What to do with all those PC games and disc-based applications — especially when you have kids? Try using virtual CDs, or converted files that run directly on the hard drive, just like MP3s. Virtual CDs make life easier for parents, help keep game collections organized, and save wear and tear on expensive application discs.
Remember audio tape?
Sound quality was muffled and dark. Play time was limited, cassettes wore out quickly if they weren’t consumed by the deck, and, like kudzu in Mississippi, tapes and cases took over entire sections of the car as collections grew.
Once we caught on to MP3s, there was no turning back. All those audio cassettes were unceremoniously retired to the family yard sale, where they sat in the sun with nary a sniff of interest from even the most tech-challenged buyer.
MP3s offer clear advantages over the analog medium they replaced. Now we play music for hours at a stretch. We create custom play lists, search for favorite tracks, and take our music wherever we go. Best of all, we don’t have to lug around all those music titles on tape or disc, because MP3s are electronic files that can be stored on something as handy as a USB key.
For mobile music lovers, things have never been better. They take their music with them, and leave their discs at home. Parents of young children, however, continue to struggle with the problems caused by all those OTHER discs: the CDs and DVDs still required to run PC games and disc-based applications.
Once touted for their “durability,” CDs are remarkably fragile: hairline scratches or even a few smudges can render them unplayable. Originally designed to be portable, they’re not all that easy to transport, but incredibly easy to lose.
All too often, shared discs are treated badly. Left out their jewel cases and exposed to kids and pets, game discs are quickly mutilated. Traveling disc collections are soon scattered to the winds: volume 2 of a set may be forgotten in a motel room, volume 3 at a rest stop down the road. The disc-based software that accompanies you on every family trip, whether or not you’re aware of it, frequently comes back ruined — if it comes back at all.
MP3-LIKE CONVENIENCE FOR DISC-BASED APPLICATIONS
Virtual CDs are to PC games and applications discs what MP3s are to music CDs. They bring MP3-like ease use and portability to video games, CD-ROM clip art collections, educational software, and other disc-based applications. They’re a perfect disc management solution when you’re sharing disc-based games and applications with members of the family or transporting CDs and DVDs from place to place.
You’ll need a CD emulator to convert your physical disc into a virtual CD, or a file that runs directly on a computer’s hard drive. Since it’s nothing more than an electronic file, a virtual CD can be stored on a laptop computer or just about any digital storage device.
A virtual CD plays just like a physical CD, only with a much reduced load time. In fact, there’s no need to load the physical disc at all — you simply click on desktop shortcut to launch a favorite game or application. If you’re so inclined, you can have several virtual CDs running simultaneously in one of several virtual drives, which look just like physical drive in Windows Explorer. It may seem like a silly notion to keep multiple virtual CDs loaded, but gamers in particular like to hot swap between titles or volumes.
Although it emulates, or “acts like” a physical CD, a virtual CD operates directly on the hard drive, improving playback times by as much as 200% and eliminating wear and tear on the CD-ROM drive. It can be shared over a network, customized to contain multi-disc sets and expansion packs, and organized with other virtual CDs in a searchable library with a Windows-like directory tree.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CD EMULATOR
Most commercial CD emulators cost between $30 and $60 — a bargain compared to many game titles, and well worth the price of admission if you’re able to spare just a few of your discs from abuse. But while nearly all CD emulators have certain basic features in common, not all offer the same usability and disc support.
You should also be aware that while a CD emulator is a great tool for most PC games, educational software, and unprotected DVDs, any legal CD emulator will not work with a CSS protected DVD. In other words, don’t expect to transform your Hollywood videos into a virtual DVD library.
If you’d like to purchase a CD emulator, you might want to download an evaluation version first. Try to determine which product works best with the discs in your collection. Decide which brand gives you the best value for your money and offers ongoing technical support.
FarStone Technology makes a solid CD emulator in the form of VirtualDrive (http://www.farstone.com/software/virtualdrive.htm), which weighs in just under 30 dollars. An evaluation download is available at www.farstone.com.
CD EMULATOR RESOURCES
General Emulator Listing