How to Install a PC Game CD without a Disk Drive

December 1, 2016 | By Brian Miller | PCDIY

Like me, you probably love playing video games on your PC. Steam, an online platform for distributing video game content, likely has a picture of you hanging in their reception area. Your hard drives and SSDs are crammed full of your favorite games, but you also have a huge collection of vintage video games on discs and can’t pass up sweet deals on used video game CDs. Or maybe you’re just getting back into video games and still have an old copy of Max Payne in the closet.

What do you do when your awesome new gaming PC doesn’t come with an optical disk drive (ODD)?

Fortunately, there are several options to get you up and playing those games in no time:

Network

If another computer on your network has an ODD, you could share access to that drive and then connect to that computer via the network. Read the End User License Agreement (EULA) for the game you are trying to install to be sure that this is allowed. Many EULA’s limit you to one installation at a time, so if the game is already installed on the machine with the ODD, then uninstall it first before trying to install it on your new machine. Depending upon the speed and reliability of your network, this may prove to be more time and frustration than it’s worth, however.

External CD/DVD Drive

An external CD/DVD drive is the easiest route for those who are having a hard time getting rid of all those shiny plastic discs collecting dust in their house. These have really dropped in price in the past few years and you can pick up a decent external CD/DVD drive for $20. Just connect the drive to an open USB port, pop in your disc, and you’re ready to install your game. Just be sure to keep the disc in the drive if your game checks for the original disc while you’re playing.

You can also use these drives to create an ISO image of your games and movies on CDs and DVDs on your hard drive or USB flash drive. PLEASE don’t be a bonehead and make a copy of your friend’s game. Everyone loses out when people steal; it’s not sharing, so do this only if you own the disc yourself. People have debated the legality of making digital copies of media that you rightfully own, so do your own research first as to the laws relating to this where you live.

Personally, making backup copies of discs that I own is great insurance in case something gets damaged and is a convenient way to store my media, but I never share or sell my copies.

In addition to an external CD/DVD drive, you will need a program that can read your disc and create a disc image. The most common format is .ISO, so these files are referred to as ISO images. Unfortunately Windows doesn’t include utilities for doing this and it’s a bit convoluted in Mac OS, but fortunately there are plenty of free programs available to do this for us.

People prefer different ISO creation programs and they are constantly changing, so I won’t recommend a specific one. A quick search should yield a handful of decent options. After following the creation instructions, you’ll have an ISO image of your game on your hard drive or USB flash drive. Just be aware that CDs and particularly DVDs can hold many gigabytes of data. Be sure you have enough room on your destination drive before you start; 700MB for CDs, 4.7GB for single-layer DVDs, and up to 8.5GB for dual-layer DVDs.

In order to do anything useful with this ISO image, you will need a program that can ‘mount’ the image. Mounting is a fancy way of saying that the ISO image will look like a virtual CD or DVD in your system. Once mounted, you are able to interact with it just like it was a physical disc. If you have Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, or Max OS X then you’re all set to mount your ISO image. If you are running an earlier version of Windows, you will need special software to do this.

Again, there are plenty of free programs out there to do this. So follow the directions for your particular flavor of ISO mounting and you’ll end up with a virtual CD/DVD of your game on your hard drive that you can use to install the game on your system. Once you are done playing the game, you can leave it mounted or unmount it to free up some resources if needed. If your game does check for the original disc sometimes while you are playing it, just keep the ISO image mounted. You can also recycle that disc back into the coaster that it was always meant to be.

How to Install Physical Copies of PC Video Games without an Optical Disk Drive

What most people use old CDs for.

USB Flash Drive or External SSD

USB flash drives have also come down in price with 16 GB versions (enough space to hold all of the data from a dual-layer DVD) going for well under $10. You may elect to use a USB flash drive if you have limited space on your hard drive, have some weird compulsion to physically organize your storage media, or intend to install the game on another computer that you own.

But can you use that USB flash drive to just the game on someone else’s computer? Of course!

To play your game from your USB flash drive or external SSD on another computer, you will need to make the drive bootable. There are many ways to do this, including software that you can buy or even USB flash drives that come preloaded with a lightweight operating system specifically for playing games. You can also create a bootable Windows (Windows to Go or WinToUSB) or Linux USB flash drive.

Again, search for a solution that meets your specific needs and following the instructions. USB 3.0 with its 5Gbps data rate is highly recommended, though some USB 2.0 systems running at high-speed might work as well. It will depend on the game that you are playing and the hardware that you’re using.

Once you are done playing, simply shut the computer down or reboot and no trace of your gameplay will be left!

How Do You Buy PC Games?

Do you still have PC games on discs or have you made the jump to downloading your games? If downloading, which platform gets most of your money?

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Brian Miller

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