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Troubleshooting Optical Drives

Failure Reading Any Disc

If your drive fails to read a disc, try the following solutions:

  • Check for scratches on the disc data surface.
  • Check the drive for dust and dirt; use a cleaning disc.
  • Make sure the drive shows up as a working device in System Properties. Check the drive's power and data cables if the drive is not listed.
  • Try a disc that you know works.
  • Restart the computer (the magic cure-all).
  • Remove the drive from Device Manager in Windows, and allow the system to redetect the drive.

Failure to Read CD-R/RW Discs in CD-ROM or DVD Drive

If your CD-ROM or DVD drive fails to read CD-R and CD-RW discs, keep the following in mind:

  • Some old 1x CD-ROM drives can't read CD-R media. Replace the drive with a newer, faster, cheaper model.
  • Many early-model DVD drives can't read CD-R, CD-RW media; check compatibility.
  • The CD-ROM drive must be MultiRead compatible to read CD-RW because of the lower reflectivity of the media; replace the drive.
  • If some CD-Rs but not others can be read, check the media color combination to see whether some color combinations work better than others; change the brand of media.
  • Packet-written CD-Rs (from Adaptec DirectCD or Drag to Disc and backup programs) can't be read on MS-DOS/Windows 3.1 CD-ROM drives because of the limitations of the operating system.
  • Sometimes older drives can't read the pits/lands created at faster speeds. Record the media at a slower speed.
  • If you are trying to read a packet-written CD-R created with DirectCD or Drag to Disc on a CD-ROM drive, reinsert the media into the original drive, eject the media, and select the option Close to Read on Any Drive.
  • Download and install a UDF reader compatible with the packet-writing software used to create the CD-RW on the target computer. If you are not sure how the media was created, Software Architects offers a universal UDF reader/media repair program called FixUDF! (also included as part of WriteCD-RW! Pro). WriteDVD! Pro includes the similar FixDVD! UDF reader/media repair program for DVD drives.

Failure to Read a Rewritable DVD in DVD-ROM Drive or Player

If your DVD-ROM or DVD player fails to read a rewritable DVD, try the following solutions:

  • Reinsert DVD-RW media into the original drive and finalize the media. Make sure you don't need to add any more data to the media if you use a first-generation (DVD-R 2x/DVD-RW 1x) drive because you must erase the entire disc to do so. You can unfinalize media written by second-generation DVD-R 4x/DVD-RW 2x drives. See your DVD-RW disc-writing software instructions or help file for details.
  • Reinsert DVD+RW media into the original drive and change the compatibility setting to emulate DVD-ROM. See the section "DVD+RW and DVD+R," earlier in this chapter, for details.
  • Write a single-layer disc and retry if the media is dual-layer. Most DVD-ROM drives can't read DL media.
  • Make sure the media contains more than 521MB of data. Some drives can't read media that contains a small amount of data.

Failure to Create a Writable DVD

If you can't create a writable DVD but the drive can be used with CD-R, CD-RW, or rewritable DVD media, try the following solutions:

  • Make sure you are using the correct media. +R and -R media can't be interchanged unless the drive is a DVD R/RW dual-mode drive.
  • Be sure you select the option to create a DVD project in your mastering software. Some disc-mastering software defaults to the CD-R setting.
  • Select the correct drive as the target. If you have both rewritable DVD and rewritable CD drives on the same system, be sure to specify the rewritable DVD drive.
  • Try a different disc.
  • Contact the mastering software vendor for a software update.

