CD-ROM Problems


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CD-ROM Problems

By Stephen Bucaro

Today there are many forms of CD (compact disc) media. CD-RW allows you to over-write previous data. CD-R is one-time recordable. This article focuses on problems with standard CD-ROMs (read only media), but some of the information also applies to the recordable forms.

A CD-ROM is written by etching "pits" into the surface of the disc. To read a CD, a laser beam is directed at the disc as it spins inside the drive. The areas between the pits, called "lands", reflect more light than the pits. A sensor in the drive reads the data by measuring the amount of reflected light.

Most problems with CD-ROMs are caused by mishandling. Fingerprints and scratches on the surface of the CD cause electrical noise when read in the drive. Never touch the recorded surface of a CD-ROM, always hold it by the edges. Never put a label on a CD-ROM, this can cause it to vibrate because of an imbalance.

Use the following troubleshooting guide.

Can't Read CD-ROM

First check the obvious. Try another CD-ROM in the drive. If you have another computer, try the first CD-ROM in the other computer.


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Recordable CDs are made differently than regular CD-ROMS. Instead of etching pits into the surface of the disc, heat is used to burn spots on the surface of the disc. Some high-speed CD-ROM drives cannot read some recordable CDs. Also, the file structure on a recordable CD may not be compatible with the operating system.

No CD Sound

If the CD drive starts, but no sound comes from the speakers, try plugging a headset into the jack on the front of the drive. If the headset works, the problem is in your speaker system or sound card.

If the CD drive does not start, enable autoplay on your computer. Select Start | Settings | Control Panel | System. In the System dialog box select the Device Manager tab. Click on the + sign next to CDROM to open that branch. Then click on the name of the CD-ROM to highlight it. Click on the Properties button. In the properties dialog box, select the Settings tab. Check the box next to "Auto insert notification". Click on the OK button. Then remove and replace the CD.

Can't See the CD Drive in Explorer

Modern CD-ROM drives use the same ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) interface that a hard drive uses. (Sometimes called IDE for integrated drive electronics). A motherboard usually has two ATA channels, primary and secondary. Each channel can control two drives, master and slave.

In Device Manager, click on the + next to Hard disk controllers to open that branch. Make sure the Primary and Secondary IDE controllers are listed and they don't have a yellow exclamation (!) mark next to them. If one is not visible, the controller may be disabled in the BIOS setup. If there is an exclamation mark, the CD-ROM drive may be defective.

Eject Button Does Not Work

If a CD gets stuck in the drive, turn off the power to the PC. Then insert a straightened paper clip into the tiny emergency eject hole on the front of the drive.

Unusual Problems

Inside the computer's case, make sure the power cable on the back of the CD-ROM drive is not loose. Make sure the data cable is not loose on the connector on the back of the CD-ROM drive and on the motherboard. A loose cable may have worked until dust drawn in by the cooling fan accumulated inside the case.

The ATA channel master or slave assignment is configured automatically by the data cable or is configured by a jumper on the back of the CD-ROM drive. If a new drive has been added, check this configuration.

Some software records the letter of the CD-ROM drive from which it was installed. If you later remove or install a storage device, Windows will reassign the drive letters. The software may not be able to find the CD-ROM drive. If you can't reconfigure that software, you can go into the CD-ROM drive's Properties dialog box, select the Settings tab, and set a letter to be used by the drive.


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Some CD-ROM drives require a driver. Follow the drive manufacturers instructions to install the driver. It can usually be done through the CD-ROM drive's Properties dialog box, Driver tab.



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