Most desktop and laptop computers these days are equipped with some sort of optical drive, usually a DVD drive because they are no more expensive than CD only drives which have all but disappeared. If you’re really lucky you might have a drive capable of reading Blu-ray discs, and high end machines possibly have drives that can write BD-R media as well. Even though fast USB drives and online downloads have reduced the need for reading and writing from optical drives, they can still be highly valuable computer components.
Although not such an issue on newer machines because their DVD-RW drives can usually read most types of media, slightly older or cheaper drives sometimes have a few reading or writing capabilities missing such as the ability to write to a dual layer DVD disc or certain re-writable discs. As you’ll probably know, writable optical media can come in two different types, -R and +R, and you can have drives that might read all minus types but not all plus types, or a drive might be able to read a dual layer plus disc but cannot write to it etc.
It’s quite common for people to buy a spindle of blank discs without even thinking that they might not actually work in the drive because it doesn’t support that type of media. If you know the full capabilities of your drive, it’s not a problem. But if your computer came from an OEM manufacturer (Dell/HP etc) for example, you might have no information about what the drive can do apart from the fact you have a DVD Writer.
Here’s a selection of 5 tools that can give you more detailed information about what media types your CD/DVD drive can read from and write to.
1. Nero InfoTool
Nero InfoTool is a free tool that provides information about the most important features of installed drives, inserted discs, installed Nero software, a device manager view, installed drivers, information about Windows and its updates and much more.
Have a look on the Drive tab to get information about what read and write features are supported by your optical drive. From there you can see CD, DVD, HD DVD and BD (Blu-ray) capabilities and which plus and minus formats can be used by the drive in the drop down box at the top. Other features such as Lightscribe support, writing modes and buffer underrun are available, and you will also see the current Region Code number with the allowable changes left.
Older versions of the InfoTool used to be portable and come in a compressed Zip of under 2MB, but the last free release is a whopping 29MB Zip file and also may require extra Nero components downloading on install. Even the InfoTool has become bloated much like the the full Nero burning package!
2. VSO Inspector
VSO are the people behind ConvertXtoDVD and BlindWrite so they know a thing or two about optical drives. VSO Inspector is a lot smaller than Nero’s InfoTool weighing in at around a 3MB installer and is possibly more useful for optical drives with a few more drive specific features.
In addition to the drive features tab where it will show you the read and write capabilities of the currently selected drive and region code information, it also has a built in a media scanner to check the inserted disc for errors, a tab to show you which filter drivers are installed and if there are any issues and also a disc sector viewer where you can view and even save specified sectors of the inserted media. The Check Firmware Update button will do a Google search for “download [your drive's model]“.
3. CD/DVD Device Capabilities Viewer
This is a plain and simple portable tool of around 200KB that when launched, will tell you what your optical drive is and isn’t capable of.
It works slightly different to other tools by giving answers to a series of questions. For example, click on the drive in the list on the left and the window will populate with questions such as “Can read DVD-RAM discs” and a Yes/No answer depending on whether the drive is capable of that function. There are a few omissions sadly which are things like plus and minus media, dual layer and Blu-ray support. It’s still a useful tool though to get a quick rundown of an unknown ROM drive.
4. DVD Identifier
DVD Identifier is a tool more geared towards gathering detailed information about inserted DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray media such as dye type, disc manufacturer and supported write speeds.
It does though give you the information in the form in boxes relating to what the DVD, HD-DVD and BD-R writing capabilities of the currently selected drive are. This will give a good indication of whether the drive supports things like plus or minus dual layer discs, DVD-RAM discs or which re-writable media can be used.
5. General Burning Software (ImgBurn)
It’s always worth checking your burning software to see whether it has an option to give you the available reading and writing features of your optical drives, some do and some don’t. One such burning tool that gives you plenty of detailed information is a favorite of many users, ImgBurn.
The Device Capabilities window is not immediately obvious in ImgBurn and you have to click on one of the functions from the EZ-Mode picker, anything apart from “create image file from files/folders” will do. Find the drop down in the window to select your drive and then go to Tools menu -> Drive -> Capabilities to bring up the details about the drive. All the read and write features of the drive are there along with Labelflash and Lightscribe support, CD Text, Layer jump recording and a few other items including an option to visit FirmwareHQ to find the latest firmware for the drive.