Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


CD-R and CD-RW Burning 101 - part 2
by
Dunc Petrie

The September Orphans’ SIG generated a discussion about the techniques to burn a CD-R or CD-RW. Or, more precisely, why the burner didn’t burn. Further to that discussion, here is an assortment of tips and techniques. [continued from last month]

You may be faced with a real problem if you decide to delete and replace your current burning software (either with the same program or with another). It may also occur if you attempt to upgrade existing software to a newer version (whether you follow the simpler “install over” routine or the “delete and install”). This problem arises from low-level software drivers — called the ASPI layer — that are most often supplied by Adaptec. Discussion of ASPI in depth is deliberately avoided here; you can have a look at www.adaptec.com if you want to pursue it. Without laying out all the permutations, apparently these files are sometimes (I don’t know why) not totally removed or not upgraded (although this is nominally part of the upgrade routine) properly. The resultant mixture of old plus new plus corrupted drivers produces a predictable result. Worse, all the system reports and upgrade logs may say that everything is working correctly. The user forums offer only bleak hope of successful repair for the inexperienced. Detailing the procedures would consume another essay. Unless you know what — specifically — to look for as filenames and delete them (varies with each installation) then the only realistic solution for non-techies is to restart from scratch.

It is best to have a dedicated partition to hold the data (or songs, or whatever); at the very least, defrag the partition that holds the data before burning. This is a must for older systems and a helper even if your system does have buffer-underrun protection. The burning software will create a temp file (similar in concept to Windows swap file) to arrange the data to correspond with its way of doing business. Make sure that there is sufficient unused space on the partition to allow this to operate efficiently.

In the face of repeated problems (“coasters”) you could crate an image file and then burn the image to the blank. The image file creates a file format that has already performed the translation of “computer file format” to the “CD-R media format” (you may see the terms ISO9660 or Joliet). This eliminates a processor-intensive step in the burning process. While more time-consuming, its less demanding system requirements might prevent wasting media.

Nero offers (don’t know for Easy CD Creator) the option to ‘Test (No burning)’. This is certainly a worthwhile choice to see if everything is setup properly.

Dust and fingerprints are the most common enemies. Avoid getting anything on the writing side of any media. Visually inspect the surface before loading the media into the tray. If there is foreign debris use canned air and not your breath to remove the particles. Why? You do not want to replace dust particles with saliva particles. If you need to remove fingerprints do not use solvent-based cleaners and wipe from the centre to the periphery in a straight line: not circularly. I personally am leery of CD burner cleaning kits. Seems overboard — much like floppy drive head cleaning disks that often created more problems than they solved. While a burner can always fail, in my personal experience they don’t become dirty very frequently: unless, perhaps, they are under your home’s central vacuum exhaust.

I think that I may have stated during the SIG that the best assessment — albeit brutal — of CD-RW is: “The question to ask is not if it will fail but when.” Initially, I admit, I saved data to CD-RW media. But, single-use media (CD-R blanks) was a lot more expensive than today and the media reuse was attractive. Today, I find it easier to remain exclusively with CD-R. There is a newer format, titled Mt. Rainier, that will incorporate packet writing capability into the OS and make CD-RW more convenient (but not necessarily more reliable) by allowing formatting on the fly. There are a few of the latest drives (40X or 48X) that claim they support it; however, it is not directly supported by any version of Windows (including Win XP) to date — and is therefore untestable. To implement it, in addition to operating system and burning software support, it requires both hardware and firmware revisions; it is much more than a software upgrade. This would, I believe (perhaps, hope?) create one theoretical advantage: inter-readability; that is, Nero could read Roxio and vice-versa (and, incidentally, all media created under any other Mt. Rainier compliant packet writing software) since the OS would perform the formatting operation. Have to wait and see, I guess. Historically at least, version 1.0 of anything was often less than stellar.

I have no idea why the following sometimes worked (on Win 9x/Me systems — maybe it would on Win 2K/XP but have had no need to use it). Sometimes a reboot — following a failed burn — is enough to kick-start it. This failure usually seemed to follow the intense activity required to define the archive for burning (selecting all the files and folders etc and defragging). Maybe, the system resources needed refreshing; maybe, it allowed Windows to reset something, I don’t know; maybe, it was an illusion; but, sometimes it worked. In fact, as a preventive measure, I once (half-jokingly) suggested that a problematic machine should be rebooted just before commencing every burn. That is, get the files for the archive assembled, defrag if necessary and then reboot. Do nothing except initiate the burn process. Surprise, it worked... and continues to succeed to this day! Is it really necessary? I don’t know but I don’t really want to challenge success.

If you are installing a burner into a system that has seen moderate use (in contrast to a new system), you may save yourself a few coasters if you were to reinstall the operating system and applications right now (rationale in the next paragraph)!

Given Windows’ (particularly the 9x and Me versions) propensity to somehow progressively corrupt itself with the passage of time, I recommend that you seriously consider a system backup immediately following the system setup. That is, install the operating system, the burner drivers and burning software and your principal software applications and utilities. Before you run anything, “freeze it in time” by Ghosting, Drive Imaging or whatever you have available. While there is always a chance of a pristine installation not working, much more frequently a system slowly deteriorates as the Registry is burdened with the detritus of installed and removed software and the system has endured a few blue screens of death. When it finally fails (and rest assured, it shall) you will save a lot of time by merely restoring a known good configuration in a fraction of the time that re-installing everything from scratch would require. This approach will prove quicker, I assure you, than trying to patch, replace or repair.

I hope that you can glean something from this article to assist you. One final thought (particularly in Windows 9x and Me): if you have problems installing the burner during a new Windows install consider trying to install the burner after the OS is functioning correctly. To avoid its detection by the hardware Setup Wizard you must, of course, remove the power and data cables from the device until the Windows installation is complete. If your hardware is newer that the OS then Windows wouldn’t have the ability to recognize the hardware and supply drivers anyway. Even if there are drivers embedded in Windows, sometimes better compatibility results from the manufacturer’s latest offering. A small detail, but, hey, sometimes it works! Windows 2000 users (and I assume Windows XP) have an option within the install routine to specify that they possess specific drivers for hardware that is not in Windows database. In this case, leaving the burner attached will allow this process to proceed.


Bottom Line:

A useful tutorial


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
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