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How do I play a CD/DVD without an optical drive?

Answer: Over the past decade, computers with CD/DVD drives have declined from nearly 100% to almost 0%. In 2022, most desktop computers don't have an optical drive, and it's almost impossible to find a laptop with one. So what do you do if you need to access data from CD or DVD?

There is a simple solution and a few advanced ones.

The Simple Solution

The simple way to open/play optical media is to connect an external optical drive. An external CD/DVD player typically connects via a single USB cable. Older drives required a dedicated power supply, but most modern drives run off USB power, eliminating the need for a separate cable. Just make sure the device has the correct version of USB for your device — either USB-A (rectangle) or USB-C (oval).

External Optical Drive

Most external CD/DVD drives are plug and play, meaning you can simply connect the drive, pop in a CD or DVD, and it will work. I tried an Asus drive on a MacBook Pro, and it played the first DVD I tried.

Advanced Solutions

If you don't have an external drive handy, one option is to use a computer with a built-in optical drive to create a disc image. After inserting the optical disc, you can use a disk utility to create an "image" or exact copy of the disc as a file. You may then transfer the disc image (typically an .ISO, .DMG, or .IMG file) to another computer. Opening the disk image will "mount" the CD/DVD as a virtual disc.

▶ Mounting a disk image is similar to inserting a disc into an optical drive. However, some software will only run off a physical disc — a security measure to prevent unauthorized duplication and piracy.

If you have a Windows PC with an optical drive, you can share the drive with another PC on your local network. First, open "My Computer" or click "Computer" in the left sidebar of an open window. Then right-click the CD/DVD drive in Windows Explorer and select Share with → Advanced Sharing. From the Advanced Sharing options, check "Share this folder," then enable Read Permissions. You can then open the "Network" window on another PC connected to the same network, select the computer with the optical drive, and select the shared drive.

If you have a Mac with an optical drive, you can use the Remote Disc feature to share the device with another computer. First, enable the "DVD or CD Sharing" option in the Sharing System Preference of the computer with the optical drive. Then you can access a DVD or CD from that Mac from another computer on the same network. Just look for "Remote Disc" in the left sidebar of any Finder window.

Published: August 5, 2022 — by Per Christensson

Answer from the PC Help Center