The original idea to create an exact copy of a CD-ROM disc and place the data into a file which can be stored on a hard drive or USB flash drive was a great invention. This made it possible to store collections or backups of your important optical media in one location. These files, which can also store a copy of DVD or Blu-ray media, are more commonly known as ISO images. Even Microsoft utilizes ISO image files and the Windows install DVD is these days distributed as an ISO.
ISO image files can easily be created using software such as WinX DVD Ripper, all you need is a ROM drive and an optical disc. Or they can be downloaded from the internet. Once you have the file, there are several things you can do with it. The ISO can be burned to a CD or DVD to create a copy of the original disc. It can also be written to a USB flash drive to install something like Windows or Linux faster. Another option is using a program to make the ISO image behave like a real disc. This allows you to install software, read or play the disc contents like it was physically inserted into your computer.
This is known as virtual drive software because the drive isn’t real and it just emulates a real optical drive. The ISO image is then mounted to the virtual drive to create a virtual disc. Windows 10 has basic ISO mounting built in but here we list 10 free virtual drive emulators that you can use to mount ISO images and other types of disc images so they behave like real discs. All tools were tested in Windows 10 and 7 64-bit.
1. Virtual CloneDrive
Virtual CloneDrive has been around since 2005 and the company behind it, Elaborate Bytes, are the same people behind the famous CloneDVD and CloneBD ripping software. It hasn’t been updated in the last few years and the latest version is from 2016. Virtual CloneDrive is still fully compatible with Windows 10 though.
Several different image file formats to mount a virtual disc are supported and up to 15 virtual drives are allowed at the same time. An image file can be mounted by double clicking on it or right clicking on the tray icon and selecting Mount. The tray icon menu has an option to unmount each active drive as well as a recent history list of files that can be mounted at the click of a button.
2. DVDFab Virtual Drive
Many users that like ripping and converting media will know of DVDFab and its shareware software. Virtual Drive is one of a few standalone free tools that are also found in their flagship DVDFab Suite.
Virtual Drive has support for up to 18 virtual drives at once from 8 different types of disc image. One of those image types is the .Miniso DVD/Blu-Ray format that allows you to mount a DVD or Blu-ray ISO image or folder so it can be played in a media player like PowerDVD. Most functions are accessed via the tray icon menu but other options like changing the drive icons, Windows integration and hotkeys can be changed in the Settings window.
WinCDEmu is an open source tool that’s been around for over a decade. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be actively developed anymore but all recent operating systems are fully compatible. A portable WinCDEmu is also available but it’s still on version 4.0 whereas the installer version is 4.1.
After install, all you need to do is to double click on an ISO file to automatically mount it to a drive letter. To not be asked which drive letter to use, check the “Manage drive letters automatically” box. If you want to unmount, just right click on the drive in Explorer and select Eject. WinCDEmu has a simple option to create an ISO from a CD/DVD or Blu-Ray disc, just right click on the drive in Explorer and select “Create an ISO Image”. A useful option for administrators is the requirement of admin rights to mount an ISO image.
4. Alcohol Portable
Alcohol Soft released a free for personal use version of their software in 2015 called Alcohol Portable. Apart from installing a system service and driver while running, Alcohol Portable is a standalone executable that can be launched from anywhere.
The maximum number of mounted virtual drives is four and it accepts around a dozen different disc image formats. Just drop an ISO onto the upper part of the window and it will mount automatically. Right click on a virtual drive to unmount, mount another ISO or change the drive letter. A list of image files can be added in the lower half of the window for quick access. If you have finished with Alcohol Portable, click File > “Exit + Remove Device Driver and Service” to remove it from the system completely.
While the free version of Alcohol 52% is still available to install, we’d recommend against using it. Crapware called Smart File Advisor gets installed alongside Alcohol, you cannot deselect it during install and it cannot be uninstalled without removing Alcohol as well.
5. Daemon Tools Lite
Long time PC users might remember Daemon Tools used to be the go to software for mounting protected disc images. Since then, it has changed a lot. The free Lite version has many disabled features along with adware and upgrade nags during install. We’re not sure if the Mountspace statistics function is still used but it’s worth disabling usage statistics during install just in case. Make sure to select “Free License” during install or you’ll get a trial of the paid version.
Daemon Tools is still a capable virtual disc program. The number of supported image formats to mount ISOs is around 20 and you can also create an image from a physical CD, DVD or Blu-Ray disc. Up to three normal virtual drives are supported but the SCSI option which can emulate disc protections is now disabled. A feature which some might find useful is Catch! which allows sharing of images over your local network.