG Music Entertainment was criticised when a copy protection mechanism known as Extended Copy Protection (XCP) used on some of their audio CDs automatically and surreptitiously installed copy-prevention software on computers (see 2005 Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal). Such discs are not legally allowed to be called CDs or Compact Discs because they break the Red Book standard governing CDs, and Amazon.com for example describes them as "copy protected discs" rather than "compact discs" or "CDs".
Software distributors, and in particular distributors of computer games, often make use of various copy protection schemes to prevent software running from any media besides the original CD-ROMs. This differs somewhat from audio CD protection in that it is usually implemented in both the media and the software itself. The CD-ROM itself may contain "weak" sectors to make copying the disc more difficult, and additional data that may be difficult or impossible to copy to a CD-R or disc image, but which the software checks for each time it is run to ensure an original disc and not an unauthorized copy is present in the computer's CD-ROM drive.
Manufacturers of CD writers (CD-R or CD-RW) are encouraged by the music industry to ensure that every drive they produce has a unique identifier, which will be encoded by the drive on every disc that it records: the RID or Recorder Identification Code. This is a counterpart to the SID—the Source Identification Code, an eight character code beginning with "IFPI" that is usually stamped on discs produced by CD recording plants.