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What Is a Combo Drive?

By Aaron Lin
Updated: May 17, 2024

A combo drive is an optical disc drive that can read and write multiple types of optical media discs. The term most often refers to a drive that combines the ability to read and write compact discs (CDs) with the ability to read a digital video disc (DVD). This type of drive became less commonplace in the early 21st century as drives that could read and write both CDs and DVDs became popular. The term "combo drive" also has been used as a reference to a drive that can read and write DVDs and CDs but can only read Blu-Ray™ discs and High-Definition Digital Video Discs (HD-DVDs), and the term sometimes refers to a drive that can read two types of high-definition discs. Combo drives of any variety help customers avoid the need to purchase a drive for each disc format that needs to be read.

Although many manufacturers produced combo drives that could read and write CDs and read DVDs, the most popular brand of this type of drive was produced by Apple Inc. for use in its desktop computers and laptops. This type of combo drive was introduced in the late 1990s and continued to be used throughout the next decade. The main benefit of these combo drives was that they saved space. Moreover, because the drives did not have the ability to burn DVDs, they also were more economical. DVD burning technology was still in its infancy when combo drives were introduced, so omitting DVD-writing functionality saved tremendously on costs and allowed the combo drive to appeal to consumers who wanted lower-priced computers.

Combo drives were cutting-edge technology at the time of their introduction, but they had begun to be phased into obsolescence by 2010. Computer manufacturers no longer included combo drives as part of a standard computer installation but instead included drives that had read and write ability for both CDs and DVDs. Some manufacturers even stopped including optical disc media altogether, with the anticipation that optical disc drives would disappear as the digital download marketplace grew.

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