Disk image tools allow you to take physical discs and drives—DVDs, hard drives, and other media—and turn them into virtual images for ease of storage and manipulation. Here's a look at five of the most popular disk image tools.
DAEMON Tools (Windows; Lite: Free, Pro: $US100)
Disk image emulator DAEMON Tools comes in several flavors, including Lite, Pro and Pro Advanced, with each version building on the feature set of the last. The basic Lite version is quite a bargain with a free-as-in-beer price tag. You can backup disc images, mount up to 4 virtual drives simultaneously (additional drive mounting is one of the upgrade perks) get quick access to your virtual drives from the system tray, mount images directly from Windows Explorer, and interact with your disk image collection from the DAEMON tools desktop widget. DAEMON Tools supports both local and network mounting.
Alcohol 52% (Windows, $US27)
Alcohol 52% is the baby brother of Alcohol Soft's flagship product, Alcohol 120%. The principle difference between the two: Alcohol 52% doesn't include any disc burning software. Alcohol 52% does, however, include Alcohol's excellent CD and DVD drive emulation tools. The app supports up to 31 simultaneous virtual drives, is optimised for speedy playback—making it a popular choice for playing games off virtual discs—and can emulate and read dozens of drive and image combinations. Alcohol 52% supports both local and network mounting.
Virtual CloneDrive (Windows, Free)
Virtual CloneDrive (VCD) is a free offering from SlySoft, the company behind popular disc-related products such as AnyDVD and CloneDVD. VCD supports up to 8 simultaneous virtual drives and supports common image formats such as ISO, BIN, and CCD. Once installed VCD integrates with your Windows shell, so mounting an image file is as simple as double-clicking on the file. Virtual CloneDrive supports both local and network mounting.
PowerISO (Windows, $US29.95)
PowerISO goes beyond simply mounting and unmounting of your virtual drives. You can extract ISO files, make bootable ISO images (or examine and extra boot information from an existing bootable ISO), and even optimise your ISO file to save space while preserving its integrity. PowerISO includes Windows shell and context menu integration, ISO creation from physical discs, and conversion between image formats. It also supports both local and network mounting.
MagicISO (Windows, $US29.95)
MagicISO is a disk image tool with an emphasis on start-to-finish image manipulation. You can extract disk images from physical discs, convert between formats, and work within your disk image as though it were an active drive instead of a static image. MagicISO includes a disc burning tool with support for multi-boot images (you could, for example, put three Linux install images on one master DVD). MagicISO integrates with Windows Explorer for easy drag-and-drop file swapping between virtual discs and your physical drives. MagicISO supports both local and network mounting.
Have a favourite app that didn't get a nod? Let's hear about it in the comments.