First post, by mothergoose729
I have a Gotek floppy emulator and I really love it. Good floppy discs are harder and harder to come by these days, and inconvenient besides. Basically any computer with HD floppy support can use the Gotek floppy emulator, and in this way the original experience can be preserved even as the original media inevitably degrades and fails.
There doesn't appear to be an equivalent hardware emulator for CD Rom drivers. The issue is less pressing there because you can still buy new blank CD-Rs and second-hand IDE optical drives for cheap. However, there are no more IDE optical drives being made (at least I don't think so), and eventually all of the existing units will fail. I have bought several used IDE optical drivers on ebay recently, and while they do work, I would be surprised if the laser, belt, and other components hold up for another ten years. Besides all of that, it is inconvenient to have to keep around a bunch of original discs and backups.
I know that you can use software emulation, like daemon tools, to virtually mount images. This works great, and I used it all the time on my XP and later machines. However, some games don't have digital music and sound files, and instead stream audio directly from the drive. And of course you can't run any such software in DOS.
Recently there have been lots of cool FPGA optical emulators for old consoles, like the PC Engine and the Sega CD. A CD Rom emulator should be a lot simpler to implement by comparison, because it doesn't have hardware scaling and transform chips like these consoles. Why doesn't such a thing exist yet?
IMO an ideal product would have a CD optical header, an IDE interface, and would take some form of flash storage; either an NVMe/AHCI SSD, SD care, USB flash driver or external hard drive. It would have a digital interface for selecting an image, ideally with a CD changer like LCD display so you could include labels for your images, and it would mount in a 5.25 or 3.5 bay. Maybe it could even come with a DOS driver that could allow you to change the mounted image in software so you could drive the whole thing with the command line and batch scripts.
I did some googling, and apparently this topic has come up before in vogons and elsewhere on the web, but without much of a conclusion. Are any projects like this in the works? Is such a thing even possible or practical?