If your laptop shopping list includes a touch screen, SSD storage, or even NFC, finding a new system shouldn't be hard. But if you're still tied to your optical discs and need a DVD or Blu-ray drive, that's another story. This once-ubiquitous feature is hard to find in new Windows 8 laptops, largely restricted to older models that have had Win 8 slapped onto them and to a handful of larger desktop replacements.
As laptops continue to get thinner, a charge led by ultrabooks and the MacBook Air (and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display), I suspect we'll see fewer and fewer optical drives.
Slot-loading drives are easier to fit into a small chassis than tray-loading ones, but like Ethernet ports, optical drives may become an added cost that PC makers feel most shoppers can live without, thanks to online gaming, music, and movie services, and the growth of cloud computing.
Since the launch of Windows 8, we've reviewed only a handful of laptops that include optical drives. The list below gives our favorites, and a few that weren't quite as warmly received.
Dell's Inspiron line continues to look sharper than its budget reputation would suggest. The new touch-enabled version of the 15z works as a reasonably priced Windows 8 laptop with a big screen and an optical drive.
Considering the total package of features and price, the Acer Aspire M5 feels like a safe bet if you want an all-encompassing Windows 8 touch-screen laptop that won't cost a fortune.
We've seen this exact configuration for as little as $699; it includes a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, a backlit keyboard, and an optical drive.
If you want a reasonably priced desktop-replacement big-screen laptop with an optical drive, the Vaio E17 is worth a look. But it's not a good Windows 8 showcase machine, and it lacks a touch screen, which makes Win 8 hard to use.
This is one of the few other Windows 8 laptops to not have a touch screen. Instead, it's essentially the same EON17 you'd have been able to buy prior to the launch of Microsoft's new operating system, just with Windows 8 included as the default.
It's telling that none of the superslim 13-inch laptops we've reviewed has combined Windows 8 with an optical drive yet. The 15-inch Dell Inspiron 15Z is probably my first choice of this group, as it's highly configurable, but both Acer models are reasonably priced yet full-featured.
One thing I don't recommend is getting a Windows 8 laptop with an optical drive instead of a touch screen -- I've found the latter much more useful in Windows 8 on a daily basis.
How important is an optical drive to you in a new laptop? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these Windows 8 laptops head-to-head.