Failure Writing to CD-RW or DVD-RW 1x Media

If you can't write to CD-RW or DVD-RW 1x media, try the following solutions:

  • Make sure the media is formatted. Use the format tool provided with the UDF software to prepare the media for use.
  • If the media was formatted, verify it was formatted with the same or compatible UDF program. Different packet-writing programs support different versions of the UDF standard. I recommend you use the same UDF packet-writing software on the computers you use or use drives that support the Mount Rainier standard.
  • Make sure the system has identified the media as CD-RW or DVD-RW. Eject and reinsert the media to force the drive to redetect it.
  • Contact the packet-writing software vendor for a software update.
  • Know that the disc might have been formatted with Windows XP's own limited CD-writing software (which uses the CDFS instead of UDF) instead of a UDF packet-writing program. Erase the disc with Windows XP after transferring any needed files from the media; then format it with your preferred UDF program.
  • Contact the drive vendor for a firmware update. See "Updating the Firmware in an Optical Drive," later in this chapter.

PATA Optical Drive Runs Slowly

If your PATA drive performs poorly, consider the following items:

  • Check the cache size in the Performance tab of the System Properties control panel in Windows XP. Select the quad-speed setting (largest cache size).
  • Check to see whether the drive is set as the slave to your hard disk; move the drive to the secondary controller if possible.
  • Make sure your PIO (Programmed I/O) or UDMA mode is set correctly for your drive in the BIOS. Check the drive specs and use autodetect in BIOS for the best results. (Refer to Chapter 5, "BIOS.")
  • Check that you are using busmastering drivers on compatible systems; install the appropriate drivers for the motherboard's chipset and the OS in use. See the section "Direct Memory Access and Ultra-DMA," earlier in this chapter.
  • With Windows 9x, open the System Properties control panel and select the Performance tab to see whether the system is using MS-DOS Compatibility Mode for CD-ROM drive. If all ATA drives are running in this mode, see www.microsoft.com and query on "MS-DOS Compatibility Mode" for a troubleshooter. If only the CD-ROM drive is in this mode, see whether you're using CD-ROM drivers in CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT. Remove the lines containing references to the CD-ROM drivers (don't actually delete the lines but instead REM them), reboot the system, and verify that your CD-ROM drive still works and that it's running in 32-bit mode. Some older drives require at least the CONFIG.SYS driver to operate.

Problems Burning Discs Using Windows Built-In Recording

Windows XP's built-in CD-writing feature works only on drives that are listed in the Windows Hardware Compatibility List of supported drives and devices (www.microsoft.com/whdc/hcl/default.mspx). To install the latest updates for Windows XP, including updates to the CD-writing feature, use Windows Update. Microsoft Knowledgebase article 320174 discusses an update to the CD-writing feature. Search the Microsoft website for other solutions.

If you are using third-party writing applications, you may prefer to disable Windows' built-in writing feature. This feature is enabled or disabled with Windows Explorer. Open the drive's properties sheet Recording tab and clear the Enable CD/DVD Recording check box to disable recording, or click the empty box to enable recording.

If you have problems writing media or using your CD or DVD drive in Windows, see Microsoft Knowledgebase article 314060 for solutions.

Trouble Reading CD-RW Discs on CD-ROM

If you can't read CD-RW discs in your CD-ROM, try the following solutions:

  • Check the vendor specifications to see whether your drive is MultiRead compliant. Some are not.
  • If your drive is MultiRead compliant, try the CD-RW disc on a known-compliant CD-ROM drive (a drive with the MultiRead feature).
  • Insert CD-RW media back into the original drive and check it for problems with the packet-writing software program's utilities.
  • Insert CD-RW media back into the original drive and eject the media. Use the right-click Eject command in My Computer or Windows Explorer to properly close the media.
  • Create a writable CD or DVD to transfer data to a computer that continues to have problems reading rewritable media.

Trouble Reading CD-R Discs on DVD Drive

If your DVD drive can't read a CD-R disc, check to see that the drive is MultiRead2 compliant because noncompliant DVDs can't read CD-R media. All current DVD drives support reading CD-R media.

