Virtual drive

Virtual drive

A virtual drive in computing is a device that to the operating system appears to be an ordinary physical disk drive, with disc images substituted for disc reading hardware through the use of software called a disk emulator. It may also be termed an electronic disk, RAM disk, emulated disk, e-disk, pseudo-drive, super drive, hyperdrive or memory disk.



A virtual drive may emulate any type of physical drive, such as a hard drive, tape drive, key drive, floppy drive, CD/DVD/BD/HD DVD or a network share among others. An emulated drive is typically created either in RAM for fast read/write access (known as a RAM disk), or on a hard drive. Typical uses of virtual drives include the mounting of disk images of CDs and DVDs, and the mounting of virtual hard disks for the purpose of on the fly disk encryption ("OTFE").

Some operating systems such as Linux[1] and Mac OS X[2] have virtual drive functionality built-in (see loop device), while others such as Microsoft Windows require additional software.

Virtual drives are typically read-only, being used to mount existing disk images which are not modifiable by the drive. However some software provides virtual CD/DVD drives which can produce new disk images; this type of virtual drive goes by a variety of names, including "virtual burner".


Disk images may be created to avoid wear-and-tear on a physical disk, such as a CD or DVD, with the disk image mounted in a virtual drive when needed. Similarly, disk images can provide a backup copy of physical disks, in case the original is damaged, lost or stolen.


Using disk images in a virtual drive allows users to shift data between technologies, for example from CD optical drive to hard disk drive. This may provide advantages such as speed and noise (hard disk drives are typically four or five times faster than optical drives,[3] and also quieter). In addition it may reduce power consumption, since it may allow just one device (a hard disk) to be used instead of two (hard disk plus optical drive).

Some audiophiles argue that music played from a hard drive is superior to the same music played directly from CD,[4][5] due for example to lower data error rates.

Virtual drives may also be used as part of emulation of an entire machine (a virtual machine).

Software distribution

After the spread of broadband, CD and DVD images became a common medium for Linux distributions.[1] Applications for Mac OS X are often delivered online as an Apple Disk Image containing a file system that includes the application, documentation for the application, and so on. Online data and bootable recovery CD images are provided for customers of certain commercial software companies.

Disk images may also be used to distribute software across a company network, or for portability (many CD/DVD images can be stored on a hard disk drive). Disk images may also be needed to transfer software to machines without a compatible physical disk drive.


Virtual hard disks are most commonly used in on the fly disk encryption ("OTFE") software such as FreeOTFE and TrueCrypt, where an encrypted "image" of a disk is stored on the PC. When you enter the disk's password, the disk image is "mounted", and made available as a new drive letter on your PC. Files written to this virtual drive are written to the encrypted image, and never stored in cleartext.

The process of making such an encrypted disk available for use is called "mounting", the process of removing it is called "dismounting" or "unmounting".

Virtual burner

A virtual disk writer or virtual burner is a computer program that emulates an actual disc authoring device such as a CD writer or DVD writer. Instead of writing data to an actual disc, it creates a virtual disk image.[6][7] A virtual burner, by definition, appears as a disc drive in the system with writing capabilities (as opposed to conventional disc authoring programs that can create virtual disk images), thus allowing software that can burn discs to create virtual discs.[8]


  1. ^ a b "Linux ISO Images". Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  2. ^ Although OS X's built-in DiskImageMounter software does not emulate a physical drive
  3. ^ - Access Time
  4. ^ AVguide - Blog - Do Hard-Disk Drives Sound Better than CD?
  5. ^ - industry features: An Evolving Scenario - Audiophiles embrace Hard Drives
  6. ^ "Phantom Burner Overview". Phantombility, Inc. Retrieved 19 July 2011. "Many people understand the benefits of using disc image files (like ISO) instead of real optical discs. It is cheaper, faster, and you don't need to worry about scratches or the storage of discs. However, not all burning software supports disc image file creation." 
  7. ^ "Virtual CD - The original for your PC". Virtual CD website. H+H Software GmbH. Retrieved 19 July 2011. "A VCD virtual burner can be used with any Windows application just like a physical CD/DVD/BluRay burner. You can put together your choice of CD content, even video DVD material, and burn it on a virtual CD. This is a great way to test the results without wasting a physical blank." 
  8. ^ "Virtual CD/DVD-Writer Device". SourceForge. Geeknet, Inc.. Retrieved 19 July 2011. 

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