CD and DVD Burning

CDs and DVDs offer a way to backup data from your computer. Older computers can burn CDs, while most newer computers have the option of burning DVDs as well. 

Can you Burn DVDs?

How can you tell whether your computer can burn DVDs? That depends on whether you have a Mac or a PC.


  1. From the Apple menu select "About this Mac"
  2. Click on "More Info"
  3. From the Hardware list on the left, select "Disc Burning"
  4. Look at the "DVD-Write" section to find the formats you can write. If it's missing or blank, there is no DVD writing capability.


  1. Double-click on "My Computer"
  2. Look at the "Devices with Removable Storage" section of the window.
  3. If there's a device there that says "DVD," right-click on it and select "Properties"
  4. The Hardware tab should tell you whether the DVD drive can record or not (it may be called a DVD-ROM, which indicates it is only readable, not writable).

General CD and DVD Burning Tips

CD's and DVD's come in two types: R and RW. While you can use either type of CD or DVD for any backup, each type has special purposes for which it is designed. In simplest terms:

  • CD-R and DVD-R discs are primarily used to backup data or music a single time. For the most reliable data backup discs, use CD-R or DVD-R.
  • CD-RW and DVD-RW discs are primarily used when you want to burn data or music and at a later time erase the CD or DVD and burn updated or new files to it. CD-RW discs can be erased and burned as many as a thousand times, DVD-RW perhaps a hundred.


Most CDs have a 700MB capacity. To get an idea of how much data this will hold, a typical 5 page Word document is only about 60kb. At this size, you could store over 10,000 files on a CD. Uncompressed image files may average about 1MB each, so you could save about 700 pictures on one CD.

DVDs have a capacity of 4.7 GB, which is almost 7 times as much as a CD.

Options available with CD burning software

The line between R and RW discs becomes blurred because some CD/DVD burning software allows you to flexibly use each type.

For example, if you use Roxio Easy CD Creator on a PC or Toast on a Mac, one option you will be given is to finalize a session on a CD-R, but not finalize the CD. This enables you to burn some files today and return and burn more files on another date. In this way, a CD-R disc can perform similarly to a CD-RW. This is a helpful feature if you want to fill a CD. With a capacity of 700MB, if you burn a single file or folder, you may use only a tiny fraction of the available space. It is important to note though that the CD may not be compatible with other CD drives, so you will only be able to reliably read the files from your own computer.

By finalizing a CD-RW or DVD-RW disc, you can use it as an archive CD/DVD for backing up your data. If you do this, you will not be able to erase the disc and burn new files to it later. You should also know that CD-RW's and DVD-RW's are less reliable for this purpose, and should not be used this way except when a backup must be made and a CD-R or DVD-R disc is not available.

Basic CD/DVD Burning Step By Step

The step-by-step instructions provided below are the simplest method to burn files to a CD or DVD on either Macs or Windows PCs. Your own computer might also have other CD/DVD burning software installed on it, which will provide you with more options.


  • Insert a blank CD or DVD into your CD/DVD writable drive. A window will open asking you to provide a name for the CD or DVD. Type a general name like "backup Oct08" and click OK. If you aren't given an option to name the CD/DVD here, click OK to open it.
  • Drag the files you want to backup to the CD or DVD icon on your desktop. When you have dragged all the files to the CD/DVD that you have found,
  • Drag the CD or DVD  icon to the "Trash" on your Dock. The icon will change to a Burn symbol. If you haven't already named the CD/DVD, this window provides a space to do so. Click OK to burn. When burning is complete, drag the CD/DVD to the Trash icon again, and this time it will become an Eject icon.
  • After burning your first CD or DVD, insert it into another computer and open a file or two to verify that you have completed the process correctly. Nothing would be worse than losing your files, only to learn that you don't have a good backup either.

Windows XP

This process allows you to add more files to the same CD or DVD at a later time. Here are the steps:

  • Insert a blank CD or DVD. Click to Do Nothing with it, instead of the other options it offers.
  • Highlight the files you want to burn to the CD/DVD.
  • Right click and select Send to CD or DVD from the popup menu.
  • Continue to select and add files from other locations on your hard drive.
  • Open "My Computer" then double click the CD or DVD to open it.
  • Click on the File menu and select "Write these files to CD" or "Write these files to DVD."
  • A wizard window will pop up, allowing you to give the CD or DVD a name.
  • When the files have finished burning to the CD or DVD, the CD/DVD will be ejected, and the Wizard will give you an opportunity to burn the same files to a different CD or DVD. If you only need the one copy, click Finish.
  • To add files, simply put the CD or DVD back into the drive, highlight the new files, and follow the same steps to add and write them to the CD/DVD.