CD burners were all the rage a few years back, but now they are becoming commonplace, pre-installed on most new computers as a standard feature. The real burning question is whether to pay extra and get a DVD burner, which also burns CDs. However, if you don't work with media content, then the CD Writer is perfect for burning your favorite MP3's, photos and documents.
A CD-RW (re-recordable) drive will not only read your audio CDs and CD-ROMs, it can also burn CDs. CD-RW drives work both with CD-R and CD-RW. Though CD-R discs are less expensive they are permanent once "burned." CD-RW discs, which are more expensive, can be reused. A small laser in the drive records with the actual power of the laser varied depending on whether the drive is writing a CD-R or CD-RW. Also the dye in the disc that's affected by this laser is different for a CD-RW and CD-R. New on the market are CD-Rs that burn reliably at up to 16X speed and discs that can hold up to 700 MB of data. When buying media, make sure that you match the media speed to that of your drive. Don't try to burn an 8X CD-R at 12X, it will ruin the disc!
CD-RW drives are available from variety of online and retail stores with reasonable prices. If you plan on using the drive with a laptop PC or share it between several computers, look to buy an external unit. Internal drives are less expensive and IDE-interface drives are very easy to install.
A drive's write speed tells you how long it will take to create a CD-R or CD-RW. Drive speeds have increased a lot in the past year, with 10X, 12X, and even 16X write speeds on CD-Rs becoming common. Creating a CD-RW usually takes a bit longer, so drive speeds are given in the format of 16X12X32X. The first number is the speed at which the drive burns a CD-R, the second is the speed for a CD-RW, and the last number is how fast the drive reads a standard CD-ROM.
Once you are decided on key features, simply shop based on price. If you think that installing the drive will be too difficult, buy your drive from a computer store that will perform this task for you or consider an external drive that plugs into your PC's printer port, USB port, or IEEE-1394 FireWire port.