Trouble Making Bootable Discs

If you are having problems creating a bootable disc, try these possible solutions:

  • Check the contents of the bootable floppy disk from which you copied the boot image. To access the entire contents of a disc, a bootable floppy must contain CD-ROM drivers, AUTOEXEC.BAT, and CONFIG.SYS.
  • Use the ISO 9660 format. Don't use the Joliet format because it is for long-filename CDs and can't boot.
  • Check your system's BIOS for boot compliance and boot order; the optical drive should be listed first.

Trouble Reading BD Media or Viewing BD Movies

If you are having problems reading BD media, check the following:

  • You must have a codec for BD (Blu-ray) media installed. These codecs are not included in Windows, but might be provided by BD drive vendors or by BD movie playback and creation programs.
  • Clean the data side of your BD disc. See the next section, "Caring for Optical Media," for details.

If you are able to read BD media, but can't play back BD movies, check the following:

  • Replace drivers for your BD drive and video card. In most cases, newer drivers are better. Note that sometimes you might need to use older drivers than those installed for better results.
  • Switch to a different BD media playback program. Use a trial version if available before purchasing a different program to assure compatibility.

Caring for Optical Media

Some people believe that optical discs and drives are indestructible compared to their magnetic counterparts. Although optical discs are more reliable than the now-obsolete floppy disks, modern optical discs are far less reliable than modern hard drives. Reliability is the bane of any removable media, and optical discs are no exceptions.

By far the most common causes of problems with optical discs and drives are scratches, dirt, and other contamination. Small scratches or fingerprints on the bottom of the disc should not affect performance because the laser focuses on a point inside the actual disc, but dirt or deep scratches can interfere with reading a disc.

To remedy this type of problem, you can clean the recording surface of the disc with a soft cloth, but be careful not to scratch the surface in the process. The best technique is to wipe the disc in a radial fashion, using strokes that start from the center of the disc and emanate toward the outer edge. This way, any scratches will be perpendicular to the tracks rather than parallel to them, minimizing the interference they might cause. You can use any type of solution on the cloth to clean the disc, so long as it will not damage plastic. Most window cleaners are excellent at removing fingerprints and other dirt from the disc and don't damage the plastic surface.

If your disc has deep scratches, you can often buff or polish them out. A commercial plastic cleaner such as that sold in auto parts stores for cleaning plastic instrument cluster and tail-lamp lenses is good for removing these types of scratches. This type of plastic polish or cleaner has a mild abrasive that polishes scratches out of a plastic surface. Products labeled as cleaners usually are designed for more serious scratches, whereas those labeled as polishes are usually milder and work well as a final buff after using the cleaner. Try using the polish alone if the surface is not scratched deeply. You can use the SkipDR device made by Digital Innovations to make the polishing job easier.

Most people are careful about the bottom of the disc because that is where the laser reads, but at least for CDs, the top is actually more fragile! This is because the lacquer coating on top of a CD is thin, normally only 6–7 microns (0.24–0.28 thousandths of an inch). If you write on a CD with a ball point pen, for example, you will press through the lacquer layer and damage the reflective layer underneath, ruining the disc. Also, certain types of markers have solvents that can eat through the lacquer and damage the disc. You should write on discs only with felt tip pens that have compatible inks, such as the Sharpie and Staedtler Lumocolor brands, or other markers specifically sold for writing on discs, such as Maxell's DiscWriter pens. In any case, remember that scratches or dents on the top of the disc are more fatal than those on the bottom. It's also important to keep in mind that many household chemicals (and even certain beverages), if spilled on an optical disc, can damage the coating and cause the material to crack or flake off. This, of course, renders the media useless.

Read errors can also occur when dust accumulates on the read lens of your drive. You can try to clean out the drive and lens with a blast of "canned air" or by using a drive cleaner (which you can purchase at most stores that sell audio CDs).

If you are having problems reading media with an older drive and firmware upgrades are not available or did not solve the problem, consider replacing the drive. With new high-speed drives with read/write support available for well under $50, it does not make sense to spend any time messing with an older drive that is having problems. In almost every case, it is more cost-effective to upgrade to a new drive (which won't have these problems and will likely be much faster) instead.

