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 as well, are more commonly known as ISO images. Even Microsoft these days utilizes ISO image files and some versions of Windows are distributed as an ISO.
ISO image files can easily be created, all you need is an optical drive and a real optical disc, alternatively they can be downloaded from many sources on the internet. Once you have the file stored on your computer, there’s several things you can do with it. The ISO can be burned to a new 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 more rapidly. Another option is using software to make the ISO image behave like a real disc, this allows you to install apps and games or read the disc just like if it was physically inserted into your computer.
The software to use is known as virtual drive software because the drive isn’t real and it just emulates a real optical drive, the the ISO image is then mounted to the virtual drive to create a virtual disc. Here we list 10 free virtual drive emulators that you can use to mount ISO images so they behave like real discs.1. Microsoft Virtual CDRom Control Panel
Although Virtual CDRom Control Panel dates back to 2001, Microsoft re-released it in 2013 with a new webpage and an announcement that the program does actually run on XP, Vista and 7 despite its age, but Microsoft themselves offer absolutely no support for it. What we like about this tool is it doesn’t require installation to mount ISO images and the whole package is under 60KB in size consisting of only a driver file, executable and a Readme file. It isn’t as intuitive and easy to use as some other tools and requires some manual work to install the driver, so make sure to read the Readme.txt carefully.
This is a useful addition to the DVDFab range of tools that specialize in video ripping, conversion and playing. Virtual Drive is like a simplified version of Daemon Tools but has some nice advantages like support for up to 18 virtual disks, mounting a Blu-Ray ISO image or folder so it can be played in PowerDVD, and no adware/media tools offered during the install process. Although it doesn’t say on the website CD ISO images are supported, they work fine. DVDFab Virtual Drive supports mounting 8 types of disc image and can also create the newer .Miniso Blu-Ray format ISO images. It works on windows XP and above.
Mounting an ISO image file using WinCDEmu is really easy. Just install and all you need to do is to double click on the ISO image file to automatically mount it to a drive letter. If you want to unmount, just right click on the drive 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 Windows Explorer and Choose to Create ISO Image. A useful option for administrators is the requirement for admin rights to mount an ISO image. A portable WinCDEmu is also available but isn’t quite as up to date as the setup installer version. There is support for XP to Windows 7 including 64-bit, Windows 8/8.1 is not listed but works fine.
Virtual CloneDrive is very simple to use, supports a number of different image file formats to mount a virtual disc, and allows up to 8 virtual drives at the same time. While there are no extra or advanced options available like creating or burning an ISO etc, which can be found in some other software, usage is as easy as double clicking on an ISO image file to auto mount it as a drive or right clicking on the tray icon. This is just a simple, no frills, light on resources and effective image mounting utility that does its job well. Supports from Windows 98 up to Windows 8/8.1 64-bit.
MagicDisc is created by the same developer as the popular MagicISO image creation software. It can mount a wide range of CD/DVD image formats and can also create a CD/DVD image from disc. The program has no GUI and works entirely from the right click context menu found on the system tray icon. It supports just about everything from Windows 98 up to Windows 8. Make sure you download the correct version as there are 5 different ones available! One for 98, 2000 and ME, one for Windows 7 (x86 and x64), another for Windows 8 (x86 and x64), and separate 32-bit and 64-bit versions for XP, 2003, 2008 and Vista.
WinArchiver is a shareware archiving software and this is the standalone virtual drive component from it which is completely free. The creators, Power Software, also develop the excellent PowerISO. In addition to being able to mount up to 23 virtual drives and selecting a specific drive letter for each, WinArchiver Virtual Drive has another trick up its sleeve. That is the ability to mount just about any type of file archive as a virtual drive. Zip, 7z, RAR, WIM, CAB and many other types of archive can be mounted without actually extracting the archive first, useful for large movie or game archives. Over 25 disc image formats are also supported. Works on Windows 98 and above.
gBurner Virtual Drive is another free ISO mounting software that uses the Power Software virtual disc driver. It’s almost identical to WinArchiver Virtual Drive apart from it supports 16 virtual drives and not 23.
While ImDisk is certainly a bit more complicated to use than the other tools here, it is very powerful because in addition to the option to mount ISO CD or DVD ROM images, you can also create removable or fixed virtual hard disks and floppy drives. These can be created in system memory to behave like a RAM disk which can be written to, and then saved out to a .img image file while being reloaded and reused at a later date. ImDisk Virtual Disk Driver is installed and accessed via a Control Panel entry, and is compatible with Windows NT up to Windows 8/8.1 64-bit.
8. Gizmo Drive
The Gizmo Drive tool is part of a larger suite of tools called Gizmo Central, although you can turn off the other tools during install. This is the only free virtual disc emulator that can create an image from both disc and folder. There are some other useful options like mounting virtual hard disc (VHD) files, and also a function to burn a folder or ISO to disc. Gizmo Drive also has a very handy function which is the built in support to create a RAM Disk. Have a read of our RAM disk benchmark article to see how it performs. It works on Windows 2000 up to Windows 7 64-bit.
Be careful during installation because Daemon Tools will ask to install adware. You will need to select the Free License during the install process, and there is also a feature pre installed by default which is an online service called Mountspace. The number of supported image formats to mount ISOs is huge and you can also create an image from a physical CD, DVD or Blu-Ray disc. Up to 4 virtual drives are supported including a SCSI virtual drive which can emulate music and game disc protections. A more recent feature adds burning an image to CD/DVD via Astroburn. Supports Windows 98 and upwards.
The free version of Alcohol 52% supports up to 6 virtual drives, RMPS protection emulation which can help with game and music disc DRM etc, an option to create images from physical discs and a CD/DVD manager that gives detailed information about drives and discs. There is also a freely downloadable Audio Converter add-on option which can rip music discs to MP3. Alcohol 52% Free Edition works on Windows 2000 up to and including Windows 8/8.1.
The free versions of Alcohol now require you to install “Smart File Advisor” and you cannot deselect it, trying to uninstall later will uninstall Alcohol 52% as well. For this reason we recommend you only use Alcohol if you specifically need one of its features.