What’s a good external CD drive?

An external CD drive is a portable optical drive that connects to a computer externally, typically through a USB port. It allows you to read and write CDs and DVDs even if your laptop or desktop computer does not have a built-in optical drive.

External CD drives provide a way to access legacy media and files on disc when built-in optical drives are no longer common features on newer computers. They can be used to play music CDs, install software programs from disc, watch DVD movies, burn files to CD or DVD, and more.

With the rise of streaming entertainment and cloud storage solutions, internal optical drives have declined in popularity. However, external CD drives fill an important niche for anyone who still needs disc media capabilities from time to time.

They are compact peripherals that make optical storage fully portable. When evaluating options, key factors to consider include speed, connectivity, and overall build quality.

Benefits of External CD Drives

One of the biggest benefits of using an external CD/DVD drive is portability. Unlike internal optical drives, external drives can be easily transported and connected to different computers via USB. This makes them extremely convenient for situations when you need to access your CD or DVD data from multiple devices (The Pros and Cons of Using External DVD Drives for Computer Playback).

External CD/DVD drives also provide simple plug-and-play connectivity. Since they connect via USB, they are powered by the computer itself. There is no need to connect separate power cables. Just plug the USB cable into your computer and the drive will be instantly detected. This makes using an external optical drive as simple as using any other USB device.

The key functionality that most users want from an external disc drive is the ability to read and write CDs and DVDs. This allows you to access all of your disc-based data, photos, music, videos, software installers, and more from modern laptops and devices that no longer come with built-in optical drives. External CD/DVD drives enable full support for any CD and DVD media on machines where this capability may be missing (The Advantages and Disadvantages of a DVD Drive External USB).

Key Features to Look for

When shopping for an external CD drive, some of the key features to consider are:

Compatible interfaces like USB 3.0: Most modern external CD drives connect via USB 3.0 which provides faster data transfer speeds compared to USB 2.0. Look for drives that are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 for use with older computers.

Maximum read/write speeds: Faster drives can read/write discs quicker. DVD drives average around 8x write speed while CD drives can reach 24x. Higher speeds allow you to rip CDs and install software faster.

Disc formats supported: Most external drives support CDs and DVDs. Some also support Blu-Ray discs for HD video playback. Ensure the drive supports the disc formats you plan to use.

Source: The Best External Optical Drives for DVDs and Blu-rays – Wirecutter

Top Brands

When it comes to external CD drives, there are several brands that consistently produce high-quality and reliable models. Some of the top brands to look for include:


Samsung is known for its electronics and home appliances. The company offers external CD drives that are slim, lightweight, and have fast data transfer speeds. Models like the Samsung SE-218GN are compatible with both Windows and Mac computers.


Apple’s sleek, minimalist aesthetic extends to its external SuperDrives. The Apple USB SuperDrive has plug-and-play functionality and supports CDs and DVDs. It’s a great choice for Mac users.


ASUS is a leader in tech and electronics. Their external Blu-ray drives like the Asus BW-16D1X-U offer up to 16X writing speed and M-DISC support for lifetime data backup. ASUS drives work with both PC and Mac.


Known for its computers, Dell also produces capable external optical drives. The Dell External USB Slim DVD+/-RW Optical Drive provides fast disc writing and reading speeds in a compact build.


LG is a major electronics company that manufactures high-performing external drives. The LG SP80NB80 has an eco-friendly build and provides 8X DVD and 24X CD writing speeds.


Pioneer specializes in digital entertainment products including car audio and home theater systems. Their external drives like the Pioneer BDR-XS06 have powerful burning capabilities and USB 3.0 connectivity.

Durability and Build Quality

When purchasing an external CD drive, it’s important to consider durability and build quality. According to forum discussions, many consumers have experienced external drives breaking after only a couple years of use (https://forums.tomshardware.com/threads/durable-external-dvd-drive.3818196/). Sturdy construction and materials can help extend the lifespan of a drive.

Look for drives with metal casings rather than plastic, as metal will be more resistant to cracking or breaking from drops and bumps. The casing should fully enclose and protect the inner mechanisms from dust, which can damage sensitive components over time. Some pricier drives also tout enhanced shock resistance or anti-vibration features for smooth operation.

To provide peace of mind on durability, it’s recommended to look for drives that come with at least a 1 year manufacturer’s warranty. This guarantees the product against early defects. Some brands like Asus and Apple offer extended 2-3 year warranties on their premium external disc drives.

Overall, prioritizing solid construction and materials, dust protection, and shock absorption will lead to the most durable and long-lasting external CD drive. Comparing warranties can also give insight into how confident the manufacturer is in the build quality and lifespan of their product.

Speed and Performance

When looking at external CD drives, one of the key factors to consider is the drive’s read and write speeds. The read speed determines how fast data can be retrieved from a disc, while the write speed determines how quickly information can be burned onto a disc.

