What Is the Difference Between DVD Writer & DVD Drives?

If your computer has a DVD drive, or you buy an external one, it's good to know whether it's a DVD writer or simply a DVD reader. The difference is that a DVD reader can be used only to access data and video information on an existing DVD, while a DVD writer can be used to save new files and data to a DVD. If you don't have a DVD writer or don't want to work with DVDs, you may be able to use a USB memory stick or a cloud file transfer system instead.

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What Is a DVD Writer?

Many computers ship with drives that can read data or play movies from digital versatile discs, or DVDs. Often these drives can play other types of optical media, meaning discs read by laser light, including Blu-ray discs or compact discs. If your computer doesn't come with such a drive, you can buy one to physically install in your computer or buy an external one connected with a cable, often to a USB port.

Some, but not all, of these drives are also DVD writers. A DVD writer can save data or movies to compatible DVDs. It may also be able to save data and movies to Blu-ray discs or save data and music to CDs. You can generally check the manual to see what your drive is capable of reading and writing.

DVDs can be a useful way to back up files from your computer's hard drive or to transfer data to someone else with a compatible drive. They're thin and lightweight, so they're generally easy to mail or transport.

Types of Writable DVDs

If you do have a DVD writer, you can shop a variety of writable DVD types to use for saving data. Generally, there are DVD-R and DVD+R discs that come with no data on them, and they can be written to exactly once. There are also DVD-RW and DVD+RW discs that you can write data to multiple times, essentially erasing the disc and rewriting it with new data.

Similarly, there are write-once and write-multiple-times formats of CDs. CDs generally hold less information than DVDs, though they can be compatible with multiple drives.

You'll see when you browse discs online or in a brick-and-mortar store that the disc's type is indicated. Your drive may display a logo, such as DVD-RW, indicating what type of discs it can write. You can generally also check the online or paper documentation for your computer or drive to figure out what kinds of discs it's compatible with.

DVD Writer Alternatives

If you don't have a DVD writer, consider some of the alternatives. If you're planning to back up or transfer files, you might be able to do so using a cloud-based system, like Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. If the files are small, you may be able to simply email them.

Alternatively, if your computer and any computer you need to send files to has a USB port, you can use a USB memory stick to transfer or save files.