Anyone that uses Peer-to-Peer networking software, beta-tests, or downloads more often than they brush their teeth, has (on one or more occasion) found the need to burn or mount a file. Sometimes the file is of a normal and commonly-used format, but not always. Everyone knows how to burn an ISO file, but knowing what to do with that mdf or pdi certainly might come handy one day – especially if you can do it for free and without having to waste a CD/DVD!!
You just downloaded a file of some obscure format or the other, and you want to test it out. You don’t especially need to have it on a physical disk somewhere; you just want to test it out and maybe install whatever is on it – and if you can do that without wasting a precious CD or DVD, so much the better. What to do? How to do it? Can it all really be done for free?
Here’s the software we selected that gets the job done, all for free. The list below is ordered from our favorite to least-favorite tools for the job. The first listing is the most preferable tool to get the job done; should it not support the file you’d like to mount, move down the list until you find a program that does.
- Company: SlySoft Corp.
- Supported Filetypes: ccd, dvd, iso, udf, bin/cue
SlySoft’s excellent Virtual CloneDrive is our Editor’s Pick for the day. VirtualClone drive is fastest product on the list, with an almost invisible emulation layer that makes it seems as if you’re opening the files natively & support for multiple emulated drives (“sheep”). Virtual CloneDrive doesn’t use any background programs or services to mount your files, and its interface is straight-forward and easy-to-use. It doesn’t clutter your system tray nor fill up your start menu: just right click the drive in My Computer, and select the file to mount. It doesn’t get easier than that.
Virtual CloneDrive has only a couple of minor drawbacks, if you can work-around/live-with these, then you don’t need to look any further.
- Limited image format support.
- Doesn’t work on Vista as of version 126.96.36.199.1
- Company: DAEMON Tools
- Support Filetypes: iso, bwt, cdi, b5t, cue/bin, mds/mdf, nrg, pdi
Daemon Tools is the oldest name on the list, and has managed to keep up with the times. Ever since version 4 came out, Daemon Tools has been one of the best image mounting softwares on the market. It alone from the programs reviewed provides in-built DRM-circumvention software, including workarounds for SafeDisc, Securom, RMPS, and LaserLock. It has a trusted name, an active community, and a very solid framework.
While Daemon Tools is free for personal use it ships with spyware. Daemon Tools comes with the “WhenU Search” spyware that results in nasty ads and tracking of personal information. Installing the spyware is optional but it’s selected by default during the setup. The included DRM-circumvention is a decent-but-not-excellent implementation, but still better than nothing. Daemon Tools isn’t as fast nor as light of a solution as Virtual CloneDrive, but it’s almost as good.
- Company: MagicISO Corp.
- Supported Filetypes: bin, ima/img, cif, nrg, ccd, mdf/mds, vcd, vaporcd, p01/md1, vc4, vdi, c2d, bwi/bwt, cdi, tao/dao, pdi
MagicDisc, the freeware counterpart to MagicISO, is without a doubt the most versatile image mounting software out there. It supports virtually every format you’ll ever come across, and is 100% compatible with Windows Vista. MagicDisc supports multiple drives, and has many features not present in the other programs reviewed in this article – namely image validiation and forced mounts. Like the other programs, Daemon Tools has support for multiple emulated drives. Its support for Windows Vista is complete and bug-free
Don’t let MagicDisc’s long list of supported formats fool you. While it may mount these formats, it crashes far too often to be considered dependable, and can take your system down with it. While it officially support Windows Vista, it’s tenacious at best. Many times mounting a new image won’t be reflected until you restart your system. MagicDisc’s interface is cluttered with useless links to MagicDisc, and is very hard to navigate – it’s like jamming Outlook into a taskbar icon. MagicDisc is also the slowest-performing program we tested. Use MagicDisc only if you really need support for one of the less-popular file formats.
If you’re using any of the above programs to mount a game CD or DVD instead of using the actual thing, it’s probably a good idea to go and download Y.A.S.U. while you’re at it. Y.A.S.U. prevents games from detecting the presence of a virtual drive, allowing them to pretend to be physical optical drives. Y.A.S.U. is not a SecuROM circumvention program, rather it covers up the presence of such programs instead.
Virtual CloneDrive 188.8.131.52 used to work on previous versions of Windows Vista. However, on Vista RTM it results in a BSOD, and a “last known good configuration” boot is required to get the system working once more. ↩