What is a CD Burner?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

A CD burner, more formally a CD-R drive, is a device used to write data to a recordable compact disc. Though initially sold for hundreds of dollars when they were introduced in the mid-90s, used models can now be found quite inexpensively. These devices arguably helped kickstart the era of music and gaming piracy as one of the first applications was cheaply copying music and game CDs.

Most modern laptops can write data onto compact discs.
Most modern laptops can write data onto compact discs.

CDs hold slightly under 700 MB of data, which works out to about 11 hours of compressed music or a few hours of medium-quality video. The burning process takes anywhere between a few minutes and half an hour, depending on the speed of the CD burner. Devices that encode data to higher-capacity DVD discs are called DVD burners. The name derives from the use of a laser to write data to the optical disc. Lasers are thought to be hot — though the laser used to write CDs is not — hence the term "burning".

Compact disc burners, used to place data on a recordable disc, have recently become very inexpensive.
Compact disc burners, used to place data on a recordable disc, have recently become very inexpensive.

There are two types of writable CDs — CDs that can only be written to one time (CD-R), and CDs that can be written and rewritten multiple times (CD-RW). Rewritable discs are rated for up to 1,000 rewrites. On a CD-R disc, an organic dye is used to encode data, and a laser applied to precise points changes the chemical properties of the dye, modifying its reflectivity, which allows a passive laser to read data from the disc in the future. With a CD-R, the CD burning process is permanent and cannot be reversed. On a CD-RW, a crystalline metal alloy is used that can repeatedly transform between a reflective and amorphous state, depending on the amount of laser power applied.

CD burners might be used to create different music mixes.
CD burners might be used to create different music mixes.

The speed of a CD burner is rated in multiples of 150 KiB/s (kilobytes per second written). A 300 KiB/s burner is rated at 2X, a 600 KiB/s one at 4X, and so on. The fastest possible burners operate at 52X, which causes the disc to rotate about 10,000 times per minute. If the disc moved faster than this, the plastic at the center of the disc would start creeping towards the edges.

Jewel cases may be used to prevent scratching of compact discs that have been burned using a CD burner.
Jewel cases may be used to prevent scratching of compact discs that have been burned using a CD burner.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime EasyTechJunkie contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


I haven't made the leap to all digital music yet. I have a 6 disc CD player in my car and that is still my favorite way of listening to music. I will burn copies of my favorite CDs so I have one in the house and one in the car.

Every time I buy a new CD I keep telling myself I should really go the digital route, but sometimes old habits are hard to break. I look at my huge CD collection and wonder how much time it would take me to go digital. For now I keep using my CD/DVD burner because I feel the most comfortable with that process.


I always bought rewritable CDs but know that I never used one CD anywhere near 1000 times. The CD would either get lost or become too scratched and I would need to burn a new one.

When CD burner programs first came out they were all the rage. Using a CD was so much better and less bulky than a cassette tape. I don't think it will be long before CDs will be a thing of the past either.


I bought a new computer a couple years ago and this still came with a CD/DVD burner. I didn't realize that the new computers don't have them, but this does not surprise me.

My kids haven't used a CD of any kind for a long time. Everything they do with their music and movies is digital. I use the CD burner every once in awhile to make a CD of music I have downloaded, but am finding out that it really is a lot easier to keep everything digital.


I remember when I bought my first computer that included a free CD burner. I was so excited about this and thought I would use it all the time. I found that I hardly ever used it.

My computer was still under warranty when the CD burner quit working. I debated about getting it fixed or not because I never used it, but since it was covered, went ahead and had it done anyway. I didn't use it any more often after it was fixed than I did before.

While there are certain advantages to having a CD burner on your computer, it was just something that I didn't use nearly as much as I thought I would.


As the article said, CD burner software definitely helped kickstart the era of pirating games and music. However, there are a ton of legitimate uses for a CD burner!

I use mine to burn CD mixes of music I've purchased legally, and I also sometimes use CDs as data storage. I mostly store photos, but I sometimes backup my files on CD as well.

@LoriCharlie - I can definitely see DVD/CD burners becoming obsolete. As you said, some computers don't even come with them anymore. And with most things being digital now, they're not really necessary. Who needs a CD when you can hook your MP3 player up to you audio system in your car?

@dautsun - I remember being amazed by CD burners too. And I remember them being fairly expensive when they first came out. It's amazing you can get a CD burner drive for around $10 now.

I think this is because other forms of data storage are used a lot more often now. I was looking into buying a new laptop, and some laptops don't even come with CD drives anymore! They come with USB ports and ports for SD cards though. It seems like CD drives might soon be obsolete!

CD/DVD burners seem pretty run of the mill now, but I remember when they first came out. It was so exciting! I was so amazed that I could burn songs onto a CD-R and make my own mixes to listen to in the car. I thought it was pretty much the coolest thing ever!

where i can find the different types of burners?

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