The 10 Best External CD Drives

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We spent 46 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Far from being a dead standard, optical discs provide quick access to data and audiovisual media and, in the right circumstances, can last far longer than flash memory. There are plenty of external drives that are great for reading and writing CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays at high speeds. Most of them are powered using a single USB port, and many can be had for a perfectly reasonable price. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best external cd drive on Amazon.

10. Apple Superdrive

9. Pioneer BDR-XD05S

8. LG WP50NB40

7. Roofull Portable

6. Guamar DVD

5. Buffalo MediaStation

4. Pioneer Super Slim

3. LG Electronics Ultra Slim

2. Nolyth Burner

1. Asus ZenDrive

Editor's Notes

May 12, 2019:

It's been a while now since an optical drive was a standard feature on new laptops. If you're a dedicated Apple enthusiast, you'll likely be happy with the Apple SuperDrive, though it is very expensive. The Guammar, however, is nearly indistinguishable from it, and should be every bit as capable. Plus, it's offered with a native USB-C connector. For a similarly sleek appearance but with Blu-ray support, the Pioneer Super Slim is the way to go. It's not Type-C, but most users find that a Type-A adapter works fine.

For a slightly different balance of function and style, the Asus ZenDrive is hard to top. It's built by a respected manufacturer and is remarkably slim despite its traditional tray design. The Nolyth is one of the few Blu-ray models with a fixed Type-C cable, and from what we've seen, A-to-C adapters haven't satisfied 100% of users' needs, so it is worthy of consideration. Both of LG's options are highly reliable; one supports all three major optical formats and the other is limited to CDs and DVDs, but they're both good choices. Pioneer also makes a couple very dependable models, though they're generally at the higher end of the price range. Rounding out the selection are the Buffalo and Roofull, both of which are among the most affordable options.

Why Are External CD Drives Necessary?

They are handy for watching rented movies when you are traveling out of town or retrieving old files that have not been otherwise backed up.

Modern technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years. Where CD-ROM drives used to come standard on new PCs, we are seeing less need for them over time. Most software downloads can be performed with a simple online purchase and click to download. Since so many of us are beginning to value portability and convenience over multiple features, CD drives are being left out to reduce bulk and make laptops even more portable. Streaming services have even made it unnecessary to use CDs and DVDs in all instances for entertainment, and cloud storage makes it easy to save and back up important files. Unfortunately, these efforts at added convenience pose inconveniences to many. Users are sometimes finding themselves needing to use a CD-ROM and having no way to do it.

That’s where external CD drives come in. They allow you to keep the convenience of your smaller, portable PCs while ensuring that you have access to all features, including CD-ROM capabilities. They are handy for watching rented movies when you are traveling out of town or retrieving old files that have not been otherwise backed up.

Most external CD drives connect via USB making them simple to install and use. Since CDs are not entirely obsolete, an external CD drive just makes sense. It is especially important for people who have music CDs they want to convert to MP3s. On the chance that CDs do one day become obsolete, all of your music, movies, and other important files will still be saved because you had the foresight to invest in an external CD drive.

Research Before You Buy

If you find yourself in need of an external CD drive, there are a few factors you will need to consider before making your final purchase. Don’t just go out and buy the first external CD drive you see in the store or click “Buy Now” on the top pick in the search results without first doing a little research. Not all external CD drives are created equal, especially if you will be using yours for work or gaming.

If you are using a Mac, read the product description carefully to ensure that your chosen drive will work with your computer.

First, consider the size you need. If your goal is portability, then you will want a small, slim drive that draws power from your laptop. Keep in mind that this will drain your battery power more quickly and slow down your programs. If you go with a bigger external drive, it might require a power adapter, but it will run faster and work well for file transfers and gaming.

Second, consider the extra features your chosen external CD drive offers. Some will only play CDs while other play CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs. Still others will rip and burn CDs and DVDs. Consider the amount of RAM available and how much is necessary to perform your intended functions.

Third, consider your operating system. Most external CD drives are compatible with PCs, but not all of them are compatible with Apple Macintosh computers. If you are using a Mac, read the product description carefully to ensure that your chosen drive will work with your computer.

Finally, consider the transfer speeds. If your chosen drive uses minimal power but transfers and a low rate, it might not be best for gaming or frequent file transfers. In this case, you will want to look into getting a drive that uses a bit more power but will save you time in the long run. However, if all you need is to rip a CD now and then or watch the occasional DVD, then a basic drive is probably a good choice.

A Brief History of External CD Drives

James T. Russell, an American inventor, is the widely accepted inventor of the original compact disc prototype that recorded information digitally on optical transparent foil. The foil was back lit by a halogen lamp, and Russell filed for the patent in 1966. It was four years before his patent request was approved. Afterward in the 1980s, Phillips and Sony both obtained licenses to produce compact discs and drives.

CDs and CD-ROMs soon paved the way for DVD technology quickly making VHS tapes obsolete.

Compact discs were officially released in 1982 and mostly used to play music because it was discovered that laser disc technology was excellent for storing and playing audio files. They were highly popular even though they were incredibly expensive. Because the design was uniform across all compact discs, any disc could be played on any player across all brands. This made them easy to produce and sell without causing the music industry to miss a beat.

When it was initially released, the CD was used only for storing and playing audio files. In 1988, Sony and Phillips introduced the CD-ROM and corresponding CD-ROM drive as an alternative way to store and view files on a computer.

The CD-ROM drive became standard on most computers sold to the general public by the early 1990s. The CD-ROM was capable of holding far more than the average floppy disc, and it became the popular choice for storing and accessing media files. CDs and CD-ROMs soon paved the way for DVD technology quickly making VHS tapes obsolete.

The rapid advancements in technology within the past twenty years of necessitated even more changes in digital storage meaning that the CD-ROM drive has taken a back seat in computer production. Because the drive is being left out of so many laptops in favor of a sleek, compact design, external CD drives have become a necessary commodity.

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Christopher Thomas
Last updated on May 13, 2019 by Christopher Thomas

Building PCs, remodeling, and cooking since he was young, quasi-renowned trumpeter Christopher Thomas traveled the USA performing at and organizing shows from an early age. His work experiences led him to open a catering company, eventually becoming a sous chef in several fine LA restaurants. He enjoys all sorts of barely necessary gadgets, specialty computing, cutting-edge video games, and modern social policy. He has given talks on debunking pseudoscience, the Dunning-Kruger effect, culinary technique, and traveling. After two decades of product and market research, Chris has a keen sense of what people want to know and how to explain it clearly. He delights in parsing complex subjects for anyone who will listen -- because teaching is the best way to ensure that you understand things yourself.


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