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Solving Problems with Writeable CD and DVD Media

One of the most popular add-ons for computers (and an increasingly popular standard feature) is a writeable CD or DVD drive. Some of the problems you might encounter with such drives include

  • Inability to write to the media

  • Inability to read written media on another system

  • Buffer underruns

The following sections will help you solve these problems.

Figure 3.30 displays the Record CD Setup and Project screens used by Roxio Easy CD Creator 5.x, a popular CD mastering program. This figure will be referred to frequently in the following sections.

Figure 3.30 The Record CD Setup dialog in Roxio Easy CD Creator 5.

Solving Can't Write to Media Problems

If your drive can't write to writeable media, check the following issues:

  • You are trying to use the wrong type of media for your drive

  • Your CD-mastering program doesn't support the drive

  • You are trying to use media that has been closed (write-protected)

  • You aren't running packet-writing (drag-and-drop) software

  • You haven't formatted your media for packet-writing (drag-and-drop) file copying

  • Your drive is damaged

  • Windows XP doesn't support your writeable drive

Troubleshooting Incorrect Media and Media Usage Problems

There are more types of writeable media at your local electronics and computer store than ever before, which means that the chances are increasing that you could buy the wrong type of media for your drive or for the task you want to perform.

If you have a CD-RW drive, you can use

  • CD-R media

  • CD-RW media

Both types of media are single-sided; you can write on the printed surface with soft-tip markers.

CD-R media is designed to be used with CD mastering programs; you can write to it and add files to non-closed media, but you can't delete files from it. Some packet-writing programs can also use it for drag-and-drop file copying. CD-R media has a colored recording surface that might appear gold, silver, light green, or light blue depending upon the reflective surface and dye layer.

CD-RW media is designed to be used with packet-writing programs. Like conventional removable-media drives (floppy, Zip, SuperDisk, and others), you can erase CD-RW media and use it again. CD-RW media's recordable surface looks like a mirror.

Both CD-R and CD-RW media are speed-rated. If you use slower CD-R media with a faster drive, you can reduce the write speed of the drive (refer to Figure 3.30) or you can try to write at top speed and try the completed media on other drives to see if it's readable. CD-RW media, on the other hand, comes in only two speeds, but you can't cheat when you use it. High-speed CD-RW media (10x) can be used only in CD-RW drives with 10x or faster rewrite speeds. If you want to transfer data stored on CD-RW media from a 10x drive to a drive with the slower 2x or 4x rewrite speed, you must use standard speed (2x/4x) CD-RW media in your fast drive.

A number of manufacturers now make various types of writeable DVD drives. There are actually five types of writeable DVD media, and since most drives can use only one or two types, it's essential that you buy the correct type.

  • DVD-RAM—A rewriteable/erasable media similar to CD-RW, but can be single or double-sided. DVD-RAM is usually kept in a closed disc caddy to protect its surfaces.

  • DVD-R—A writeable/non-erasable media similar to CD-R; some DVD-RAM and all DVD-RW drives can use DVD-R media.

  • DVD-RW—A single-sided rewriteable/erasable media similar to CD-RW. DVD-RW drives can also write to DVD-R media.

  • DVD+RW—A rewriteable/erasable media. Also similar to CD-RW, but not interchangeable with DVD-RW or DVD-RAM.

  • DVD+R—A writeable/non-erasable media. Also similar to CD-R, but not interchangeable with DVD-R. Most second generation DVD+RW drives also support this media, though early models (despite claims to the contrary) do not.

DVD media is not speed-rated as of mid-2002, but as faster drives reach the market, you might begin to see media rated for different drive speeds (the drives, however, are rated).

Most DVD+RW and DVD-RW drives, along with a few DVD-RAM drives, can also use CD-RW and CD-R media.

All rewriteable media (CD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, and DVD+RW) must be formatted before it can be used for drag-and-drop file copying. Depending upon the media type, this process can take as much as a half-hour or longer.

While CD-mastering programs can also use rewriteable media, you should not use such media with these programs, as the media might not be erasable after being mastered. Use CD-R, DVD-R, or DVD+R media for CD or DVD-mastering tasks.

Troubleshooting CD-Mastering Drive Support Problems

Originally, the only way to write to CD-R media was with a mastering program such as Roxio Easy CD Creator (originally developed by Adaptec) or Nero Burning ROM. These and similar programs typically feature a Windows Explorer-style interface that you use to create a list of files and folders you want to write to a CD.

