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How To Format a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows

Posted by Jamie on October 12, 2018

I don’t know anyone who has a DVD or CD drive anymore. New computers don’t have them, laptops, phones and tablets don’t have them and I don’t even think you can buy them in many places now. However, some of you still use CDs and DVDs as we were asked how to format a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows last week. As this may be something many of you are unfamiliar with, I’m going to show you.

A CD-R is a single write compact disc. You can record to it once and use it as many times as you like to read. A CD-RW is a multiple rewrite disc, CD-Re-Writeable. You can read and write multiple times from the disc. Both were very prevalent during the late 90s and early 2000’s but have been largely superseded by digital storage and downloads.

Despite being legacy technology, CDs and DVDs have some serious advantages. They aren’t volatile like digital storage so won’t be accidentally deleted or be lost due to hardware failure. They are cheap, easy to use and could survive a lot. The technology was slow by modern standards and it is still possible to break or damage a disc.

Storage is limited too. A CD could hold 650MB of data or up to 74 minutes of music. A DVD can hold up to 4.7GB of data for a single sided DVD and up to 9.4GB for a double sided disc.

Format a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows

Formatting a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows depends on what version you’re using. I’ll cover Windows 7 and 8 as well as Windows 10. You have two options when preparing discs. You can use Window’s default tools or the tool that came with your CD writer. There are third-party tools too if you want more options.

I’ll concentrate on Windows tools.

Format a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows 7 or 8

Formatting a CD should not actually be necessary unless you want to re-use a disc with data already on it. If you’re using a new disc, it will already be prepared for use. To format an already used CD-RW disc, do this:

  1. Insert the CD-RW into your media drive and wait for Windows to pick it up.
  2. Select the drive in Windows Explorer.
  3. Right click and select Format.
  4. Select either UDF 2.01, UDF 2.50 or UDF 2.60 as the File System depending on what options are presented.
  5. Select Start and then OK to confirm.

The process can take a little while depending on how much data is on the disc and your computer. You will be notified when the process is complete. You can use these same steps for DVD-RWs too.

Format a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows 10

The process is much the same in Windows 10 as it is in previous edition. Most CD and DVD authoring tools have been removed or hidden as they aren’t used very much anymore. The right click format option is still present though.

  1. Insert the CD-RW into your disc drive and wait for Windows to recognize it.
  2. Right click the drive and select Format.
  3. Select either UDF 2.01, UDF 2.50 or UDF 2.60 as the File System.
  4. Select Start and then OK to confirm.

You should have the option to select all of those file systems in Windows 10. Each is compatible with most devices but the latest 2.60 is the one to choose if you’re using newer hardware.

You can also use Disk Management in Windows 10 is you prefer.

  1. Insert the disc and wait for Windows to populate it in Explorer.
  2. Right click the Windows Start button and select Disk Management.
  3. Select your disc drive and wait for it to populate the center pane.
  4. Right click the partition in the center and select Format.
  5. Select the file system and Start as above.

Erase a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows

Formatting and erasing are technically the same thing. Both will overwrite the data stored on the disc with an empty file system ready for new data. Formatting is usually used to prepare a disc for further use while erasing a disc is most often used to delete private data before disposal.

While they are the same thing, they both have distinct controls.

To erase a CD-R or CD-RW in Windows:

  1. Insert the CD-RW into your disc drive and wait for Windows to recognize it.
  2. Right click the drive and select Erase this disc.

You should see the same options as above with regards File System and confirmations and the process takes the same time.

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