What Does an Optical Disc Drive Do?

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An optical disc drive, or simply optical drive, is a piece of computer hardware that alters data on optical discs using lasers. Optical drives edit, delete and add content to CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs in computers and entertainment electronics. Optical drives are useless without optical discs, which typically are round, lightweight pieces of hardware with small grooves on the shiny side of the disc.

These common pieces of computer machinery rotate the disc at a constant speed while a laser reads the disc. Information is transmitted through a lens in the optical drive's head that moves back and forth across the face of the disc. Information on an optical disc can only be altered by a compatible optical drive.

Optical drives spin anywhere between 1,600 and 4,000 revolutions per minute. Faster speeds denote faster data retrieval. A single optical drive typically uses several digital formats, such as CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-RW and BD-R. Consumers should check the owner's manual before purchasing optical media to ensure compatibility with an optical drive.

When these pieces of hardware first became available to consumers, optical drives were typically read-only, which means users cannot rewrite information on portable media. As newer optical technology arrived on the consumer electronics market, these pieces of hardware were initially expensive until consumer demand increased.