Do optical disc drives matter anymore?

One of the things that’s set netbooks apart from fuller featured computers from day one is that most netbooks don’t have optical disc drives. They take up a lot of space, cost money, and add more breakable moving parts. With more and more software available in downloadable form and the preponderance of cheap USB flash drives and SD cards for transferring data, the only time I need to plug an external disc drive into my netbooks is when I want to try installing an operating system that can’t be booted from a flash drive.

But if you have a slow internet connection, a large collection of applications on CDs or DVDs, or want to be able to watch DVD or Blu-Ray videos, a disc drive can come in handy. Still, we’re starting to see companies putting out laptops that are too large and expensive to be considered netbooks without optical disc drives. Laptop Magazine recently reviewed the $649 Dell Studio 14z, a 14 inch laptop without a built-in disc drive. And the reviewer didn’t miss it at all.

What do you think? Are disc drives something that some computers can do without? Or is it time for optical disc drives to go the way of the floppy?

  • Zobeid Zuma

    Floppies didn't begin disappearing (beginning with the iMac, as I recall) until CD-ROM had just about completely replaced floppies for commercial software distribution. Clearly we haven't gotten that far yet in making CD/DVD drives obsolete.

    After I got my first iMac, I contemplated buying an external floppy drive for it, but then I never bothered and never missed it. I wouldn't feel comfortable today if I didn't have a USB CD/DVD drive handy for use with my Mini-9 and MacBook Air.

    So. . . Maybe we're going that direction. But I don't think we're there yet.

  • MasterBlaster

    I agree… I don't think we are there yet. I am happy to have my 3 netbooks without an optical drive, but I have a portable one for installations. Maybe the final straw will be if and when software vendors and content owners ship their software on flash or usb keys instead of optical media.

  • borax99

    Given how cheap and convenient ultra-portable external optical drives are right now, I don't see the absence of a DVD drive as a big issue for netbooks. I leave the house without my external drive most of the time, and haven't missed it once ! (the same could not be said of my external hard drive…)

  • Matthew.S

    It depends. The optical drive has been unnecessary for Linux users for years, but as long as Windows users are tied down to buying software in brick and mortar stores, they are going to need an optical drive. However, if Microsoft ever implements software repositories (or app stores, whatever you want to call them), then the optical drive is probably dead. Considering that most music and video content is available legally for download these days (amazon) I don't see why we couldn't do away with optical drives entirely.

  • http://scottsoapbox.com Scott

    The irony is that my netbook (sans drive) needs CDs more than more powerful computers… why? For old games of course!

    Even if they started releasing all new software as downloads… many of your old favs (that your netbook IS powerful enough to play) will still be stuck on that CD…

  • http://listeningtoreason.com wanorris

    If you want to play them without being tethered to a CD drive, you may want to consider a virtual drive solution. One I know of, Alcohol 120%, costs $50 and is specifically designed to work with games.

    http://download.cnet.com/Alcohol-120/3000-2646_

    Extra added bonus: faster read times with the files directly on the HDD.

    Downside: takes up more space on your (usually small) netbook drive.

  • Zobeid Zuma

    Funny you should mention that, since the software repository idea (and the whole way that app installation is handled) in Linux is one of my biggest gripes about it. It seems communistic. “Comrade, the Politburo has provided everything you need in the Officially Approved Central Repository. Ergo, if something is not there, you don't need it.”

    Yes, I could imagine Microsoft adopting something like that. It would fit right into their user-control strategy.

  • old pcs

    They come in handy for playing movies without waiting to transcode them – like right before a plane trip.

    But you also need hardware that will boot from a USB drive to reinstall an OS from a USB drive – if optical drives go away. I haven't had to do that with newer hardware, so I'm not sure how widespread that kind of support is.

  • Matthew.S

    Nobody is forcing you to use the repositories, you can still install anything you want without using them. However, by using them, you are installing software that has been vetted by your distribution. Additionally, software updates are pushed out by your distro, so you always know your software is up to date. When you install software piecemeal ( windows or linux ) who knows where the software came from or how updates are handled?

    Finally, software repositories help reinforce the divide between “safe software” and “unsafe software”. You often see people who would never drive to the slums to buy stolen goods, downloading spyware-ridden software from wildly untrustworthy websites, simply because they don't know any better.

