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77. Pluses, minuses of blank DVD discs

By Mark Alberstat

Q. I have written to you before and was pleased with your response, so I am hoping you can help me again. My question is on burning photos to DVDs. What is the difference between the two types of DVDs, -R and +R?


When shopping for a DVD burner, or DVD blanks to put your data on, you will see DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW. They may seem the same at a quick glance, but they are different, and that's something the end user should be aware of.

Although there are dual-layer discs and burners out there now, most standard DVD burners and discs are single layer and all store 4.7 Gigabytes. That's about 6 1/2 times the amount of information stored on a traditional CD.

DVD-R is the type of disc, and writing routine, that you can use to create a disk once but not add anything to it when you are finished. Add the W to this type of disc and you can now erase and rewrite the information up to 1,000 times. In this case, there is a clear advantage of having a drive that allows the DVD-RW, simply because you don't need as many discs. If one disc becomes outdated, when you make another one, there is no need to throw away the original disc because you can simply write over the information.

When you move into the +R and +RW, things get a bit more confusing but are still understandable for most computer users. The +RW is the more popular format of the two + varieties because it can write to the disc faster and also allows drag and drop of desktop files, making it easier for most users to create a disc. The +R type of disc is similar to the -R in that these discs can only be written to once. After the burning session is finished, files cannot be added or deleted.

If you have a DVD drive, you have to buy the appropriate media for it. A -R or -RW drive will not work on discs created for +R or +RW.

In either case, if you are creating discs for archival reasons, and the data will not be changing, -R or +R is the route to go. If you are expecting the data to change or be updated in some way, the +RW or -RW would be more appropriate.

But overall, the discs with the W in their format type are more expensive, and this alone could influence what type of blank media is purchased.

If you are not sure what kind of DVD drive you have, both Mac and Windows-based machines have utilities built into their operating systems to tell you. On a Mac, it is the system profiler, while in Windows, you will have to go into your device manager under the systems properties in the control panel.

With this knowledge in hand, you should be able to decide what type of disc or burner is best for you and what options are available before a sales clerk baffles you with an ocean of acronyms.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 5 February 2006


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