Unfortunately, if your particular brand and model of writeable drive isn't supported by the mastering program you want to use, you can't use the program to write to your media.

Here are some indications your mastering program doesn't work with your drive

  • The program doesn't detect your drive at all

  • The program doesn't list your drive as a target drive for writing files

  • The program detects your drive, but displays an error message when you try to write files to the drive.

To solve problems like these, try the following:

  • Download the latest CD recorder support files from the vendor's Web site—Most vendors provide a database of supported recorders and software versions you can query. If your recorder appears on the list of supported recorders, but the version of software listed is more recent than the one you use, download an the recommended update. Keep checking the software vendor's Web site for further updates if your recorder isn't listed yet.

  • Upgrade to the latest version of your preferred software—If you use a no-longer current version of CD mastering software and your recorder isn't listed as supported, see if the latest version will support it, and purchase the upgrade if a free update isn't available.

  • Use the recording software provided with the drive instead of a third-party product—While many writeable drives come with bare-bones software that might lack the features of a commercial product, the program packaged with the drive will work.

  • Change to a different brand of software—While Roxio Easy CD Creator's basic version has been very popular with major drive vendors, some users prefer the more advanced features of Ahead Nero Burning ROM, and Nero sometimes supports new drives before Roxio adds support.

Troubleshooting Problems with Closed Media

All but the earliest CD-ROM drives are designed to read media that can be added to (multiple session) or media that has been closed (write-protected).

If your CD mastering program displays an error message indicating that you need to insert media which has enough room for the files you want to write, and the media has more than enough space, the media was closed when it was created, and no more files can be placed on the media. You can determine how much space is used on a writeable CD with Windows Explorer/My Computer. Right-click on the drive and select Properties to see the amount of space used. 74-minute media can hold about 650MB, while 80-minute media can hold about 700MB of information. The properties sheet might also say the media has 0 bytes free, but this is misleading. Most mastering programs also list the amount of space used by the files you want to transfer to CD.

If you want to write files to the media more than once, be sure to select the option that doesn't close (finalize) the CD when you create the CD (refer to Figure 3.30). Some programs choose this option for you by default, while others might close (finalize) the CD unless you choose otherwise.

Troubleshooting Drag-and-Drop (Packet Writing) Problems

CD mastering is an excellent way to copy a large number of files to a CD all at once, but it's not designed to allow files to be dragged from their original location and dropped (copied) to a CD. Hence, most CD mastering programs come with separate packet-writing programs to allow drag-and-drop file copying. For example, Easy CD Creator comes with DirectCD, and Nero Burning ROM comes with InCD (or you can download a copy if your version of Nero didn't include it). Packet-writing software writes files that correspond to a standard called Universal Disk Format (UDF).

Floppy disks, Zip disks, SuperDisk (LS-120/LS-240), and other types of magnetic removable-media storage are preformatted; you can copy files to them as soon as you insert them into the drive. However, optical media must be formatted before you can use it for drag-and-drop copying.

The packet-writing software supplied with your drive (or as part of a CD-creation program you bought at the store) is used to perform this task (see Figure 3.31). After you start the program, insert your media and click the Format button.

You should provide a label (descriptive name) for your media to make it easy to distinguish between different CD-RW discs (the label is displayed in Windows Explorer/ My Computer). Use compression to save space.

Figure 3.31 The Roxio DirectCD formatting program preparing a blank CD-RW disc for use.

If you're unable to start the formatting process, check the following:

  • If you have another writeable drive installed, close any resident software used by the other drive (check the system tray).

  • Use the correct type of media for your recorder and packet-writing program—Drives that rewrite at 10x or faster can use 10x or 4x media, but drives that rewrite at only 4x can't use faster media. If your packet-writing program doesn't support CD-R media, you must use rewriteable media.

At the end of the formatting process, be sure to properly eject the media. Use the Eject option provided by your packet-writing software to make sure the media is properly set for use in other systems (see Figure 3.32).

Figure 3.32 The Roxio DirectCD program after ejecting formatted CD-RW media. The media must be read with a CD-RW or a CD-ROM drive with UDF Reader.

If the drive reports an error during the formatting process, try another CD-RW disc and retry the process. If the problem repeats itself, contact the drive vendor for help.

When you insert the media into your drive for copying files, make sure the packet-writing program recognizes the media before you try to use it.

