Free DVD / CD Emulators, Virtual CD / DVD Drives
Software that emulates a virtual CD drive or DVD drive to mount ISO CD/DVD images
Free CD / DVD Emulation Software, Virtual DVD / CD Drives
The free CD or DVD emulators allow you to create/emulate virtual CD or DVD drives in your computer. To the operating system, this appears as though you have another one (or more) new DVD or CD drives. Instead of placing a physical CDROM or DVD into this virtual drive, you "mount" an ISO image of the real CD or DVD using the drive. The emulation software pretends to the operating system (eg, Windows) that you have placed a real CD or DVD into the drive and allows software running on the system to play the CD or DVD, or run programs from it.
Note: ISO images are merely a copy of the CD or DVD kept as a file on the computer. They are useful when you want to burn an entire ISO (copy of a CD/DVD) to a CD or DVD or use a CD or DVD emulation software to mount the image as if it were a physical CD. ISO images can be created by many of the programs listed on the Free CD and DVD Burners and Copying Software page.
Virtual CD/DVD drives are useful since many software (including a number from Microsoft as well as almost every Linux distribution) come as ISO images. It is also useful when you have to frequently access a particular set of CDs or DVDs and don't want to repeatedly swap them in your physical drive, or if you want to speed up reading from a CD or DVD (all virtual CD/DVD drives are vastly faster than the physical drive, since they reside on your hard disk instead of the slower CD/DVD drive).
Some of the DVD / CD emulators listed here are able to mimic many features of a real drive, allowing you to play protected game CDs, something that may be good news for parents of young children, who tend not to have sophisticated CD/DVD handling skills and destroy CDs by the dozen. Others virtual drive software, such as the offering from Microsoft, merely imitate the basic features of a CD drive, allowing you to mount only normal CDs.
Commercial offerings not listed below include BlindWrite (download trial here), a well-known program that can handle a wide variety of game CDs, CDs, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD+R DL, DVD-R DL, etc.
Free DVD and CD Emulators, Virtual CD / DVD Drive Software
WinCDEmu is an open source (and free) CD, DVD and BD (Blu-Ray) emulator for Windows. You can mount your ISO images simply by clicking "Select drive letter & mount" from the right-click menu in Windows explorer. It will then let you specify a drive letter or if you prefer, automatically set one for you. Other options include the ability to disable autorun from the ISO as well as to make the virtual drive automatically load the ISO when Windows starts up. The software can also create an ISO image for you from a CD or DVD in a real CD/DVD drive. There is also a portable version available, which requires no installation (and consequently requires you to run it directly instead of using the right-click menu). Note though that, at the time this was written, the portable version seems to be a few versions behind the latest version.
- Microsoft Virtual CD Control Panel
Microsoft Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel is a free CD-ROM emulator that allows you to mount ISO images of CDROMs in a virtual drive. It is a rudimentary program that does not support copy-protected discs. You will also need to use a third party program to make your ISO images (if you don't already have it). This is a Windows program.
- Alcohol 52% Free Edition
You can create up to 6 virtual CD / DVD drives with this free version of Alcohol 52%. The reading speed of your virtual drive is 200X. The software supports CD-DA, CD+G, CD-ROM, CD-XA, Video CD, Photo CD, mixed mode, multi-session CDs and DVDs, DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD+RW. Note that the installer will ask if you wish to install an optional Alcohol toolbar. (Update and Warning: it looks like they've changed the terms: you'll now need to have a Facebook account and use it to "like" their page before you can download this software.)
- DAEMON Tools Lite
DAEMON Tools is a CD-ROM / DVD-ROM emulator that allows you to mount your ISO images in a virtual CDROM / DVD drive. It is able to emulate a wide range of copy protections and is thus able to play ISOs of such CD-ROMs / DVDs, besides the usual non-copy protected CDs and DVDs. Note that you will still need a program like Blindwrite to create the ISO images first. This is a Windows program. Note that this is an ad-supported software (adware). (Update: although there is a "Buy" link, you can apparently still download the Lite version and use it for free. If this is no longer true, please let me know.)
- MagicDisc - Virtual CD/DVD-ROM
MagicDisc supports the mounting of a wide variety of images, including ISO, BIN, IMA/IMG, CIF, NRG, IMG/CCD, MDF/MDS, VCD, C2D, VDI, BWI/BWT, TAO/DAO, PDI, P01/MD1/XA, VaporCD, and compressed Universal Image Files (UIF). It can create up to 15 drives, and emulate audio CDs, VCDs, SVCDs, etc.
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