Best Free CD-DVD Emulation Software

 
Introduction

Having CD/DVD emulation software works like having multiple CD/DVD ROM drives. The emulation software allows users to run a CD/DVD image directly from a hard disk after mounting the image to a virtual disk drive. This works the same as or even better than the traditional way for users to run a CD/DVD from a physical disk drive after mounting the CD/DVD onto it.

Depending on the emulation software, the number of virtual disk drives can be easily set to more than 10 or 20, at no extra cost, while the number of physical disk drives is usually limited to one that was bought as part of the PC.

Most users need this software for reasons such as:

  • Run CD/DVD images from a hard disk without the need to burn them into disks
  • Speed up access time as hard drives are much faster than optical drives
  • Backup several disk image files to a new hard drive is much easier and faster than to burn several new CDs/DVDs
  • Do not need to keep favorite software, music or game CD/DVD titles on the physical disk drive for them to run
  • Prevent CDs/DVDs from scratches or wearing out due to frequent switching
  • Keep a copy on the hard drive for running in case a CD/DVD becomes damaged, lost or stolen
  • Free up desk space without the need of having disks scattered around, or carry one disk library on a hard drive without the burden of many physical disks
  • Run disk images from a netbook or a notebook without a built-in disk drive, or with the disk drive turned off to save power
  • Make a disk accessible to users on a network
  • Encrypt disk images for security and decrypt themonly when accessed.

Serving most of the objectives, these free CD/DVD emulation software tools, or emulators, are reviewed and rated based on the following features:

  • Number of virtual disk drives allowed
  • Support ISO and other disk image formats
  • Able to create disk images from CDs/DVDs
  • User interface and other additional features.
 
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Discussion

Gizmo DriveGizmo Drive is good emulation software which allows you to mount a disk image in ISO or other formats to a virtual drive using its driver. When an image is mounted, it appears as an actual CD/DVD-ROM drive or hard drive in Windows Explorer.

It supports up to 26 virtual drives. Other types of images which can be mounted include VHD, IMG, BIN, CUE, NRG, CCD, MDS, MDF and GDRIVE.

In addition to mounting images to virtual drives, Gizmo Drive allows you to create ISO images from a disk or folder, and burn the contents of an ISO file or a folder to a recordable disk. It comes with a Gizmo Manager and Image Wizard to perform the various tasks.

User interface of this program is informative and helpful. Other additional features include creating a GDRIVE image for simulating a hard drive with compression and encryption, creating a virtual hard drive backed by system memory for better performance in accessing time sensitive data, etc.

 

MagicDiscMagicDisc, also known as MagicISO Virtual CD/DVD-ROM, is another emulator designed for creating and managing virtual CD/DVD drives.

It allows you to run many types of CD/DVD images without burning them onto CDs or DVDs. It also allows you to create CD/DVD images from CDs/DVDs and save them into various formats including ISO, BIN/CUE, NRG, UIF.

This program, with a simple interface, supports up to 15 virtual disk drives.

Other features are available such as, compress ISO, NRG, CUE, MDS and CCD formats into UIF format, or decompress UIF format into ISO format. The feature for burning images to disks is not supported.

 

Virtual CloneDriveAnother easy-to-use emulator is Virtual CloneDrive. It allows you to double-click an image file to mount it to a virtual drive.

This program adds a Windows Explorer context menu for mounting and unmounting the images as well. In this version under review, it has increased the number of virtual drives up to 15, same as the number supported by MagicDisc.

Mountable image formats include ISO, CCD, IMG, UDF, BIN, etc., but NRG, MDF/MDS and some other formats are not supported. The program comes with a Virtual Sheep option which is designed to mark all virtual drives created by the software with its icon, so that you can differentiate them from the physical drives.

Auto-mounting the last image is also included as one of the options. On the down side, Virtual CloneDrive does not provide other features such as creating images from or burning them to disks.

 

To be reviewed:

  • ISO Toolkit for Windows allows you to run directly from the exe file without the need to install, mount ISO, NRG, or CD images, create bootable ISO images, clone ISO images from a CD/DVD, extract and convert between popular image formats.
  • WinArchiver Virtual Drive can mount not only all popular CD/DVD image files, but also all popular archives such as ZIP, RAR, 7Z and more. It's clean and lightweight, supporting up to 24 virtual drives.
 
Other CD / DVD Emulators

There are a number of other freeware products which were brought up in comments here or noted from other sources. As they are not rated in this review, I am listing them here with brief descriptions and links to the related sites for ease of reference.