If you have problems reading a particular brand or type of disk in some drives but not others, you might have a poor drive/media match. Use the media types and brands recommended by the drive vendor.

If you are having problems with only one particular disc and not the drive in general, you might find that your difficulties are in fact caused by a defective disc. See whether you can exchange the disc for another to determine whether that is indeed the cause.

Updating the Firmware in an Optical Drive

Just as updating the motherboard BIOS can solve compatibility problems with CPU and memory, support, USB ports, and system stability, upgrading the firmware in an optical drive can also solve problems with media compatibility, writing speed, and digital audio extraction from scratched discs, and it can even prevent potentially fatal mismatches between media and drives.

Determining Whether You Might Need a Firmware Update

If you encounter any of the following issues, a firmware update might be necessary:

  • Your drive can't use a particular type of media, or it performs much more slowly with one type of media than other types/brands of media.
  • Your drive can't play some types of burned discs or movies.
  • Your writing software doesn't recognize the drive as a rewritable drive.
  • You want to use faster media than what the drive was originally designed to use.
  • Your BD drive can't play back some BD movies.

Because any firmware update runs a risk of failure and a failed firmware update can render your drive useless (I've seen it happen), you shouldn't install firmware updates casually. However, as the preceding examples indicate, in many cases an upgrade is recommended.

Because many rewritable drives have special characteristics, disc-burning programs may require updates to work. Get the update from the software vendor, or use the software provided with the drive.

Determining Which Drive Model and Firmware Are Installed

Before you can determine whether you need a firmware update for your rewritable drive, you need to know your drive model and which firmware version it's using. This is especially important if you use a drive that is an OEM product produced by a vendor other than the one that packaged the drive for resale.

To determine the firmware revision using the Windows Device Manager, follow this procedure:

  1. Right-click My Computer and select Properties.
  2. Click the Device Manager tab.
  3. Click the plus sign (+) next to DVD/CD-ROM in the list of device types.
  4. Double-click the rewritable drive icon to display its properties sheet.
  5. With older Windows versions, click the Settings tab; the firmware version and drive name will be displayed.
  6. On Windows XP or later, click the Details tab and select Hardware Ids. The firmware revision is usually displayed with several underscores on either side of it as part of the hardware IDs listed. For example, my Lite-On SHW-160P6S DVD drive uses firmware version PS0C, displayed as _______________PS0C_______________.

After you have this information, you can go to your rewritable drive vendor's website and see whether a firmware update is available and what the benefits of installing the latest version would be.

Installing New Drive Firmware

Generally speaking, the firmware update procedure works like this. (Be sure to follow the particular instructions given for your drive.)

  1. If the firmware update is stored as a Zip file, you need to use an unzipping program or the integrated unzipping utility found in some versions of Windows to uncompress the update to a folder. Some vendors ship firmware updates as RAR files (RAR is a Linux compressed archive; it can be opened by many uncompression utilities for Windows).
  2. If the drive maker provides a readme file, be sure to read it for help and troubleshooting. If the update file is an EXE file, it might display a readme file as part of step 3.
  3. Double-click the EXE file to start the update process. Be sure to leave the system powered on during the process, which can take 2–3 minutes.
  4. Follow the vendor's instructions for restarting your system.
  5. After you restart your system, the computer might redetect the drive and assign it the next available drive letter. If the drive letter has changed, you can use the Computer Management service in Windows 2000 or later to reassign the correct drive letter to the drive.

Troubleshooting Firmware Updates

If you have problems performing a rewritable drive firmware update, check the vendor's readme file or website for help. In addition, here's a tip I've found useful: If the firmware update fails to complete, there might be interference from programs that control the drive, such as packet-writing programs (InCD, DirectCD) or the built-in Windows disc-writing feature. To disable resident software, restart the computer in Safe Mode and retry the update. Restart the system normally after the update is complete.

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