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HOW TO: Play PC Games Without The CD Inserted (Virtual CD's on Windows)

With my father recently getting into PC gaming with the purchase of a new notebook, he mentioned how annoying it was to have to insert the game disk to play. And I agree. So here is a little how to primer using free software (and some trickery) to run your games without having to keep the CD handy.
In an effort to prevent consumers from installing 1 copy of a game on multiple systems, developers program just about every game on the market to require that the CD be inserted in your PC system's optical drive to run. Another reason to require the CD/DVD to be in the drive is to load game content off the disk, and have a smaller hard drive requirement.
There are at least two ways to work around having to actually put the disk into your system. One method is to download a "crack" for the game that modifies the game file to not look for the disk. Usually to obtain these cracks however, you must visit some shady web sites with nasty banners, etc. And you are opening up yourself to download viruses, etc. by installing executable applications written by some hacker. It's not worth the risk.
The method I prefer, is creating a "virtual" drive on your system. Windows will actually be fooled into thinking that you have another optical drive on your system, when you do not. And this drive, instead of loading physical dicks into (um, because you can't load a disk into something that doesn't exist), you "mount" a disk image that is on your hard drive.
This process is very simple. Basically two steps: 1) Create your disk image. 2) Mount your disk image.
Creating a disk image
You most likely already have a CD burning program on your computer. Most new systems come with this software loaded by default. I like Nero myself (free trial available). In the options there will most likely be some type of way to create an "image" of a disk. In Nero 6 from the smart start screen, just select Copy and Backup > Copy Disc, then on the following screen select Image Recorder as the destination drive. Click Next and then the program will ask to specify the location of where to save the disk image on the harddrive. It takes a few minutes to create the image, but then you are done. Note: The process will vary slightly from program to program, but should generally be about the same.
One thing you might be thinking right now is, "Isn't this going to be eating up my hard drive space?". The answer is "yes, it is". But that's the cost of doing this method. It might not be practical for have 50 game images on your computer. Buy for the 3 or so that you play most often, it shouldn't be that bad. And the benefit is huge for people that travel with their notebooks.
Mounting the disk image
There is a great free software application called DAEMON Tools that will create virtual drives on your system, and then allow you "mount" the images you have created. Mind you, these can be CD or DVD images. Both work the same. DAEMON Tools supports the following image files: cue/bin, iso, ccd (CloneCD), bwt (Blindwrite), mds (Media Descriptor File), cdi (Discjuggler), nrg (Nero), pdi (Instant CD/DVD), and b5t (BlindWrite 5) - so nearly all bases are covered.
When you install DAEMON Tools you can create 1 or more virtual drives. I personally like to create a single V drive, that I will mount and unmount images to as I need them. But you could easily create 2 or more virtual drives, and always keep several images mounted at the same time (hardcode gamer!).
Once DAEMON Tools is installed, you just right click on the task tray icon and select Virtual CD/DVD Rom > Device [Drive Letter] > Mount image, then you browse your hard drive and select the image. Once mounted, the disk image behaves exactly like the original disk did when inserted into your machine. If there is an auto-run menu that would pop-up, it pops up.
You should now be able to play your game as normal, sans-physical CD. Hope this helped.

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