  • Alcohol 52% Free Edition is a trimmed down version of the commercial product Alcohol 120%. The free version has a limited support for 6 virtual drives and installs an optional Search Toolbar in your browser upon installation of the software. The free program features a CD/DVD Manager and an Image Making Wizard to create image files in ISO, MDS, CCD and CUE format
  • Phantom CD, a virtual CD/DVD/Blu-ray emulator, supports only one virtual drive, when tested on Windows 7, with mountable image formats including ISO, CUE and VDD. Creating image files is not supported.
  • Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel is a free utility released by Microsoft without Product Support Services. It is available for download here. This emulator runs on Windows XP and allows you to add available drives from A to Z or remove them, and mount/unmount images in ISO, UDF, CDFS, ROCK or JO formats. It does not allow you to create image files. Less user friendly. The download file includes a readme text on how to install the driver.
 
Disk Image Formats

These are some image formats used by the emulation software for mounting images to virtual CD/DVD drives or other devices.

  • ISO: Standard ISO 9660 image, supported by most emulation software
  • BWT: BlindWrite image
  • CCD /IMG /SUB: CloneCD image
  • CDFS: CD File System image
  • CDI: DiscJuggler image
  • CUE /BIN: Cue sheet and binary image, introduced by CDRWIN
  • GDRIVE: Gizmo Drive image
  • IMG /IMA: Floppy disk image
  • ISZ: Compressed ISO image, developed by EZB Systems
  • JO: Joliet extension to ISO image, specified and endorsed by Microsoft
  • MDS /MDF: Media Descriptor image, proprietary to Alcohol Soft
  • NRG: Nero Burning ROM image
  • PDI: Instant CD/DVD image
  • ROCK: Rock Ridge extension to ISO image
  • UDF: Universal Disk Format, developed by Optical Storage Technology Associationproofread
  • UIF: Universal Image File
  • VHD: Virtual Hard Disk image
 
Related Products and Links

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Quick Selection Guide

Gizmo-Drive
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Support up to 26 virtual drives, create ISO image, burn ISO files or folders to recordable disks, complete with Gizmo Manager and Image Wizard to perform tasks.
Does not simulate audio CDs or video DVDs, required to reboot the system to start or remove its device driver.
2.7.9
8.0 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000 to Windows 7

Supported formats for mounting: ISO, GDRIVE, BIN/CUE, CCD, NRG, MDS/MDF, IMG, VHD.
v2.7.9 released 7 May, 2011
View changes here

MagicDisc
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Clean and simple user interface, able to mount many types of image files, create image formats including ISO, BIN/CUE, NRG, UIF, compress into UIF and decompress to ISO files.
Limited to 15 virtual drives, burning images to disks not supported.
2.7.106
1.29MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 98 to Windows 7

Supported formats for mounting: ISO, CUE/BIN, CCD, NRG, MDS/MDF, BWT, CDI, PDI, IMG, UIF, etc.
v2.7.106 released 24 February, 2009
View version history here

Virtual CloneDrive
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy to use, double-click an image file to mount the image, mounting and unmounting via Windows Explorer context menu.
Limited to 15 virtual drives, fewer mountable image formats, creating and burning images not supported.
5.4.7.0
1.60MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 98 to Vista

Supported formats for mounting: ISO, CCD, IMG, UDF, BIN, etc.
v5.4.6.0 released 17 May, 2013
View the changelog here

Furius ISO Mount
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Select or drag-and-drop an image file to mount, one-click unmount, supports for burning ISO and IMG files, generate MD5 and SHA1 checksums, saving history and retrieving previously unmounted images.
Creating disk images not included.
0.11.3.1
77.7 KB
Open source freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Linux

Supported formats for mounting: ISO, IMG, BIN, MDF and NRG image files

 

Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Jojo Yee. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

 
Tags

CD DVD emulator, emulation software, freeware, free emulator, virtual drive, virtual burner, virtual RW, virtual ROM, mount CD DVD drive

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Comments

by Jojo Yee on 13. January 2009 - 9:45  (13799)

Thanks. The toolbar is optional and not mandatory. If not opted out, it will install by default. This is applicable to Free Edition Version 1.9.8.

