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Upgrading and Repairing PCs Tip #11: Why Won't My CD or DVD Play? Troubleshooting Optical Drives

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In this excerpt from the 22nd edition of Scott Mueller's Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Scott offers tips for troubleshooting a CD or DVD that won't play.

Find more tips from Upgrading and Repairing PCs here.

From the book

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. Before using a cleaning disc, though, check with the drive vendor to ensure this method of maintenance is recommended.
  • 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 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, use ISO Buster, which is available from http://www.isobuster.com, to read UDF discs and copy media from damaged discs.

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. Refer to the section, “Direct Memory Access and Ultra-DMA.”
  • 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 http://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 supported by Windows XP. 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 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 ensure compatibility.
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