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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Gizmo 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.
MagicDisc, 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.
Another 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.
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.
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
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