Some say it is not optional, which is true if they are installing Free Edition Version 1.9.5.

by Anonymous on 12. January 2009 - 9:43  (13701)

Program (free edition) requires that you install a browser toolbar. Won't let you install the program without the toolbar.

by Anonymous on 13. January 2009 - 6:36  (13785)

You're wrong. You can install it without the toolbar.

by Anonymous on 12. January 2009 - 19:30  (13758)

not true at all!

by Anonymous on 11. January 2009 - 8:37  (13601)

Does anybody know of a freeware Virtual CD Burner? One that can write out cds to an image file. I know of two, Phantom Drive and Phantom Burner, but none of these is freeware. I need one to create a single multiboot disc that will contain all my bootable tools.

by ekadim on 12. May 2009 - 20:38  (21449)

This is one of the hot subjects on the new with no available free tool. As you mentioned the Phantom Drive, Phantom Burner and probably the NoteBurner are the only options but they are sharewares as you mentioned.

Seems like the DRM owners and protectors somehow prevent such an effort.

By the way, sometimes this request is misunderstood. This is not to create an ISO from files/folders on the computer. This is in fact to be able to write an ISO image from an application. For instance, you have a playlist in your Windows Media Player and you want to make a CD of it. When you click the burn you can see only the physical Writers. However if you do not want to burn a physical DVD/CD but just to have an image of it, there is no direct way to do it. Or is it? Of course as free?

by vihar on 25. January 2009 - 8:55  (14655)

If you'd like to convert discs (CD/DVD) to an image, the best tool is ImgBurn, and is 100% free, no catches at all! It is a complete disc burning software, except for mounting virtual images and making video discs.

by Anonymous on 14. February 2009 - 15:31  (16032)

Actually I want to Burn from Nero to an image file, or, when some program prompts me to insert a blank cd to burn a recovery cd, I want that there should be a virtual drive that should be able to emulate a cd writer, so an image file is then created. I can then use magicIso/UltraIso to combine two or more such images to a multiboot disc.

Virtual CD 9 has this feature, but it is a commercial app.
Any Freeware suggestions, anyone?

by Jojo Yee on 14. February 2009 - 16:21  (16036)

This article currently covers free CD/DVD emulation software handling virtual ROM drives, basically allowing image mounting and running. So far I have not encountered any recommendable free emulation software handling virtual burners.

It would be a hot find and absolutely good to add in this article if there is one.

by Anonymous on 7. June 2009 - 11:36  (23240)

Well, it's Total Mounter (Post #25), so your list needs an update now.

And we can also list the commercial alternatives:

1. Virtual CD 9
2. Phantom Burner
3. Phantom Drive
4. Note Burner

All of them can create a virtual cd/dvd writer. (I haven't checked Note Burner though).

BTW, does anyone know of a decent freeware app that can mount zip & rar archives to a virtual drive. There's WinMount, but it's (what do you expect) commercial, and the last time I tried it on a 700 mb zip file, it took more than an hour to mount it, and my pc virtually grounded to a halt. It seems that it copies the entire archive contents to RAM, then sort of creates a RamDrive, so you can imagine what the results would be when you mount GB sized archives with it.

by Jojo Yee on 7. June 2009 - 14:08  (23250)

Many thanks for your valuable comment. I've created a thread in the Freeware Forum. Please check it out.

by Anonymous on 30. April 2009 - 10:44  (20826)

I'm also looking for something like that (Virtual CD Burner). I want to create music CDs, without actually burning it to a CD.

by Anonymous on 7. June 2009 - 11:15  (23236)

Hi, i'm #19 above. I found it. Total Mounter - free virtual CD/DVD RW Emulator.

I can't find a link to the homepage. Google it, though.

by Anonymous on 8. January 2009 - 10:54  (13384)

I use MagicDisc and I am particulary happy with it. It can even read some (not all, depending on version) Nero images.

regards
MC

by Anonymous on 9. February 2009 - 14:23  (15662)

I tried MagicDisk in combination with MagicIso (which is not for free) on my Win98 machine and am pretty disappointed. It caused high instability (many crashes with .UIF and .ISO), the GUI is buggy and it doesn't seem to be able to crack most copy protection.

by wdhpr on 8. January 2009 - 0:57  (13357)

#21 Addition

MagicDisc is in fact the same as magicIso My bad and yes its free with out the 3oo MB restriction. Live and learn. Tried Gizmo drive, don't like having to to reload the image files after each boot. So I am back with MagicDisc.

The problem with MagicDisk. it is not accurate enough to defeat some of the copyright protections.

That's when I breakout Alcohol 52%. It has good help files that give you step by step instructions to defeat those sneaky copyright protections.

(suggestion) I run both with no problem. six more drives :-) (winxp 32)

I have yet to try daemon tools because I am Leary about trojans and adaware.

