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What is a Data CD?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A data CD is a compact disk formatted to store files. The types of files typically stored on these CDs might include compressed zip files, word processing documents, spreadsheets, text files, graphics, QuickTime-style movie files, or MP3 music files.

A single data CD typically offers 680-700 megabytes (MB) of storage, providing a respectable chunk of space for building backups of everything from your MP3 libraries to your favorite programs. These CDs are also handy for storing sensitive files that are better kept off the computer’s hard drive where they could become subject to key loggers, snooping or virus corruption. This might include financial records, business records, tax or investment files, and so on.

Aside from archiving, a data CD can also be used to easily transfer large quantities of data, presentations or programs to another computer. As virtual supersized disks, they are highly portable and fairly indestructible given a modicum of care in handling. Just four CDs provides over 2.5 gigabytes of storage power.

Data CDs come in two basic flavors: CD-R (recordable) and CD-RW (rewriteable). The difference is in the formatting and price. A CD-R is sometimes called a “write-once” CD because once something is recorded to it, it cannot be rewritten. Information can be added until the disk is full, but the CD is not rewriteable. The CD-R is less expensive than a CD-RW, and is used most often as an audio CD for burning music to the standard .cda format, which plays on any CD player.

A CD-RW can be written to many times, deleting and rewriting information. For this reason it is often called a data CD because it is handier for storing dynamic or changing information like backups and data files. However, these CDs are more expensive than the write-once CDs. For this reason — and because CDs hold so much data anyway — many people use CD-Rs as data CDs, and simply buy new ones when they exhaust the space.

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Discussion Comments
By anon336299 — On May 27, 2013

Is there any value for a cd that has been used for data storage? Can it be sold?

By bagley79 — On Oct 17, 2012

I use data CDs more as a back up than anything else. I do have a lot of information stored on my computer that I don't want to get lost. Fortunately I have never had a computer crash on me, but I have a couple of friends this has happened to.

If you don't have a way to back up important files, this can be devastating. It only takes a couple minutes to store this information on a CD and then you know you don't have to worry about it.

For this type of personal and business information I like to use a CD-R. I don't want to take the chance of mistakenly rewriting over information that I wanted to save.

By honeybees — On Oct 16, 2012

I have a whole stack of brand new CD-R discs that have never been used. I bought a bunch of these several years ago, but also find that I don't use them anymore. I don't keep that much personal information on my computer and prefer to use a memory stick instead of a CD for that kind of information.

By LisaLou — On Oct 15, 2012

I remember being pretty excited when I bought my first computer that had a CD burner in it. I used to use this quite a bit for some of my music files.

It is rare that I use a CD anymore and just rely on iTunes, and do most everything digitally. This is really so much easier than messing around making a copy of a CD.

By hamje32 — On Jun 02, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - Usually when I want to do backups of stuff on my hard drive, I don’t mess with CDs at all – I go straight to DVD. I have DVD burning software that lets me burn the files easily, and I can choose audio or data for the DVD format, just as I can with data CDs.

The only thing that I use data CDs for anymore is to create backups of other CDs. I just dump the CD contents to an external hard drive and then dump them back onto a new CD, allowing me to copy CD to CD quickly, without the need for additional software like CD Clone.

By SkyWhisperer — On Jun 01, 2011

I have CD clone software that allows me to make copies of data CDs. It really comes in handy when I want to make backups for example.

By David09 — On May 31, 2011

@MrMoody - You can also use an ISO burner to burn all of your data as one image onto the CD. To imagine where this would be helpful, imagine that you have a whole folder of files, and subfolders with their own files that you want to burn to the data CD.

You can copy the files and folders as is, and everything will be just fine. However, you can also essentially compress the entire folder, along with its subfolders and files into a single archive known as an ISO image file. That one file can be burned onto the data CD, and then you can use software to extract the entire folder and file structure back onto your hard drive.

You may have seen ISO files offered for download on the Internet with really large software installs for example.

By MrMoody — On May 28, 2011

When you use your CD burner software, it will usually prompt you and ask whether you want to create a data CD or an audio CD. It should be understood that while you can store music in the form of mp3 files on a data CD, typically when you “burn” music onto a CD it becomes an audio CD, and the audio is burned as tracks on the CD.

By anon102817 — On Aug 09, 2010

This was explained succinctly. Thank you.

By anon95770 — On Jul 13, 2010

very helpful. thank you!

By Papxs4 — On Sep 08, 2009

Great help! Even the folks at Office Depot didn't know about data CD's

By anon14039 — On Jun 09, 2008

This was very informative.

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