A simple guide on how to burn a CD to store your data or music

how to burn a CD
The compact disc (CD) was once the preferred method for storing data long term and for saving audio for playing in CD players. As technology progressed and formats changed, the CD was superseded by the digital video disc (DVD) and then the Blu-ray disc. Nevertheless, it remains an important option for millions of people — and it’s worth keeping your CD-burning skills sharp just in case you need to share data or music with someone who’s only equipped with a CD player. Here, we take a look at how to burn a CD for those occasions when this seemingly archaic technology might come in handy.

The first thing to note in burning a CD is the limitation on exactly how much the format can store. You’ll need to keep that in mind, because while today’s hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSDs) are measured in terabytes (TBs), and both DVD and Blu-ray formats are measured gigabytes (GBs), CDs are measured in megabytes (MBs) of storage. Specifically, the most common CD can store 700MBs of data, which translates to roughly 80 minutes worth of music.

Step 1: Gather your tools and materials

To burn a CD, you’ll need two things. First, you’ll need a CD or DVD recorder drive (a.k.a, a burner). If you don’t have one and you’re using a desktop with an open external drive bay, it’s easy enough to get one purchased and installed. You can also use an external USB drive, which is handy for a notebook that doesn’t have a CD or DVD drive. You’ll spend about $20 for an internal CD/DVD combo drive an external CD/DVD combo drive.

Next, you’ll need a supply of blank CDs. Stick with CD recordable (CD-R) discs to be sure your CDs will be supported on any hardware. You’ll spend around $20 for a 100 CD-R spindle from a reputable manufacturer like Verbatim.

Finally, give some thought to what you want to burn to your CD. If you want to burn data for safekeeping or to pass along to someone else, then the simplest way is to use Windows 10’s File Explorer utility. If you want to burn music that’s most likely to play on either a computer or a dedicated CD player (such as in a car stereo or a boombox), then you can use the Windows Media Player that still ships with the latest versions of Windows 10.

Step 2a: Burn your data CD

Burning a data CD is simple enough. Just place a blank CD-R into your burner and close the tray. Open File Explorer, and then check out the status of your CD burner — you should see an indication that a CD-R is inserted and how much space is free.

how to burn a cd beginning
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Next, decide which data files you can burn to the CD. It’s easiest to create a working folder and then open a second File Explorer window for selecting your data files. Hit Ctrl-A on your keyboard to select all of the files, then right-click. From the context menu, select Sent to and then select your CD burner from the list of options.

how to burn a cd send 2
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

A dialogue will open asking how you want to use the disc. You have two options for how you burn your CD. You can also enter a disc title via this dialog.

how to burn a cd type
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

First, you can select “Like a USB flash drive,” then Windows 10 will not “close” the disc. This means that in Windows XP or later, you can add more files to the same CD-R, edit files, or delete files. The downside is that the CD will not work on any other kind of PC, such as MacOS or a Linux-powered system. Once you’re finished with the CD and want to make sure it can work with any system, then you can go to File Explorer, right-click on your CD burner, and select “Close session.” Note that once you close the CD, you will no longer be able to make any changes to it.

how to burn a cd close session
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Second, you can select “With a CD/DVD player.” Choosing this option will copy your files to the CD and then close the session, making the data available on any PC.

Note that if you copy some kinds of files, such as music (MP3 or WMV) or images (JPEG), those files can be played on supported PCs. They may or may not work on standalone electronic devices such as CD or DVD players, however. If you want to make sure that your music will play on any CD or DVD player, then skip to the next section.

Step 2b: Burn your music CD

Windows 10 has advanced in a number of ways, but it retains some older tools that can still be useful in a pinch. Windows Media Player is essentially a legacy application and hardly the best media player, but it includes a handy CD burner utility that makes it easy to create a music CD that can play just about anywhere.

To get started, go to the Cortana search box and start typing “Windows Media Player.” Once it pops up in the list, click on it. Then, select the Burn tab in the upper right-hand corner.

how to burn a cd wmp start
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Next, go to File Explorer and locate the music files that you want to burn to the CD. Drag them over to the burn list. Windows Media Player will tell you how many minutes you’ve used; make sure you’re not exceeding the 80-minute limit. You can hit “Clear list” to start over.

how to burn a cd wmp add music
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Next, hit “Start burn” to begin the process of burning your music files to the CD. Windows Media Player will provide a progress report as the burn is running. Note that it takes a few minutes to close the session, so be sure to wait until the process is all the way done before ejecting your CD.

Conclusion

That’s all there is to it. You’ve now burned a CD that can be used either as a handy USB flash-drive-like storage media with Windows XP or later machines, or as an easy way to share data or music with any other PC or CD/DVD player users. CD-R media is relatively inexpensive, running around $0.20 cents for a 700MB disc, and can last for years without worrying about degradation. There are newer and higher-capacity storage options available today, but sometimes the tried-and-true comes in handy.

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