Mounting Virtual Drives

Often found on P2P sites are “image” files of a specific release. For example, full DVD movies, games and applications that are found in *.ISO or *.BIN format are ‘images’ of the original disk. This is to ensure the integrity of the original retail product and keep the release as similar to it as possible. Game releases are very common in this format; newer ones are quite large so it’s just practical to release it as an image (with some small tweaks) - instead of ‘ripping’ it all apart to make it only minimally smaller. Movies are released this way in order to keep the original DVD menus, extras, languages, and subtitles intact. So sometimes these are essential and necessary formats (and preferred).

Essentially there are only three things that a user can do with an “image” file:

One, it can be easily burned to CD or DVD using suitable software. All major CD/DVD burning software will support image files.

Two, the contents can be extracted using software and saved to the hard drive. For most practicalities this is inefficient and needless, let alone time consuming.

Three, it can be ‘mounted’ as a “virtual drive” using special software.

Virtual Drives

A look at This image of “My Computer” has seven ‘virtual drives’. DVD Drive (F:) is the only one mounted. Drive (J:) is the only real DVD burner on the system.

“Mounting” software takes an image file and displays it as a drive letter, so that its contents are instantly accessible. In Windows, these drive letters are displayed in “My Computer” just like a hard drive, floppy drive or CD/DVD. These drives are called “virtual drives” since they don’t really “exist”. A huge benefit of mounting files in such a way is speed. They are up to 200 times faster than a CD-ROM, given that the data doesn’t have to go from the CD-ROM through the ‘bus’ and motherboard, into RAM, and finally the hard drive. With a virtual drive, the data is actually on the hard drive, not on CD/DVD media. This makes it unnecessary to have a physical copy of the disk (except for backups or playing the disk in your standalone DVD player, etc.).

How a ‘Virtual Drive’ works.

Fundamentally, a virtual drive ‘tricks’ other software into assuming that it is a viable CD/DVD drive. One application of this would be if you didn’t have a DVD player/burner in your computer at all, you could still download a DVD movie image or DVD folder and then ‘mount’ it and play it with Windows Media Player. WM Player won’t even know the difference!

Another function of virtual drives is the installation of software. Programs and games install so much faster when they don’t have to chug through a real CD or DVD. Or, you could borrow a game from a friend and install it, mount it and give him back the disk. Then when you run the game, it won’t ask you to “Please put the original disk in the drive” because it thinks it’s there. (But this doesn’t always work - mounting is best used when a cracked game checks to see if the disk is in the drive before it starts, and you don’t have a physical copy of it.)

And another enormous advantage is running games: Games run all that much faster from a virtual drive than from CD/DVD media, and the ‘loading’ time of the next game section is greatly reduced. It’s for this same reason that people who use virtual drives don’t use just one; they have ten or more and keep their games mounted there. Alcohol Soft, a leading maker of emulation software for this purpose, allows users to have up to 31 virtual drives at the same time. We truly can’t remember the last time we had to deal with the headaches of having to switch disks in the CD or DVD-ROM to change games. What a nightmare this must be!

The two most popular formats of image files used for pirated copies are *.ISO and *.BIN/.CUE, with the occasional *.DAA, *.MDF, *.CCD and *.IMG files found. The rest are comparably harder to find. ISO files open with almost every brand of emulation software available, as does BIN/CUE. With BIN/CUE, sometimes the *.CUE file must be loaded first to ’set-up’ the information on the much larger BIN file. MDF/MDS are loaded the same way as BIN/CUE, but are Alcohol Soft image files (yet other programs will open them). All of the major virtual/emulation programs are somewhat cross-connected in that they will open most images and each others’ native image files. The only ones that require a specific program are *.DAA, which will only open with PowerISO, and *.UIF which open with MagicISO/MagicDisk.

Here’s a list of most of the image files found throughout the ‘pirate’ community:

*.BIN/*.CUE CDRWIN image file. Very common for all types of releases.
*.BWT/*.B5T BlindWrite images files.
*.CCD Clone CD file.
*.CDI Diskjuggler image file. Quite uncommon.
*.CIF Easy CD Creator file.
*.DAA Generic image files (also used by PowerISO).
*.IMA/*.IMG Generic images files.
*.ISO Generic image file. Very common for all release types.
*.ISZ Compressed *.ISO images.
*.MDF/*.MDS Alcohol 120% image files. (AKA…Media Descriptor files.)
*.NRG Nero Burning ROM file.
*.PDI Instant CD/DVD images.
*.TAO/*.DAO Duplicator (Disk-at-once) image files.
*.UIF MagicISO image file.
*.VCD/*.CUE Virtual CD or DVD image files.

Emulation / Extracting Software:

There’s so much out there that we’re only going to explain a few - so that it covers all the common file types associated with virtual drives and converting/loading image files. But if you can’t find these programs mentioned below, there’s a variety of different ones available on the legit software websites. Did we forget to mention to check the P2P/BitTorrent sites too?

Alcohol 120% v1.9.6 (or Alcohol 52%)

Click to see Alcohol 120%

Alcohol Soft 120% is the king of all emulation programs. Offers up to 31 virtual drives at the same time. Creates and opens disk images in many different formats. Users can also create backup copies of CDs and DVDs (providing the DVD doesn’t have CSS protection). Includes CD/DVD burning software, and it can even make images of Playstation 2 disks. Alcohol 120% mounts MDS, BWT, B5T, CCD, ISZ, BIN/CUE, CDI, PDI, ISO and NRG image files. Alcohol 52% will only mount 6 drives, and doesn’t come with burning software.

Daemon Tools v4.10.x

Daemon Tools uses very little resources. There is no ‘program’ interface with Daemon Tools; it just runs in the taskbar. Click it and the options come up. It’s great for creating and mounting virtual drives, and it supports ISO, BWT, CDI, B5T, CCD, BIN/CUE, MDS/MDF, NRG, PDI, ISZ files. Daemon Tools also has a “fastdump” feature which is used to speed up the image creation of Safedisc 1 & 2 protected CDs. Allows for up to 4 mounted drives. And DT is completely free.

Daemon Tools screenshot

MagicISO v5.4

Users can create/edit/extract almost any format of image file. Supports ISO, BIN, NRG, BWI, IMG, MDF, UIF. Converts BIN to ISO, ISO to BIN, includes CD/DVD burning software, make boot disks, boot images. Use its other sister program, MagicDisk (freeware), to create virtual CD/DVD drives.

PowerISO v3.8

PowerISO is a powerful CD/DVD image file processing tool, which allows you to open, extract, create, edit, compress, encrypt, split and convert ISO files, and mount these files with its internal virtual drives. It can process almost all CD-ROM image files including ISO and BIN. It’s the only program we know that opens those pesky semi-common *.DAA files.

Be careful when mounting multiple images: Never mount two images onto the same virtual drive. This is particularly easy to do with Alcohol 120% because it allows you to do it. Doing this will freeze up Alcohol and not one of the mounted images will work until you’ve resolved the conflict. So for Alcohol 120% users, mount them onto the virtual drives directly by right-clicking empty ones in the bottom right window, not at the top. This way you can’t make that mistake. It’s easy to get the bottom and top ones mixed up if you have as many as 31 of them.

Also take caution for how many virtual drives you initially set up. Since virtual drives are treated as ‘hardware’, MS Windows has only a certain number of hardware IRQ slots available. So if you set up too many, you’ll likely come across the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH and have to restart the computer. It’s better to start off with a small number like eight, and increase them one at a time as needed.

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