When you want to remove the media, use the Eject command built into your packet-writing software to close the media so it can be read. Unlike closing the media on a CD-R mastering program, closing CD-RW media doesn't prevent re-use of the media by the packet-writing program. By default, the media is closed so it can be read on any CD-ROM equipped with compatible UDF (Universal Disk Format) reading software (some programs, such as DirectCD, copy the reader to the media for you) and by other CD-RW drives.

If you are unable to read a CD-RW disc on another drive, check the following:

  • The drive must be MultiRead or MultiRead2 compliant—Almost all CD-ROM drives that are 24x or faster are MultiRead compliant, and most recent DVD drives are MultiRead2 compliant (MultiRead/MultiRead2 drives use different types of lasers to read rewriteable media because it has lower reflectivity than ordinary pressed or CD-R media).

  • Return the media to the original computer and use the packet-writing program's Eject feature to properly close the media.

  • Install a UDF reader program compatible with the media—If the media didn't include such a reader, download one from the CD mastering program's vendor.

On the Web

If you want to read media created with Roxio DirectCD on systems that don't have this program, you need the latest UDF Reader. Go to the Roxio Web site (http://www.roxio.com), click on Downloads, and look for the UDF Volume Reader (works with Windows 95 through XP).

Ahead Software offers EasyWrite Reader for users who want to read InCD-created media. Go to http://www.nero.com, click InCD, and then click Downloads.

For other UDF reader solutions, contact the vendor of your drive or packet-writing software.

Some packet-writing programs support CD-R media as well as CD-RW media. CD-R media is less expensive and more durable than CD-RW media, but you need to make sure you select the most suitable option for closing it; you might be prompted for a closing method, or need to select one in the packet-writing program's options menu. If you choose Close to UDF Reader, the target computer needs to use a UDF Reader program to recognize the information on the CD. I recommend you select the Close to Read on Any Computer option so that most CD-ROM and other optical drives can read the files on the CD without using special software.

Troubleshooting Problems with the Writeable Drive Hardware

If your writeable drive has any of the following symptoms, it might be defective and in need of service:

  • You must remove and insert media a couple of times before the packet-writing or mastering program will recognize it

  • Your drive is no longer recognized as a writeable drive by your mastering or packet-writing program

  • Your drive isn't displayed in My Computer or Windows Explorer

  • Your drive ejects and retracts its media tray when you didn't press the Eject button or use the Eject option in your software

Before you contact your vendor for help, try the following:

  • Review the troubleshooting sections earlier in this chapter for the drive interface your writeable CD uses—Most internal drives are ATA/IDE, while external drives usually connect to the USB or IEEE-1394 ports.

  • Check the settings for the drive in Device Manager—Check the vendor's documentation for the correct DMA setting (enable or disable). If the drive's settings tab indicates the drive is not using DMA and the drive manufacturer recommends it, enable it. If DMA is already enabled, disable it (the drive will create CDs more slowly).

  • Install the latest bus-mastering drivers available for your motherboard's chipset—Check your system or motherboard vendor's Web site for details and files to download.

  • Check the data cable and make sure it's tightly connected to both the drive and the host adapter—Replace a defective cable.

  • Use an 80-wire UDMA cable instead of a 40-wire cable on an ATA/IDE drive—You might need to change the jumpering from master/slave to cable select.

  • See "Configuring the Drive Jumpers," p. 200.

  • Download the latest drivers for your writeable drive and the latest software updates for your CD-mastering and packet-writing programs.

  • Check with the drive vendor for a list of recommended media—Substandard media, particularly CD-R media, can cause major problems with reliable writing.

  • Who Made Your Media?

    You can download the freeware CD-R Identifier program from http://www.gum.de/it/download/english.htm.

    You can use it to determine important information about any CD-R media you have, including the actual manufacturer (which is often not the name on the package) and the type of dye it uses (some colors work better with some recorders than others).

  • Check your drive vendor's Web site for a firmware upgrade—A firmware upgrade changes the instructions inside the drive similar to the way a system BIOS upgrade changes the instructions built into your computer's BIOS chip. Install the firmware upgrade if you don't have the latest one. The Settings tab on the drive's properties sheet in Device Manager indicates the firmware release installed.

For details on using Device Manager, see "Using the Device Manager," p. 480.