Now for a gripe.
I Don't understand these protections. I paid for these games. CD's and DVD's wear out get scratched eaten by the dog etc. We pay for the software/programming not the plastic disc. what gives?

by Anonymous on 12. June 2009 - 10:53  (23663)

Because if they don't protect them, so many people would steal them/pass them around, that they'd be forced to double their price's. Even Department stores raise prices to cover for theft. (And come to think of it, the last time you wore a book out, did you get the publisher to replace it because you'd already paid for the info in it??)

by Anonymous on 7. January 2009 - 21:42  (13355)

Funny that this came out today. I spent a couple of hours last week looking for such a solution to use with my Father-in-law's new ASUS EEE1000H netbook (without an optical drive). I tried three of the items. I didn't like Daemon Tools or VirtualCloneDrive. I also tried microsoft's solution, but it is not particularly user friendly (I have no problem, but I want something easy for my Father-in-law.)

I'm looking forward to trying out Gizmo Drive and MagicDisc.

Eoin

by Anonymous on 7. January 2009 - 21:01  (13352)

Can any of these be used on XBOX 360? I would like to not have to worry about leaving a disc in the machine which the instructions warn vehemently against, while moving the system around (cleaning house, bringing to friends etc.)

**In a way I hope not bcs then I'll regret only getting the 60 GB version.

by Anonymous on 7. January 2009 - 20:19  (13350)

How about Alcohol 52%? It works well if you don't need a bunch of virtual drives. And I like the feature that lets me drag and drop a bunch of virtual discs into a catalog.

I'm going to give Gizmo a try though. And Virtual Clone Drive. I already use MagicISO as well as PowerISO.

Long ago I used Farstone Virtual Drive and loaded a PC with all my kids games and educational stuff and man, if you have kids, this is the way to go (virtual drives in general I mean). No scratching up the discs, losing them, jamming a drive, etc. And certainly they run way faster.

by Anonymous on 7. January 2009 - 18:15  (13346)

I've used Pismo File Mount Audit Package from http://www.pismotechnic.com/download with no complaints.

by Anonymous on 7. June 2009 - 11:40  (23243)

Very good tool, though I'd prefer it more if it supported RAR and 7Z archives. I think it supports only zip archives.

by Jojo Yee on 8. January 2009 - 9:51  (13376)

Thanks for bringing this up. There is some difference here. Pismo File Mount Audit Package mounts ISO, ZIP or other files as virtual folders in the Windows file system. It does not emulate CD/DVD ROM drive to mount the ISO image to a virtual disk drive and to 'run' the image as the way you run a CD/DVD from an optical drive.

Similarly, certain file archiver such as 7-Zip can unzip and view the contents of an ISO file in a folder, but it is unable to mount the image file to a virtual drive and run the image.

by Anonymous on 14. May 2009 - 0:51  (21525)

Pismo File Mount Audit Package (v1.0.0.048 rel. 2008.11.03) actually allows you to mount files in one of two ways:

'Quick Mount', which, as you say, mounts the target file as a virtual folder, and:

'Mount', which will mount the target file as a virtual drive.

I use the latter to install programs such as Microsoft Office and Microsoft Visual Studio from their installation ISOs without problems.

by Anonymous on 7. January 2009 - 10:12  (13318)

What about Microsoft's (unsupported) free tool

http://download.microsoft.com/download/7/b/6/7b6abd84-7841-4978-96f5-bd5...

It's not as good as some of the others, but it works if you want to avoid installing a bigger software package

by Jojo Yee on 8. January 2009 - 9:57  (13377)

Thanks, it will be added to Other CD/DVD emulators for reference in the next update soon.

by Anonymous on 7. January 2009 - 3:37  (13284)

Isn't there a free tool, which can handle compressed ISZ image files?

by Jojo Yee on 10. January 2009 - 2:34  (13519)

ISZ image was created by EZB Systems Ltd which has a commercial software UltraISO to create, convert or mount ISZ images.

The company released a free command-line utility to decompress ISZ to ISO images. Available for download here:

http[COLON]//www[DOT]ezbsystems[DOT]com/isz/unisz.zip

Among the freeware under review, Daemon Tools Lite can be used to support mounting ISZ images.

by Anonymous on 9. January 2009 - 14:02  (13485)

Daemon Tools Lite can mount ISZ image files.

by Anonymous on 28. November 2008 - 17:55  (11173)

Alcohol 52% free version is good. 6 virtual drivers are enough for me, and it can create high-quality clone of your CD.

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