Which format you should use is determined by the computer you're going to use to read the information after it's saved.

Pick the appropriate disc and format for your needs

Find the example in the table below that best describes your situation. Then insert the recommended kind of disc and choose the appropriate format when you prepare your disc for burning.

The following table describes the different CD or DVD burning situations you might encounter and provides advice about which format to use.

To Use this
To

Burn any kind of file and use the disc in a Windows XP or later computer

Use this

Disc: Any kind of disc that works with your disc burner. If you have a CD-RW drive, you can use CD-R or CD-RW media. If you have a DVD burner, you should check the manual to see what kind of discs it supports.

Format:‌ Live File System

To

Leave a disc in your computer’s burner and copy files to it at your convenience, such as for routine backup

Use this

Disc: Any kind of disc that works with your disc burner. If you have a CD-RW drive, you can use CD-R or CD-RW media. If you have a DVD burner, you should check the manual to see what kind of discs it supports.

Format: Live File System

To

Be able to add and erase files over and over, as if the disc were a floppy disk or USB flash drive

Use this

Disc: CD-R, CD+R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, or DVD-RAM.

Format: Live File System

To

Burn any kind of file and use the disc in any computer, including versions of Windows earlier than Windows XP

Use this

Disc: Any kind of disc that works with your disc burner. If you have a CD-RW drive, you can use CD-R or CD-RW media. If you have a DVD burner, you should check the manual to see what kind of discs it supports.

Format:  Mastered

To

Burn music or pictures and use the disc in any computer, including versions of Windows earlier than Windows XP, or ordinary CD or DVD players that can play MP3s and digital pictures

Use this

Disc: CD-R, DVD-R, or DVD+R.

Format: Mastered

Understanding the difference between the Live File System and Mastered disc formats

If you have burned CDs using Windows XP, you are already familiar with the Mastered format. The latest version of Windows offers a new format, called Live File System. Discs that use the Live File System format are often more convenient because you can copy selected files immediately and as often as you want, as if the disc were a floppy disc or USB flash drive. On the other hand, Live File System discs can’t be used in all computers and devices. Use this guide to understand the difference between Live File System and Mastered discs:

Discs formatted with the Live File System option:

  • Work like a USB flash drive or floppy disk, meaning you can copy files to disc immediately without having to burn them.

  • Are convenient if you want to keep a disc in the burn drive and copy files whenever the need arises.

  • Are only compatible with Windows XP and later versions of Windows.

Discs formatted with the Mastered option:

  • Don’t copy files immediately, meaning you need to select the entire collection of files that you want to copy to the disc, and then burn them all at once.

  • Are convenient if you want to burn a large collection of files, such as a music CD.

  • Are compatible with older computers and devices such as CD players and DVD players.

Why are there different versions of the Live File System format?

Each version of the Live File System format is compatible with different operating systems. Depending on which computers you plan to use a disc in, you might need to select a different version of Live File System. If you plan to use your disc on the latest version of Windows, however, you will never need to change the version of Live File System you use. If you need to make discs that are compatible with earlier versions of Windows, use the table below to select the right Live File System version for your needs:

The following table describes Live File System versions and their appropriate uses.

Live File System version Best for
Live File System version

1.02

Best for

This format can be read on Windows 98 as well as many Apple computers. You should use this version if you need to format DVD-RAM or MO (Magneto-optical) discs.

Live File System version

1.5

Best for

This format is compatible with Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003. It might not be compatible with Windows 98 or Apple computers.

Live File System version

2.01

Best for

This format is compatible with Windows XP and Windows Server . It might not compatible with Windows 98, Windows 2000, or Apple computers.

Live File System version

2.5

Best for

This format is designed for the latest version of Windows and might not be compatible with earlier versions of Windows.

For information on how to choose one of these versions when you format a disc, see Format a CD or DVD.

What are the differences between the various kinds of CD and DVD discs?

The following table describes the different kinds of CDs and DVDs and provides information about their appropriate use.

Disc General information Capacity Compatibility
Disc

CD-ROM

General information

Known as a read-only disc, usually used to store commercial programs and data. You can't add or delete information on a CD-ROM.

Capacity

650 megabytes (MB)

Compatibility

Highly compatible with most computers and devices.

Disc

CD-R

General information

You can burn files to a CD-R more than once (each time is referred to as a session), but you can't delete files from the disc. Each burn is permanent.

Capacity

650 MB and 700 MB

Compatibility

You must close the session to read this disc in a different computer. Highly compatible with most computers and devices.

Disc

CD-RW

General information

You can burn files to a CD-RW more than once. You can also delete unwanted files from the disc to reclaim space and add additional files. A CD-RW can be burned and erased many times.

Capacity

650 MB

Compatibility

Compatible with many computers and devices.

Disc

DVD-ROM

General information

Known as a read-only disc, usually used to store commercial programs and data. You can't add or delete information on a DVD-ROM.

Capacity

4.7 gigabytes (GB)

Compatibility

Highly compatible with most computers and devices.

Disc

DVD-R

General information

You can burn files to a DVD-R more than once (each time is referred to as a session), but you can't delete files from the disc. Each burn is permanent.

Capacity

4.7 GB

Compatibility

You must close the session to read this disc in a different computer. Highly compatible with most computers and devices.

Disc

DVD+R

General information

You can burn files to a DVD+R more than once (each time is referred to as a session), but you can't delete files from the disc. Each burn is permanent.

Capacity

4.7 GB

Compatibility

You must close the session to read this disc in a different computer. Compatible with many computers and devices.

Disc

DVD-RW

General information

You can burn files to a DVD-RW more than once (each time is referred to as a session). You can also delete unwanted files from the disc to reclaim space and add additional files. A DVD-RW can be burned and erased many times.

Capacity

4.7 GB

Compatibility

You don't need to close the session to read this disc in another computer. Compatible with many computers and devices.

Disc

DVD+RW

General information

You can burn files to a DVD+RW more than once (each time is referred to as a session). You can also delete unwanted files from the disc to reclaim space and add additional files. A DVD+RW can be burned and erased many times.

Capacity

4.7 GB

Compatibility

You don't need to close the session to read this disc in another computer. Compatible with many computers and devices.

Disc

DVD-RAM

General information

You can burn files to a DVD-RAM more than once. You can also delete unwanted files from the disc to reclaim space and add additional files. A DVD-RAM can be burned and erased many times.

Capacity

2.6 GB

4.7 GB

5.2 GB

9.4 GB

Compatibility

DVD-RAM discs can generally only be used DVD-RAM drives and might not be readable by DVD players and other devices.

Note

  • For another computer to be able to read a DVD disc, that computer must have a DVD drive. CDs can be used in both CD and DVD drives.