Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Basics #3: Disc Images and Virtual Drives

         =================== Disc Images ===================
                -------------------------  What is a Disc Image?  -------------------------
An image of a disc (henceforth known simply as an image), is essentially a snapshot of the raw data that is meant to be placed on a DVD or CD. An image simply refers to an archived file of an optical disc. Arguably, the most common type of image is an ISO image(International Standards Organization) which is a file-type ending with the extension *.iso. Any CD or DVD can be archived by .ISO format. It is a perfect digital copy of the original. The ISO image file is not stored in a container file, it is the raw data... a true copy. Simply put, an ISO image is an uncompressed collection of various files merged into one single resulting file(final_file.iso), which then must be burned onto some form of optical disc(CD/DVD/Blu-ray) to work properly.
            -------------------------  How do I manage/run Images?  -------------------------
In order for images to run properly, they must be burned on to optical disc and then inserted into a CD/DVD reader which will execute the files on the disc autonomously(most of the time the content of an ISO is some sort of installation disc that will prompt for install upon running the CD/DVD just like you would expect from any media on a disc that isn't just an audio CD or a data CD. So anyways, we must burn the ISO onto an optical disc in order to utilize the data stored within the image.
    -------------------------  What Tools are needed to burn ISOs?  -------------------------
If you are already running Linux , burning images is a native option and requires nothing more than inserting a blank disc and choosing "Burn contents as an Image". Windows on the other hand, as usually, needs a little help. There are quite a few options when choosing which image-burning software you want to use which include, but are not limited to:
-- Alcohol 120%
-- PowerISO / UltraISO / MagicISO
-- Daemon Tools (Pro / Advanced / Lite)
I recommend you download either Daemon Tools or Alcohol120% because these two programs allow you to create several virtual drives at once, where the PowerISO etc, etc. programs, as far as I remember, do not offer this functionality. I will explain virtual drives in-depth shortly, but for now download an image-burner of your choosing. Daemon Tools Lites is free and provides all the functionality we need and can be found at Daemon Tools Lite (Free). However, I prefer Alcohol120 because I am sometimes a bit of an alcoholic and really it's just what I've familiarized myself with the most (4 years ago when I still used Windows lol). So use your torrenting prowess learned in Basic-1 of my tutorials and obtain a 100% legal 30-day free trial of Alcohol 120% and you'll be good to go. *trollface.jpg*
      -------------------------  How to burn an ISO with Alcohol 120%   -------------------------
===> Launch Alcohol 120%
===> Choose "Image Burning Wizard"
===> When asked for an image to burn, selected "Browse..."
===> Find the image you would like to burn to a disc (.iso)
===> Make sure to uncheck "delete image when burn complete"
===> Choose the DVD/CD recorder that you want to burn the image with
===> Make sure that drive has the appropriate media in it (a CD or DVD)
===>Click "Next", "Next", etc, etc, "Burn Image"
===>Wait 5-10 minutes for image to burn (time depends on size)
===> ???????????
===> Profit.
        ------------------------- Using the burned ISO Image  -------------------------
Simply insert the disc into a drive that can read that form of media and let your OS do the rest. Usually there is an autorun.inif file on the ISO that tells Windows what to do upon initially reading the CD; if this is the case, you will be prompted with something telling you what the disc is about and telling you how to proceed. If someone failed at making an ISO (you can make custom images with whatever files you want on them... Alcohol120 has this option), after inserting the disc, navigate to the appropriate drive in My Computer, right click the drive and choose "Explore". This should list all the files and folders on the disc. Odds are there is a file called setup.exe if you are looking to install a program, otherwise you can find a file called video.avi if your looking for a movie, or whatever_I_want.extension if you are looking for something else on the ISO.

*****That was the old way to do it. The Windows Millennium way (super successful =p). The hard way. Unless you enjoy wasting time and resources (CDs/DVDs), the above mentioned method should be avoided. However, with that said, it is good to understand everything that is happening and it is good to know how to burn a physical copy of an ISO if one is ever needed.******

