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Laptops have traditionally come with built-in DVD burners, but now many also do not. With the rise of smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more portable machines like netbooks, consumers now have greater choice when they buy new laptops.
In general, built-in burners themselves will be a bit cheaper than external burners. However, if you're comparing laptops, many laptops that come with built-in burners will be more expensive than a cheaper netbook plus the price of an external burner. A laptop with a built-in burner will be heavier and less portable. Of course, if you frequently need to burn DVDs, then a laptop with a built-in burner may actually be more portable than a lighter netbook and an additional external burner. It all depends on how you use your laptop.
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Many new, cheaper laptops do not come with built-in burners. However, it's not just cheaper machines that don't, some more expensive laptops like the Apple Macbook Air don't either. If you still need to burn discs, you can pair any of these laptops with an external burner.
While external burners will be a bit more expensive than the equivalent built-in burners, there's one big advantage that can help to even it out, or even make external burners come out ahead, in the long run: External burners can be used with your next laptop. Not only can you keep using the device when you buy a new laptop, you can share the external burner among multiple laptop (or desktop) computers, especially if you rarely need to burn discs.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/DBGthekafu
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Advantages and Disadvantages
Built-in burners have some advantages, in particular, that you'll always have it with your laptop and won't have to carry an additional peripheral around. However, this ubiquity is also a disadvantage in certain situations. You won't be able to leave it behind if you don't need it and want your laptop to be lighter and more portable.
If you always need your DVD burner with your laptop and frequently use it, you'll probably want a built-in burner. However, particularly if you rarely use your burner, you'll find many advantages to buying an external burner instead of a built-in one. Your laptop will be lighter, more portable, and produce less heat than it would with an internal burner. It's also one less component to worry about; if your external burner fails you can get it repaired or replaced without worrying about the rest of your laptop.
The speed difference will depend on which built-in and external burners are being compared, but performance should be quite comparable over Firewire or, at least, USB 2.0. While much older laptops and devices that have to use USB 1.1 would be significantly slower, the gap is being narrowed.