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What Do I Do If I Can’t Boot from a CD or DVD Drive?

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What can I do if my laptop will not boot from the DVD drive and I need to restore my machine?

This is gradually becoming more of an issue as optical drives are becoming optional on many smaller computers. There are a few solutions or approaches to think about taking.

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Boot order

First, if you have a CD or DVD drive and the system just doesn’t appear to even be trying to boot from it, you’ll need to look into changing your boot order. That’s a setting in your computer’s BIOS.

When your computer starts up, it looks at several different devices: the hard drive, the optical drive (the CD or DVD), and any connected USB drives and asks each one in turn, “Is there anything I can boot from here?” As soon as it gets the answer “yes”, the system stops looking for things to boot from and boots from the one that it found first.

So, if it checks the hard drive and finds Windows before it actually looks at the CD/DVD drive, then it will always ignore whatever’s inserted and boot from the hard drive.

The BIOS should let you change the order in which that check happens. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a step-by-step because that differs dramatically depending on your computer and your computer’s BIOS. They all do it differently and they all have a different user interface.

When you get inside the BIOS interface, I recommend you set it to checking the CD or DVD first, then a USB, and then your hard disk.

Hardware issues & dust

Now, if there is a physical problem with your CD or DVD drive, then the thing to do is to get it fixed or replaced. On desktop machines, these drives really aren’t that hard to replace and they’re also pretty inexpensive.

Another thing to keep in mind is that CD and DVD drives are great dust-catchers. If you haven’t used yours for a while, try blowing it out with a little can of compressed air. That might actually help clear things up.

No drive at all

External DVDNow, if you don’t have a CD or DVD drive, or it’s just not going to get fixed, then things get a little more interesting. I’ve actually prepared for this by purchasing an external USB DVD drive. It’s not big and, like the internals, it’s not really that expensive.

If your computer will allow you to boot from USB, then it’s very possible that your computer can boot from a CD or DVD inserted into an external DVD USB drive. Again, you can set your computer’s BIOS to look for USB drives first. Another advantage to the external drive is portability. It can be used on pretty much any machine you happen to be having troubles with, or if you just want to actually read or use a CD or DVD.

Other alternatives

If fixing or replacing the optical drive, either internally or externally, is not possible, then things get more complicated.

Booting from a USB RAM stick is certainly one option, but only if whatever it is you’re trying to use is actually provided on a USB RAM stick or as a download that can be placed on a USB stick. There are several utilities out there that claim to create such a thing, but I’ve never really been comfortable with the ones that could, for example, create a USB bootable Windows installation disk. It’s not necessarily legal, and aside from that I often question exactly how well it will work. But if you can find one and it works for you, that’s fantastic.

If you are trying to restore your machine to say factory initial settings, and you’ve basically run out of options, contact the computer’s manufacturer and see if they can provide something that would work for you. They may have a download that you can then put on to a USB RAM stick, or they may be able to send you something that would allow you to do the restore you need to do.

20 comments on “What Do I Do If I Can’t Boot from a CD or DVD Drive?”

  1. With the trend toward laptops without optical drives, the latest versions of Windows: 8 and 8.1 have the option of being downloaded directly to a USB flash drive. Ubuntu and other Linux flavors also have this option. To do this with other versions of Windows, you’d need third party software to accomplish this which according to this article can be hit or miss.

  2. Hi,
    I have been using Macrium Reflect disk imaging system for a number of years now and that allows the production of a USB flash drive to boot into the Macrium recovery module. I always use this method rather than a DVD as it is just a little more convenient. Up to now, after many uses , it has never let me down.

  3. I still have a lot of floppies with usable data on them. My computer had no floppie drive, but it did have a zip drive location, which is about 16″ smaller than a floppie. It also had a floppie connection on the MB. I took a file and enlarged the opening to fit a drive into.

  4. Why are optical drives on the way out? For years I didn’t have one because my machine couldn’t support it, and now that I have a machine that does support it, they’re on the way out. I don’t get it. I hope it wasn’t because of some of the prejudices that Steve Jobs worked into the ipad thus starting a trend.

    • In my opinion, the trend seems to be moving towards USB flash media, external hard drives, and downloading software from the internet. So why would a manufacturer go to the extra expense of putting in an optical drive? Even a good portion of music these days is purchased and downloaded over the internet.

  5. The only three reasons I believe that the drives are disappearing are:
    1 Laptop size (can be smaller)
    2 save on costs(less things to put in a computer
    3 people are content with downloaded moves and games from the cloud.
    Bad idea if the hard drive goes, taking your recovery partition with it. Maybe you can make a recovery USB flash drive.

    • you missed the fact that DVDs and CDs are prone to a scratch that makes them unusable. its a problem of durability of the media, then USB drives are superior in that respect also.