Troubleshooting Problems with Windows XP and Writeable Drives

Windows XP supports writeable drives...badly. Instead of providing CD-mastering and packet-writing software, Windows XP uses a very slow and inefficient way of copying files to a CD-R or CD-RW disc. The process works this way:

  1. Select the files you want to transfer to the writeable drive in My Computer.

  2. Select Copy the Selected Items and select the writeable drive as the destination. The files are copied to a temporary folder.

  3. Click the CD icon in the system tray to view the files waiting to be copied to the CD (see Figure 3.33).

  4. Click Write these items to CD to start the CD Writing Wizard.

  5. Figure 3.33 The Windows XP CD writing program prepares to write files to the CD.

  6. By default, the CD Writing Wizard uses the current date for the name of the CD it creates; change it if desired. You can also select Close the wizard after the files have been written; do this if you want to create only one copy. Click Next to continue.

  7. Windows XP creates a CD image and writes the files to the CD. The process is fairly quick if you select only a few files, but is very slow if you want to fill a CD with your files. You can add more files to the CD at a later time if you want.

  8. Click Finish to exit the wizard.

To see how much space is left on the CD, right-click on it in My Computer. One advantage of Windows XP over earlier versions of Windows is that it can display used and free space on a writeable drive; earlier versions treat both CD-ROM and writeable drives as having 0 bytes free.

Some of the problems you might have with Windows XP's writeable CD support include

  • Doesn't recognize some CD-RW drives

  • Writes non-erasable files to CD-RW media

  • Prevents your packet-writing software from writing to CD-RW media

  • Automatically prompts you to write files to the media when you insert a blank writeable CD

Troubleshooting Drives That Windows XP Doesn't Recognize

By default, Windows XP is designed to work with most CD-RW drives on the market (including DVD drives that support CD-RW media). Windows XP features a built-in driver called the Advanced SCSI Programming Interface (ASPI) layer. The Generic layer supplied with Windows XP supports most drives, but if your drive is not supported by the standard Windows ASPI driver, Windows XP will treat it as a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive.

If Windows XP doesn't recognize your drive as a writeable drive, try the following:

  • Go to Windows Update (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com) or to http://support.microsoft.com and download the update to the Windows XP CD writing feature discussed in document Q320174—This fix also helps solve other CD writing problems.

  • Download and install the Adaptec Windows ASPI Package (you don't need an Adaptec or any other SCSI host adapter to use it); it frequently solves the problem. Go to the Adaptec Web site:

  • http://www.adaptec.com

    Click Support, Downloads, SCSI Software to locate the link for the program.

Erasing CD-RW Media Created with the Windows XP CD Writing Feature

The Windows XP CD writing feature creates CDFS (CD File System) CDs that can't be erased by other programs. If you use CD-RW media with the Windows XP writing feature and want to use it with a UDF program, you need to use the Erase This CD button on the CD Writing Tasks menu. You can then format the media as needed.

Adjusting and Disabling the Windows XP CD Writing Feature

It's very likely that you will replace Windows XP's built-in CD-writing software with a third-party product that offers true CD mastering and packet-writing capabilities. However, even after you install the program you prefer, XP's built-in CD writing features could interfere with your third-party software. Even if you are content with XP's CD-writing feature, you might want to fine-tune it.

To adjust how the Windows XP CD-writing feature works, or to disable it, right-click on the drive in My Computer, select Properties, and click the Recording tab (see Figure 3.34).

Figure 3.34 The Recording tab for a writeable CD drive in Windows XP.

If you want to use third-party software to record CDs, clear the checkbox next to "Enable CD recording." This prevents Windows XP from trying to run its own wizard when you insert a blank CD and stops Windows XP from interfering with your packet-writing software.

If you can't read the media you wrote with Windows XP with any drive, including the drive that created it, your drive might have experienced a buffer underrun. A buffer underrun takes place when a recordable drive runs out of data to transfer to the media. Because CDs must be recorded in a continuous spiral of data from the center to the edge, a disc with a buffer underrun is unreadable; such a disc is called a "coaster" by some users. You can select a slower record speed than Fastest if you have problems reading the CDs you create.

If your default drive for temporary files is short of space, it could slow down the CD creation process and might cause a buffer underrun (resulting in a useless coaster). Use My Computer to determine which hard disk has the most empty space if you have more than one hard disk drive letter, and use the pull-down menu to select that drive as the location for temporary files.

