Disk image formats such as Iso, Bin or Img are also known as archive files of optical discs. They are made up of the sector contents of optical discs which makes them ideal for several purposes including backup and also mounting.
While the concept of backing up an optical disc, an audio CD, game DVD or video DVD for example, is fairly straightforward, mounting is not necessarily.
The idea here is to make available the contents of the disc as if it would have been inserted into an optical drive connected to the system.
Since you don't need an optical drive for that, you can make available contents of discs on a system that has not access to a compatible drive or lacks the original disc instead.
One of the core benefits here is that you can mount multiple discs at once limited only by the number of drive letters made available by the operating system.
Additionally, access to virtual images improves the performance of the operation by a lot.
What disk images are used for
- To backup optical discs, to keep the original save or make it available on systems without optical drive or access to the original.
- To distribute contents. Microsoft makes available copies of its Windows operating system as ISO images for instance that users can then burn to disc or Flash drive.
- On the dark side of the Internet to distribute games, movies, music, and software.
- To make available an archive of discs on a computer.
All programs listed below are meeting the following requirements at the time of writing:
- A free version needs to be available.
- It needs to be compatible with the Windows operating system, other systems are optional.
- It needs to be compatible with recent versions of Windows.
- It needs to support at least one common disk image format: ISO, IMG or Bin.
Disk image programs
As far as mounting techniques are concerned, they depend on the program that you pick for the job:
- Some let you do so from Windows Explorer's right-click menu.
- Some require that you run them and select images from its interface.
- Others may allow you to double-click supported formats to do so.
Tip: If you are using Windows 8, you can mount ISO images natively by right-clicking the disk image and selecting mount from the context menu.
You find a table with important information about all programs near the end of the article.
On to the list...
You can start mounting image formats using Windows Explorer or the program's system tray icon immediately after installation of the program and driver have completed.
The application supports a variety of disk image formats as well as the mounting of up to 18 images. One interesting feature is its hotkey support which you can use to dismount all drives at once.
Other features include auto-mounting previously mounted images, unmount all drives on exit, and to make miniso images.
Gizmo Drive is part of a collection of tools that you can install separately after you have downloaded the latest version from the developer website.
The drive component supports the mounting of disk images and virtual hard disk images as well as burning ISO images to disc or creating RAM disks.
It requires a reboot of the system though before the driver can be loaded that is powering its functionality.
The downside is that you have to install a "central" component" to use the drive feature.
The program installs itself to the Control Panel but can also be accessed via the command prompt. When you start it after installation, you see all currently mounted disks and get options to mount a new disk or dismount existing ones.
The mounting functionality of the program is not complicated to use, but its additional features that it makes available make things a bit complicated nevertheless.
To mount a disk simply select the image file and drive letter in the configuration menu and click ok. Alternatively, it is possible to mount disk images via the right-click menu of Windows Explorer.
The program supports a vast number of image formats, probably more than any other application I have come across. You do need to install a driver to get started though before you can use it to mount or create image formats.
The virtual drive application adds a single drive to the system by default. You can increase it up to 15 drives which means that you can mount up to 15 different disk images at the same time using it.
Besides that, it allows you to create disk images on the system and configure features related to mounting such as auto-mounting.
Issues: Standard uninstallation using the control panel did not work. Revo Uninstaller did the job though.
Released by Microsoft in 2001 and re-released in 2013, it matches all requirements. While unsupported by Microsoft, it is straightforward to use after the initial configuration.
Note: The program is only compatible with 32-bit versions of Windows. It has a size of only 60 Kilobytes and does not require installation.
To use it, you need to run it with elevated privileges on newer versions of Windows. To do so, right-click it and select Run as administrator from the list.
Once done, click on Driver Control and select Start from the menu that opens up.
You can mount as many disk images as there are drive letters available. The program supports a wide variety of image formats and while it has been created for forensic purposes, works really well when it comes to mounting.
Some features that set it apart include creating read-only drives, configuring drive sizes and offsets, creating RAM disks, and loading image files in RAM. Especially the latter option can be interesting as it will improve the loading performance of mounted images further.
The free program installs a driver during setup. Once that is out of the way, it creates one virtual drive that is available at all times. This number can be changed to up to 15 drives.
A different supported disk image can be mounted to each drive, with options to auto-mount the last drive automatically.
The main issue that some users may have with the application is the fact that virtual drives are present all the time on the system. Other programs such as WinCDEmu handle this in a different way.
The program supports up to 23 virtual drives which it can create. All drives need to be created directly and are then accessible at any time on the system regardless of disk images being mounted or not.
The application can auto-mount disk images that were mounted previously, and supports the quick dismounting of all drives as well.
Note: The free version has not been updated since 2012. A pro version is available which is updated regularly.
This is one of the easier programs to use. While you need to allow the installation of a virtual driver, the program itself won't occupy any drive letters until you mount an image on the system and you don't need to restart the system after installation either.
To mount a disk, right-click a support image format and pick "select drive letter & mount" from the context menu that opens up.
The image becomes available under the selected drive letter until you right-click the drive and select eject.
One interesting feature of WinCDEmu is that you can create ISO images using it.
Did not make the list
The following programs did not make the list.
- Alcohol 120% is illegal in Germany.
- Daemon Tools Lite sends information about mounted disk images to a server on the Internet. Information include IP address of the user, image hash and name, name of the mounted disc, and times it has been mounted.
- Fantom DVD Virtual C/DVD-Rom has not been updated since 2007. While it may work fine still, there is little need for a tool that has not been updated for more than seven years.
- IMGMount for use in DOSBox is too limiting. While it can mount popular image formats, it is a command line tool.
- ISODisk because it does not support Windows 7 or newer versions of Windows.
|Program Name||64-bit||Multiple||ISO||IMG||Bin/CUE||Other Information|
|DVDFab Virtual Drive||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports ccd, dvd, miniso, nrg and udf formats, create miniso images|
|ImDisk Virtual Disk Driver||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports vhd, vdi, vmdk, nrg, ima, raw, vfd, dmg and sdi, can be used to create other virtual disk types including Ram disk|
|Gizmo Drive||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports vhd, ccd, nrg, mds, mdf and Gdrive|
|MagicISO Virtual CD/DVD-Rom||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports ima, cif, nrg, ccd, mdf, mds, vcd, vc4, vdi, c2d, bwi, bwt, cdi, tao, dao and pdi, create ISO, Bin, UIF or NRG images, compress images images|
|Microsoft Virtual CD-Rom Control Panel||no||yes||yes||no||no||Supports udf, cdfs, jo and rock formats|
|OSFMount||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports dd, 00n, nrg, sdi, aff, afm, afd, vmdk, e01, s01, vhd|
|Virtual CloneDrive||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports ccd, dvd and udf formats|
|WinArchiver||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports mdf, mds, ashdisc, bwi, b5i, lcd, cdi, cif, p01, pdi, nrg, ncd, pxi, gi, fcd, vcd, dmg, bif, image, flp, uif and various archive formats|
|WinCDEmu||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes||Supports mds, mdf, ccd, nrg formats, portable version available, free for any kind of use, ISO creation|
When it comes to disk mounting tools, Windows users have a lot of options. From the built-in ISO mounting capabilities of Windows 8 to powerful programs such as OSFMount or MagicISO Virtual CD/DVD-Drive which support dozens of image formats and ship with additional features that some may find useful.
As far as recommendations go, I really like OSFMount's feature to load a disk image to RAM. While that requires lots of RAM on a system, it speeds things up significantly.
Now You: Are you using a different program? Share it with everyone in the comment section below.