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How do I install a CD-ROM program onto a laptop without a CD-ROM drive?
by Rick Smith (August 1998 (updated July 2002))

There are several different ways to accomplish this. First check the total size of the CD-ROM, using another computer, to see how really big the CD really is. I once found a CD that used only 1.2 megabytes of the CD. In fact, it was really a floppy disk program that was masquerading as a "CD-ROM program". The only reason I could think that a marketer would do this is either that CD-ROMs are cheaper to produce than a single floppy or that CD-ROM titles sell better than those on a floppy. I'm going to assume that the program is over 30 megabytes, which will take more than a box of floppy diskettes to backup and decompress. If you have no other way and have few time constraints, using floppies will work - eventually.

Here are some other choices (from under $20 to over $5000 and plenty in the middle) that will solve this problem and give you a chance to buy new stuff for your portable device. Some take more work, some take more money and one even works if you can't find the CD you need to install, but have previously installed this software on another machine. (I mention it, because it has happened to me.)

1. You can install it on a similar computer that has a CD-ROM and use:

  • A backup program to transfer the installed files. Cost - Tape or box of floppies.

  • Use Laplink/Parallel networking to transfer the installed files. Cost: Cable - under $20, Laplink software - under $100, Parallel networking - included in Windows 95.

  • If you have a CD-R/W drive, you can create a copy of the installed files. Cost - CD-R (under $2)

    Although transferring files seem simple, make sure that ALL the necessary files, even the ones in the Windows system directory are transferred. Transferring the registry entries, however, can be difficult, time consuming and mistake prone. I have used this method when I can't locate the master CD. Generally after wasting time attempting this transfer, the CD is found within a few days. (I believe that this is a subsection of Murphy's law - If you waste enough time doing something, after it is done, you will find a much easier way to accomplish the same task.)

    2. If the two computers both support the SAME networking protocols (DOS with peer networking support, Windows for Workgroups and above), you can create a "private network" between these two machines using LAN cards. Here are some ways to connect two computers to transfer files:

  • The easiest is to use a parallel (or serial if you have lots of time and enjoy aggravation) cable and share the CD-ROM from one machine to another. Cost: Laplink style cable - under $20.

  • Create a small LAN by using Ethernet cards on each system. This is a fairly expensive proposal if you don't already have a PCMCIA Ethernet card or a Xircom parallel port adapter. Cost - $150 if you don't have the cards. Otherwise you will need a coax cable and two terminators for 10Base2 or a "flip cable" for 10BaseT (twisted pair). - Cost $20 - $150.

    3. Buy an external device that attaches to either the PCMCIA connector, parallel port, USB connector or Firewire port. These devices can either be:

  • A CD-ROM drive

  • A removable media device

  • External fixed hard drive

  • Memory Drive (PCMCIA card with flash RAM or USB Flash drive)

    Using the CD-ROM, the problem is now gone, since you now have a CD-ROM on your laptop. If you have lots of CDs to install, this is a great idea. Cost - $200 range or more, depending on speed and connection. Sometimes slower 1x-4x drives can be significantly cheaper. If you only install a few CDs, this may present a good value. Make sure that any used or close-out CD models you buy are supported in the operating system you are currently using and possibly using in the future. (Some aren't - the Reno, for instance, appears not to work in Windows 95.)

    Buying an external hard (or large capacity floppy) drive (fixed or removable) allows you to use it for more than just installing CDs, as it can be used to run programs, store data and backup your computer. In this scenario, you will need to connect the external hard drive to another computer, with the CD-ROM, copy all the files, then attach this drive to your laptop and install the copied files from this external hard drive. There is a rather rare possibility that an installation could detect that you are installing from a "copy" and refuse to run, but most current software should work just fine. Cost - depending on drive size ($150 and up)

    4. Another method, which is optimized for most laptops (but requires access to a laptop with a CD-ROM drive or even rarer, a desktop computer with PCMCIA slots), is to use a PCMCIA hard drive. This is very fast, quick and the drivers will probably already be installed.

    Several years ago, this would have been the most expensive solution. Now PCMCIA hard drives are more reasonably priced and they offer the additional feature that you can transfer any files you want quickly and efficiently between laptops. I have several laptops and since I have been using PCMCIA drives, I don't know how I lived without them. Cost - (depending on capacity) $50 - $500.

    5. OK, another editor made me put this one in. Get a new laptop. True, that is a choice, but it's like buying a new car when the ashtrays are full. Cost - $900 - $5000.

    Copyright 1998 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

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