Gaming has gone through multiple forms of storage, from cartridges containing a few hundred KBs to digital downloads with over 200 GB of raw data. In our last decade, we switched from DVD-ROMs to digital downloads as internet speeds have allowed people to take advantage of remote storage of games rather than physical copies.
The optical disc drives that powered the last generation of data transfers have gone from being a requirement to completely optional due to the limited cases for practical gaming uses in 2022 for newly released games. Still, the technology persists for keeping physical copies of media like Movies or Video Games independent from the internet.
Let's go over whether you need an optical or disc drive in your gaming PC or not.
What is an Optical Drive?
An optical drive, much like a hard drive, uses a laser and arm to precisely read data from a disc. The quality or features of media varies depending on the quality of the drive itself. Most modern-day optical drives run off SATA connections for modern motherboards and are still available from retailers.
Are Optical Drives Necessary For Gaming?
Depending on the role and type of machine, not everyone needs an optical drive for gaming.
DVD-ROM was the last successful game data distribution for PC in the early 2010s. Since then, prebuilt and custom gaming PC companies have phased out optical drives due to the increased support for higher bandwidth internet and relatively cheaper storage.
Almost every modern PC game releases digitally somewhere. So, you'll usually be able to find a digital download for the latest games through one of the distribution services like Steam or the Epic Games Store. So, optical disc drives aren't necessary for gaming anymore.
Let's go over how physical discs and digital downloads differ because it's a bit more than their tangibility.
Physical discs have an unparalleled role in their data storage use in their prime time. With optical drives ranging from PC desktops to mobile CD Players, physical disc technology stored every type of media conceivable. Depending on the media, there are two main types of physical discs used to hold data depending on the use.
CD-ROMs- Compact Disc-Read Only Memory were standard for games on desktops or laptops. Most video games made their first appearance in this format and have snowballed into the Triple-A games we know today.
DVD ROMs- Digital Versatile Discs-Read Only Memory were the last successful media adoption before the popularity of digital download. The game data often came on multiple discs installed in sequence for a complete installation. This was a classical quirk as games got bigger and bigger, like Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 having the game in two discs, but it was frequently more annoying depending on who you asked.
Digital downloads started to gain popularity when internet speeds could get faster for cheaper and the strategic advancements in storage space. Hard Drives were the dominating storage type in the mid-2000s, and the introduction of SSDs made hard drives dedicated storage drives for games.
Where we now stand in 2022 is the M.2 at the top, providing the fastest read and write speeds, followed by SATA SSDs and then Hard Drives.
Why You'd Want An Optical Drive
If you enjoy the occasional walk down memory lane, revisiting your favorite CD or DVD can be worthwhile investing in the proper hardware. Here are just some reasons why having an optical drive can help specific issues.
Playing Old Game Discs
While most gamers have moved on to the next installment of games, a dedicated few still love playing older, less supported games as nothing has changed since their release. Optical drives are great at being able to read older CD-ROM games no matter what support hurdles a game has overcome to stay playable. A good example is the original TrackMania, a personal favorite of my childhood.
Ability To Write To Devices
Writing data on CDs and DVDs made them popular tools to spread media worldwide. This availability created infinite copies of media, including the popular “demo disc” culture for games back in the day. While people were content with this form of freeware, this did not stop other people from getting creative in the data transfer industry.
Back in the day, the term “ripping” or copying protected or unprotected DVDs/CDs became popular to those familiar with the practice. While this was and still is illegal, most video games not sold through retailers were often passed around and introduced people to popular titles. Here is an article highlighting the height of piracy for both CDs/DVDs/ and even DS cartridges in the mid-2000s
Easy Driver Installation
CDs are included with the latest firmware for PC components depending on the manufacturer. This is most common with retail motherboards but spans the entire industry, from WiFi adaptors to sound cards. This support form is pretty ancient compared to the digital updates for most computer components available on manufacturer websites. However, if the driver for a device becomes unavailable online, the original CD can still provide support as a “day zero” driver release for essential compatibility.
Windows Installation from a Disc
While seen as old fashion, Microsoft still offers Windows installs from Disc form on every operating system. There are still a few systems where internet downloads are still a pipe dream; thus, windows continues to live on in disc form. Besides being physical, OS discs are often legacy items as the data, if stored properly, lasts longer and can offer a backup to any mishaps with OS drive-related issues.
The most popular form of Disc, depending on the use, is Blu-Ray and 4k Ultra Blu-Ray. Blu-Ray is often the highest quality distributed in the consumer market. This includes the highest display available (4k or 3840 x2160) and the best audio quality apart from any recorded source tracks. If you want to lose the least quality, then getting an optical drive for both Blu-Ray and DVDs would be necessary.
Reasons Against Optical Drives
While there are benefits to having older media, video games' support often falls off five to ten years after its initial release. The Fanbase or driver support are often the factors that give out first. Here are some reasons you may not need optical drives in your system.
Digital Downloads Are The Norm
Video games have become established in the digital marketplace. Dozens of launchers from larger gaming companies have made downloading games easy. PCs using DVD ROMS to install games have faded into obsoletion. Almost every game released today has a digital download link.
The OS No Longer Supports The Game
CD-ROMs were popular for windows 95, windows 2000, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Windows 10 and 11 have standard compatibility modes that allow games to try and run on specific versions of windows. However, these CD-ROMs need dedicated virtual machines to run on dated drivers more often than not.
For most modern PC cases, DVD/CD readers included in chassis have fallen out of favor for most case manufacturers. Some cases like the Cooler Master HAF LAN Box offer expansion slots for legacy hardware like optical or floppy drives. However, this is not the case for most people getting a modern gaming PC from case manufacturers.
External PC Drives
PCs needing an optical drive can often use an external drive connected via USB for basic playback on 1080p or 1440p monitors without significant sacrifices in quality. The only issue with external drives is usually the vibration associated with the operations of a lighter, less encased compartment. While not the most pleasant, mobile drives offer easy access and connection to a PC or laptop missing an optical drive.
While often an excellent tool for accessing older media, optical drives are by no means necessary to complete a gaming setup. Most older game ROMs become emulated digitally by a passionate fanbase or later development support. Enthusiasts circles have dedicated time to deconstructing ROMS on consoles and older PC games for emulated digital versions if the developer no longer supports the game.
Do You Need An Optical Drive For Gaming?
Depending on the game, no you do not need one. Optical drives are handy for local disc storage of media or video games released in years past. While digital streaming and downloads have become popular, some games only offer digital downloads, which creates a loss for those with limited bandwidth on the internet every month.
We currently do not sell any optical disc readers with our custom gaming PCs at Apex. However, our PCs come equipped with a USB to handle external disc readers bought from companies still producing disc drives for as little as $20. Whatever your computer needs for optical discs, we hope to fulfill them at Apex
Written by Will Wilson