  6. This can be a real problem. I was helping a couple with a Windows 7 laptop which needed reformatting and had a faulty DVD drive which would have been difficult to replace. They had a USB DVD drive, but the computer would not boot from it despite setting the BIOS, etc.

    In the end, I had to use those utilities which Leo mentions in order to transfer the sytem disk on to a bootable USB stick. It worked in the end, but took a long time. I hear that manufacturers of computers made for Windows 8 are under pressure to include BIOSes which will not boot from unapproved disks, making repairs to non-booting systems harder.

  7. I’m somewhat jealous because though I posses all the XP OEM software disks for my Dell Inspiron 1200, I cant boot the darn thing. My CD drive worked fine just before I did a clean wipe of my HDD, (a virus infected my system) .
    I went to reinstall (using F8 BIOS to boot from my internal CD drive) and on the BSOD the classic “missing MBR” (missing boot manager) appeared. Second and subsequent tries resulted in “no bootable device found”. What? Could my BIOS be damaged?
    Question:
    My thought is to copy the first partition (or the entire XO OS) to the to the HDD to least get it booted get to the XP installation screen and complete the process. Is this too simplistic of a concept with MS / Windows / XP software?

  8. I am perplexed why you would think that creating a USB flash bootable drive is in any way not legal?
    Microsoft sells licenses to use software not the software. That’s why you can buy keys from them
    without software. They even provide an ISO to USB transfer soft._Personally I use a tools that create a
    bootable USB flash drive and stack ISO’s to “multi boot” various recovery tools on
    one USB flash drive. http://www.pendrivelinux.com/yumi-multiboot-usb-creator/

  9. I have a automatic repair loop on my windows 8 laptop. I have tried everything that I have read to fix the problem. I have tried a recovery disk, a windows disk and it will not boot to the cd drive or the usb drive. I have change the boot order in bios to correspond to the boot method, no luck it still goes to the loop. I have tried holding down the zero key while turning it on and it comes to a screen asking me if I want to continue with the reset and when I select yes it just goes through the automatic repair loop again and goes to a black screen. Why is my computer not booting with these options? I my hard drive gone? Computer is only a year old. It is a Toshiba Satellite. Thanks
    Heather

  10. Hi
    My Name is Mr s Ntwanambi, I have acer laptop was using windows 8 and I wanted to downgrade it to 7 the I format the hdd and delete the partition so my laptop do not want to boot with cd/dvd drive and hdd its only wnt to boot from network. I did make changes on bios setup to boot frm dvd drive disable secure boot whats the problem?

  11. Hallo sir/ma’am,

    I hope will resolve the issue as soon as. The problem is even I choosed the correct bootale drive and save it also not able to boot either through CD/DVD drive or USB.

    Thanks.

    Best Regard,
    Lenin

  12. Hi,
    I am lenin, I am trying to boot my system but it is not able to boot throuth CD/DVD or USB drive even I have set the correct boot order.
    Hope will get the possitive response.

    Thanks.

    Best Regard,

    Lenin

  13. Hi i’m having issue with my acer aspire 5552 everytime i open my laptop and the boot priority is my HDD it say’s
    “no device found . check cable and press any key” but when i priority the usb which i inserted on usb port before start my laptop it’s saying press any key to boot cd (something like formatting using usb) then when i did something my computer working fine..Is there any way to sole this issue i don’t want to use USB everytime i need to run my laptop..

    Thanks,

  14. Hi, How to add a device in boot menu, if it is not shown in boot priority in BIOS. Like usb, if it is not already listed there

  15. Hello
    I have an Acer laptop without a CD/DVD drive and when I switch it on it doesn’t get past the boot up routine. It like a loop that keeps going back to the safe start menu and try’s again to boot but no joy. What can I do to fix this?
    David

  16. This has been an interesting topic I stumbled across too late most likely as it’s at least 3 years old. I have used something for the most part of my years all the way up to Windows 7 and this still works up to Windows 8/8.1. A was just making this argument to what I call the upcoming younger computer generation. When I learned computers it was all hands on stuff like Windows 3.1 and DOS. Amazing what all can be done with having that knowledge in the age of floppy drives. Floppy drives, that’s right I forget about those things – not actually. If your computer crashes and the CD/DVD drive goes along with it how will that CD/DVD boot disk help you? Well without any long discussion explaining the answer is it won’t help you at all. But it may still possible to recover or at least attempt to repair your system with a portable USB floppy drive. As far as I know most of Microsoft programs are still based on Bill Gates fame to fortune which was MS-DOS. All Windows up until Windows 10 can be booted up with a startup disk run from a floppy drive allowing you to gain access to your system. If you just happen to have a USB floppy drive on hand. I’ve never been without a floppy drive in my possession throughout the years and still use it quite often. You would be amazed at what all you can do with one and DOS commands. And most of the younger computer generation think those floppy drives were just things of the past. But in fact they are still used and relied upon for ATM machines and even used by military to name just a few applications.

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