    Anyway, this is all off topic. The topic was “are optical drives dead?” I still rip the occasional dvd on my external drive, but that's about it. Once some form of wireless internet becomes universal, I will be happy to use Hulu or Netflix for my movies, and will no longer need my optical drive.

  • tickles

    This same question exists years back when ultraportable laptops (i.e. Toshiba Portege and Thinkpad X-series) first came out. Many people griped about the absence of an internal CD/DVD drive. The truth is that the CD/DVD is an accessory that is used about 10% (or less) of the time, yet it takes up valuable space and adds unnecessary weight. Ask any road warrior, she/he will vote against carrying deadweight. This argument distills down to the point that home-based netbook users should be just fine to invest (one-time) into a USB CD/DVD drive for that less than 10% time they actually need this accessory.

  • http://ruel24.wordpress.com/ ruel24

    The problem happens when you try to install an OS or a game. There are workarounds for everything, but it's just plain easier to do with a CD/DVD disk. Running some games requires the CD be present, but again, there are workarounds for some games.

    Plain and simple, CD/DVD just makes life easier.

    • o3mta3o

      sounds like steam would make your life easier, friend :)

  • pratfall

    @ Zuma: The FUCK? Care to expand on that? Which distro? Are you new to planet Earth?

  • pratfall

    As long as Netflix has stuff on DVD and not streaming, I'll need a DVD drive on the HTPC. Otherwise, my optical drive is a waste of space- its WAY easier/faster to use a USB drive. I sometimes need to burn a disc to share stuff with people, but most folks I know have their own USB drive I can just stick in my PC to give them stuff.

  • tomleemullins

    With flash drives and sd cards getting bigger (in memory size, not physical size), one would not need an optical disk/drive. With flash drives coming in different sizes and shapes, flash drives are more fun to carry, are easier to carry and have less chance of breaking

    In one country (China I think it was), Disney is releasing movies on SD cards. If one can put a whole movie on a SD Card, why not software or music or whatever would normally fit onto an optical disc?

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    Actually, Microsoft is trialing this method of software delivery right now.

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=3528

  • http://listeningtoreason.com wanorris

    Matthew S covered this pretty well, but I would add the proviso that you can change or add repositories if you feel like you need to. Some third parties allow you to install their software by adding their repository to your configuration, which allows you to get updates automatically.

    Then again, if you want complete control, there's always Linux From Scratch and the make command. :-)

  • http://scottsoapbox.com Scott

    Yes, I actually use Alcohol 120% on my netbook but I still needed the CD Drive to make the virtual disks… ;)

  • MonkeyKing1969

    Not about me ready or most ready….

    I just bought a Creative Zen 4GB MP3 player. It came with an installation CD, but as near as I can tell you CAN'T get all that software from the Creative.com site itself. So basically if I wanted the PC dashboard items for the MP3 player I'd have to find a USB style CD-ROM to attach.

    That is the issue. It not me not being ready, or most things being ready its these idiot companies like Creative who are half in/half out that screw things up. So I think that is the true problem, we have holdouts and unprepared companies that mostly rely on pressed CDs to distribute the firmware, software, and other things to their customers.

  • gclaudia

    I'd say yes. I prefer to buy CDs, rather than downloading music, so I need an optical drive to rip the MP3s. That said, I like the fact that netbooks don't have optical drives; I need an optical drive so rarely that I'd just as soon avoid the weight and bulk.

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  • thequinox

    I think it's fine for ultra portables to loose them. We are used to sacrificing things for portability, and let's face it. Optical drives aren't exactly small. I personally don't use them at all anymore, but that doesn't mean ALL systems should get rid of them. Once Blu-ray is dead and gone in favor of downloadable media or flash based distribution methods, then yes. Kill it.

  • Name

    Netflix streams almost every film available. no need for any optical media or drives anymore. Everything is going to be available via a Internet connection. Once there is Fiber from the curb to the homes it is game over for all optical media to include Bluray, DVD, CD etc.

  • Name

    Netflix streams almost every film available. no need for any optical media or drives anymore. Everything is going to be available via a Internet connection. Once there is Fiber from the curb to the homes it is game over for all optical media to include Bluray, DVD, CD etc.

  • Daniel

    I still need one, but I don’t necessarily need one built into my laptop. I have an external DVD-RW drive, and it serves me quite well.

  • Ventura

    do better optical drives make games better for pc. i don’t know if it is necessary to have a good one.