         ================== Virtual Drives ================
                  -------------------- What is a Virtual Drive? -------------------
Ok, so now we know what an image is and that we must burn it onto an optical disc which has to be read by an optical drive before finally giving us our desired results. If we map that out we start with virtual media (software) in the form of a file (in this case an ISO image), and then we burn it onto a physical device (an optical disc), only to stick it Back into the computer so that it can be read by a particular piece of hardware, an optical drive. So if some sort of software application could simply mimic the behavior of an optical drive, the need to burn the image to a physical disc and re-insert the disc into our machine would be eliminated... enter virtual drives. A virtual drive is exactly what it sounds like, it is an optical disc reader that lives 100% in software and simply mimics the hardware actions a regular drive would perform.
             ------------------------- How do I get a Virutal Drive? -------------------------
Both Alcohol120 and Daemon Tools allow you to create virtual drives on your computer. I believe Daemon Tools limits you to 4 virtual drives because it is the free Lite version, and Alcohol120 allows you to have up to 31 virtual drives at once. Either program is fine since 4 virtual drives is plenty, 2 is more than enough... really you only need 1. Virtual drives appear an act like all of your other regular physical drives except for the simple fact that they don't exist... physically anyways. Alcohol120 by default activates 1 virtual drive on its own, but lets go ahead and give ourselves 7 more, for a total of 8 virtual drives...
->Go ahead and launch Alcohol120
->Under the Options box on the middle left-hand side choose "Virtual Drives"
->Where it says "Number of Virtual Drives: 1", change it to 8.
->Click "Ok" and close out of Alcohol120%
Now go to My Computer and look at your drives. You have your regular hard drive C, your first (and most likely only) optical drive is drive D, and then as you'll notice, you now have 8 additional empty DVD drives labeled E-L.
Congratulations!! You now have virtual drives on your computer!!
     ------------------------- How do I use the virtual drives? ------------------------
There are a few ways you can go about using the virtual drives that have been bestowed upon you... first you must know that the process of placing any external media devices (CDs/DVDs/flash drives/external hard drives/phones/cameras/etc/etc...) is known as Mounting those particular devices. So we want to mount our ISO onto one of our virtual drives. To my knowledge you can go about this one of three ways:
1) Launch Alcohol120, click Virutal Drives, and then on the left hand side select "Shell Extensions" to modify which files Alcohol120 should be responsible for taking care of by default. Select which ever ones you want (I selected them all since many I had not heard of, but if A120 can run them, good for it), but make sure to select ISOs(.iso),BINS(.bin), and CUES(.cue). Bin/Cue is another type of image just like an ISO except that one file gets mounted and the other doesn't... but they need each other to run. Anyways, bin/cue is beyond the scope of this TuT... make sure Alcohol120 is set to handle ISOs by default and select "Ok".
Now, find any ISO file you have and right-click the file. You'll notice that two new options appear in your right-click menu: "Burn image to disc" and "Mount Image". When you mouse-over "Mount Image" a list of your virtual drives that currently have nothing mounted to them appears; select a virtual drive and your good to go! If you selected drive H, go to My Computer and double click on drive H and it will launch the media mounted to the virtual drive as if it were a real physical CD/DVD/Blu-ray.
2) Start off by going to My Computer, find an un-mounted virtual drive, and then right-click it. One of the options is "Mount.." and upon mousing over it a new extended window pops out and says "Open...". This allows you to browse your computer for your ISO and select it to be Mounted. Then go ahead and double click the mounted virtual drive and viola, +10 intranetz.
3) You can go into the Virtual Drive settings as we have described earlier, and underneath  the number of virtual drives you want is the option to check a box that says "Mount Image to Device0 on Double-Click of Image File", which essentially will have Alcohol120% do everything for you and allow you to just double click an ISO image to run it.

*****Keep in mind that the virtual drives to Not un-mount themselves. Whenever you are done using an image, find the virtual drive that was/is hosting that particular image, right-click it and select "UnMount". This is the equivalent of "ejecting" a CD/DVD drive*****

Hope this Tutorial helped some people further understand images and how to use them. If you have any questions feel free to PM me and I'll do my best to help you out. The next Basic Tutorial will be a tutorial on installing Linux... so if you want to get a jump start, go grab the Ubuntu ISO for your desktop or laptop.


  1. I do love such technician stuff. Thanks and following for 100%!

  2. I used to have Alcohol 120%. When was their most recent update to the software? I've been out of the loop, don't really burn DvD's anymore because my disk burner isn't Blue Ray but laptop has an HDMI output for watching blu ray movies on an HDTV.

  3. yeah i also used alcohol until w7 didnt recognize it and switched to Power iso

  4. That's a LOOONG read but worth it! keep it up

  5. Been using Daemon tools since I can remember, never had a problem with it. Good post, very informative!

  6. A very long but very good read. You should do one of these for xbox 360 iso's now.

  7. Used both Deamon an Alcohol 120%, Deamon is easier to use ...

  8. I used to use Alcohol120 but the newest version has had a fuck load of performance problems. Been using Daemon Tools Lite. Used to use UltraISO, but the virtual drive wouldn't read some of the images that I had downloaded.