A drive is a location (medium) that is capable of storing and reading information that is not easily removed, like a disk or disc. All drives store files and programs that are used by your computer. For example, when you write a letter in a word processor the program is loaded from you hard drive and when you save the document it is saved to the hard drive or other disk or drive. The picture is an example of different drives listed in Microsoft Windows My Computer.
In the example shown on this page, drive A: is the floppy drive, C: is the primary hard drive, D: and E: are partitions of the hard drive, and F: is the CD-ROM drive. The CD-ROM drive is usually the last drive letter, so in most situations the hard drive is the C: drive and a CD-ROM or other disc drive is the D: drive.
Some users may confuse a "drive" with a "driver." These are separate terms. If you're looking for help with installing or updating the software related to hardware, see our driver page.
Types of computer drives
Below are some examples of different drives you could have in a computer or that may be accessible by the computer.
Today, most of the drives listed below are obsolete. The most common drives used with home computers are hard drives, SSDs (solid-state drives), disc drives, and USB drives.
- Bernoulli drive (obsolete)
- Disc drives: Blu-ray, CD-R, CD-ROM, CD-RW, and DVD.
- Flash drive.
- Floppy disk drive (obsolete)
- Hard drive
- Local drive
- LS-120 (obsolete)
- Network drive
- RAM disk
- SuperDisk (obsolete)
- Tape drive
- USB drive
- Virtual drive
- Zip drive (obsolete)
What is a portable drive and removable disk?
A portable drive and removable disk is any drive or disk that can be transported between computers. The most common portable drives today are the USB card readers, USB jump drives, and USB external hard disk drives.
If your computer has a card reader, the drive is always available but will not be accessible until a card is inserted into the drive. Other portable drives like USB flash drives and hard drives do not show until they are connected to the computer and are the last drive when detected.
What drives does my computer have?
All computers are different. However, as technology has advanced and laptops have got thinner most computers today no longer use or need all the different types of drives that have been used in the past. Today, almost all computers will at least have one hard drive and may have a disc drive and card reader with no other drives. Also, all computers also have USB, eSATA, and other technologies that allow external drives to be connected to the computer. Desktop computers also support the ability to add additional drives inside the case.
How to identify a drive
Understanding how drives work on your computer is the first step in identifying the drives connected to your computer. As mentioned above, on computers running a Microsoft operating system (e.g., MS-DOS and Windows) that have a floppy drive will always be either A: or B: depending on the type of floppy drive. If your computer does not have a floppy drive (most computers today), the A: and B: drive will be missing.
Next, if your computer has a disc drive, it will default as the next available drive letter. The disc drive is often D: or E: but may be a different drive letter depending on how many drives and partitions your computer has set up.
To open a disc drive on your computer, there must be a disc in the drive. Otherwise, you will get an error.
Next, if your computer has a card reader, it may assign drive letters to each of the available card slots in the computer. These drives appear on your computer but are inaccessible when you attempt to open the drive. For example, attempting to open one of these types of drives will give you an error to "Insert a disk into the drive." After inserting a card into one of the slots, the drive assigned to that slot will change and have a different drive label to help identify the drive.
Finally, all following drive letters are added as new drives are connected. For example, connecting an external USB drive or a USB thumb drive. These drives appear as the new drive is connected to the computer. For example, if the next available drive letter is I:, when connecting a USB thumb drive to the computer the I: drive will appear and be accessible.