For CD drives, the speed is measured in multiples of 150 KB/sec. So a 24x CD drive can read at 24 * 150 = 3600 KB/sec. According to Wikipedia, 1x speed for CD drives equates to 153.6 KB/sec.

DVD drives are measured differently. As explained on the IU Knowledge Base, 1x speed for a DVD drive is 1,352 KB/sec. So a 16x DVD drive would have a maximum read speed of 16 * 1352 = 21,632 KB/sec.

Most external CD drives today have speeds of 24x for CDs and 8x for DVDs. This provides a good balance of speed and affordability. However, faster options are available. For example, the Pioneer BDR-XD07S has a maximum read speed of 24x for CDs and 16x for DVDs.

When comparing read/write speeds, it’s important to note that the maximum speed may not always be reached depending on the disc quality and the computer’s USB transfer rate. Overall though, faster drives will provide better performance, especially for larger files and burning discs.

Software and Compatibility

When choosing an external CD/DVD drive, it’s important to consider what operating systems it is compatible with and any included software. Most external drives today will work with Windows and Mac computers, but you’ll want to double check compatibility before purchasing.

For Windows PCs, most external CD/DVD drives will work right out of the box with versions as old as Windows XP up through the latest Windows 11. However, some may require installing additional software included on a disc that comes with the drive. According to the Microsoft forums, leading brands like Samsung and Asus have drives fully compatible with Windows 10 and 11.

On Mac computers, Apple has phased out internal optical drives beginning in 2016. So most modern MacBooks and iMacs require an external drive to read CDs/DVDs. The latest macOS releases including Ventura generally recognize major external drive brands right away with no additional software needed. But as noted on Apple’s forums, you may need to reinstall software that came with older external drives after upgrading your Mac to the newest OS version.

Many external optical drives come bundled with disc burning software to create CDs/DVDs on your computer. Top options like Roxio Creator or CyberLink Power2Go offer quick and easy CD/DVD burning. Checking if any included software meets your needs is recommended.

Extra Features

While the main functionality of an external CD drive is reading and writing discs, some drives come with extra features that can provide added convenience or versatility. One popular extra is backlit buttons, which illuminate the control panel so you can see the buttons easily in low-light conditions. This is handy if you regularly use your drive at night. Many external drives also have an emergency eject hole that you can insert a straightened paperclip into to manually eject a disc if the drive malfunctions.

Some models offer a built-in USB hub with additional ports so you can connect multiple USB devices through the drive, rather than directly to your laptop. This helps reduce cable clutter. A few drives even provide SD card slots for quick access to memory cards from your camera. While extra features like these aren’t essential, they can greatly improve the usefulness and usability of an external optical drive.

Budget Options

You can still get a high-quality external CD drive even if you’re on a tight budget. There are several good models available for under $50.

The Rioddas CD Drive is a top seller on Amazon and costs around $25. It has a slim, portable design and delivers good read/write speeds. It’s compatible with both Mac and Windows PCs.

Another option is the Insignia DVD Drive from Best Buy, typically priced around $35. It has USB 2.0 connectivity and supports most CD and DVD formats. The eject button helps prevent accidental disc pops.

For just under $50, the Samsung SE-208GB External CD Drive is slim, lightweight, and has fast data transfer speeds. It connects via USB 2.0 and is compatible with both Macs and PCs.

While cheaper models may lack some bells and whistles, they still deliver reliable CD/DVD reading and writing capabilities. Focus on brands with positive reviews and look for drives with USB connectivity and broad OS compatibility.


Here are the top picks for the best external CD drives:

For General Use:

1. Hitachi LG GP96Y – This slim and lightweight drive works with USB Type C and Type A ports and supports read/write for CDs and DVDs. It’s compatible with Windows and Mac.

2. Rioddas External CD Drive – An affordable option with plug-and-play USB 3.0 connectivity. It can read and write CDs and DVDs and is compatible with Windows XP and up.

3. Asus ZenDrive U9M – A compact and stylish drive that offers smooth DVD playback and burning. Works great for laptops without built-in drives.

For Macs:

1. Apple USB SuperDrive – Made specifically for Macs, this drive connects via USB and supports all major disc formats including CDs and DVDs.

2. Hitachi LG GP96Y – Works seamlessly with MacBooks and iMacs thanks to its USB Type C connector and plug-and-play operation.

3. Rioddas External CD Drive – An affordable option that’s compatible with Mac OS X 10.6 and above.

For Gaming PCs:

1. Pioneer BDR-XD05B – A fast drive with support for Blu-Ray, DVD, and CD formats. Ideal for gaming PCs.

2. ASUS ZenDrive Silver – Features USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface for quick data transfer speeds perfect for gaming.

3. LG BP60NB10 – Designed for compatibility with laptops and PCs, this drive can read and write Blu-Ray, DVD and CD discs.