If you prefer to remove a disc you write from the drive, enable the eject feature, but if you prefer to view it with My Computer to make sure it's readable, clear the Automatically eject option.

Fast Track to Success

If your computer doesn't display the Recording tab for your writeable drive, it could mean that

  • Windows XP doesn't recognize your drive as a recordable drive; follow the tips given in the section "Troubleshooting Drives That Windows XP Doesn't Recognize," p. 245.

  • Your third-party CD mastering or packet-writing software has disabled this tab for you to prevent problems.

Troubleshooting Recorded Media You Can't Read on Another System

Even if you create CDs primarily as backups of your own data or music, you should be concerned about whether other systems can read the media you create. This is definitely a concern if you regularly create media for use by others. If other users can't read the CDs you create, check the following:

  • Make sure you are using a type of media the target system can use—The safest type of media to use is a high-quality CD-R used with a CD mastering program. Unless you choose the "close to read on any computer" option in your packet-writing software, packet-written CD-R media relies on UDF reader software to be readable on CD-ROM drives. CD-RW must be read in another CD-RW drive or by CD-ROM drives with a compatible UDF reader program installed. CD-RWs also don't work in most older portable stereo systems and non-MultiRead CD-ROM drives. CD-R is inexpensive and works virtually everywhere.

  • Record all the data you want to put on the CD in a single session and close the CD—Some very early CD-ROM drives can read only single-session discs, and by creating a single-session disc you avoid compatibility problems.

  • If you need the read/write/erase capability of CD-RW media, make sure you eject it correctly; don't shut off the computer until the media is ejected. The ejection process closes the media so it can be read on other systems.

  • Try the media on your own system—If the drive that created the media can read it, but others cannot, you can try reducing the recording speed, closing the CD, or try a different type of CD media with a different combination of dye and reflective layers. However, if even the original drive can't read the media, you might have a defective drive or a buffer underrun.

Troubleshooting Buffer Underruns

Ever since the first recordable CD drive was introduced, users have created untold numbers of useless coasters because of buffer underruns. A buffer underrun takes place when the writeable CD drive transfers data to the disc faster than the computer can provide it to the drive. Because the flow of data is interrupted, the recording stops and the media is useless.

Depending on the CD recording/mastering software you use, you might get immediate notification of a buffer underrun, or discover it only after you can't read the disc you created in any drive.

All current writeable CD drives include some type of buffer-underrun prevention technologies such as BURN-Proof, SmartBurn, and others. These technologies work by suspending the CD creation process whenever the buffer memory in the CD runs out of information, and continue the process when more data is available. Upgrading from a drive that lacks this feature to a drive that supports this feature is the easiest way to avoid buffer underruns and enjoy much faster disc creation times.

Here are some other ways to avoid creating a coaster with your drive:

  • If your drive supports buffer-underrun prevention, make sure your CD mastering software also supports this feature and make sure you leave it enabled (refer to Figure 3.30). Generally, the CD mastering programs supplied with drives with buffer-underrun prevention include this feature, as do the latest versions of retail CD mastering programs.

  • If your preferred CD-mastering program doesn't offer a buffer-underrun prevention feature, upgrade to a version that does if your drive also has this feature.

  • If your drive or CD-mastering program doesn't support buffer-underrun protection, use the fastest mastering speed that is reliable. I don't recommend recording speeds above 8x when buffer underrun-prevention isn't available.

  • If your CD-mastering software offers a Test option (refer to Figure 3.30), use it to simulate CD recording at various speeds—If the program reports an error at a specific recording speed, reduce the speed and try the test again.

  • Copy your data files to a fast, unfragmented hard disk—If your files are scattered across multiple drives, are located on another optical drive, or are on a different computer on a network or a serial or parallel direct connection, the likelihood of a buffer underrun is very high. Copy the files you want to transfer to CD into a single folder and defragment the drive containing that folder.

  • Leave your computer alone while the CD mastering task is running—Don't play Solitaire, read email, or surf the Web; any activity on the system other than CD mastering can cause a buffer underrun. You should also disable screen savers, prevent anti-virus programs from scanning the system, and turn off all other unnecessary programs.

On the Web

Buffer-underrun prevention features are now universal, and many vendors sell drives for around $100 or less that are faster and more reliable than their predecessors. Check the latest reviews at PC World (http://www.pcworld.com) and PC Magazine (http://www.pcmag.com) to find a new writeable CD drive.

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