What Is the Difference Between DVD Writer & DVD Drives?

While shopping for a new computer or optical drive, you may have wondered about the meaning of the terms "DVD writer" and "DVD drive," and which you should choose. Although some people use the terms interchangeably, one product may differ significantly from the other. There are also many other types of optical drives available aside from DVD drives and writers, and understanding the terms associated with them can help you purchase the product that best fits your needs.

DVD Drive
What Is the Difference Between DVD Writer & DVD Drives?
credit: antpkr/iStock/Getty Images

DVD Drives

DVD drives (also known as DVD-ROM drives) can read data DVDs and play DVD movies, but cannot burn information onto recordable DVD media. Unless a product is specifically labeled otherwise, it will also be able to read, but not burn, audio and data CDs. New DVD drives can be purchased for under $20.

DVD Writers

Unless the drive's specifications state otherwise, a DVD writer (or DVD burner) will be able to read from and write data to both CDs and DVDs. If you are using a Mac, this type of drive is called a "SuperDrive". A DVD writer for a desktop PC costs approximately $30 in 2009. Because of the small form factor used in most Mac computers, the only DVD writers sold by the Apple store are external models that connect to the computer via USB. External SuperDrives for the Mac start at $99, as of 2009.

Combo Drives

Unless stated otherwise, a combo drive can read data from CDs and DVDs, but can only write information to CDs. Combo drives are not particularly popular due to the steadily declining price of DVD writers, and can be difficult to find. A combo drive can be purchased for approximately $35 in 2009.

CD Writers

A CD writer (also known as a CDR drive or CD burner) can read and write CDs, but cannot read DVDs. CD writers are largely out of production because consumer demand is lacking. It is possible to find used CD writers on the secondary market for $20 or less, but purchasing a used optical drive is generally not recommended because they contain moving parts that are susceptible to wear.

Blu-ray Drives

The Blu-ray disc technology, invented by Sony, is the disc format used by the PlayStation 3 game system. Blu-ray drives and writers are also available for computers, but have been slow to gain acceptance due to the high cost of the hardware; about $100 for Blu-ray drives and $200 for Blu-ray burners in 2009. Blu-ray may become more popular for computers in the future, as the price of the drives and discs decrease. While a maximum of 9.4 GB can be written to a dual-layer recordable DVD, Blu-ray discs can hold as much as much as 50 GB. Future Blu-ray specifications will allow for 1,000 GB of storage space or more per disc.