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Fixing CD-ROM Drive Problems

How to troubleshoot problems with CD-ROM drives

There are several types of CD (compact disc) media in use today. CD-ROM drives allow you to read the data from a CD. No writing ability is provided. CD-RW drives allow you to over-write previously recorded data. CD-R data is recorded one time and cannot be changed. CD-ROM drives are still very common.

This article focuses on problems that can arise with standard CD-ROM drives (read only media), but most of the information also applies to drives that are capable of reading and writing. After all, the recordable types of compact disc drives were derived from the CD-ROM drive.

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

Most CD-ROM drive problems are actually caused by mishandling the CDs. Fingerprints and scratches on the surface of the disc cause electrical noise when read in the CD-ROM drive. Never touch the recorded surface of a disc. Instead, always hold it by the edges.

Guide to troubleshooting CD-ROM drive problems:

  • Unable to read the data - Check the obvious first. Try reading a different CD in the CDROM drive. If you have another computer available, try the first disc in the other CD-ROM drive.
    Recordable CDs are made using a different process than regular CD-ROMS. Instead of etching a series of pits into the surface of the disc, Laser-created heat is used to actually burn spots on the surface. Some high-speed CD-ROM drives cannot read certain recordable CDs. Also, the recordable CD's file structure may not be compatible with the operating system or the CD-ROM drive itself.
  • No sound from the CD - If the CD-ROM drive starts, but no sound can be heard coming from the speakers, try plugging a regular headset into the headphones jack on the front of the CD-ROM drive. If the headset works, the problem is most likely in your speaker system or sound card, and not in the CD-ROM drive.
  • CD-ROM drive doesn't start - Make sure autoplay is enabled on your PC. Here's how:
    1 - Click Start > Settings > Control Panel > System.
    2 - Select the Device Manager tab In the System dialog box.
    3 - Click on the + sign next to CD-ROM Drive to open that branch.
    4 - Click on the name of the CD-ROM drive to highlight it.
    5 - Click on the Properties button.
    6 - In the properties dialog box, select the Settings tab.
    7 - Check the box next to "Auto insert notification".
    8 - Click on the OK button, then remove and replace the CD.
  • Unable to see the CD-ROM drive in Windows Explorer
    All newer CD-ROM drives use the same ATA (IDE) interface that the hard drive uses. A motherboard usually has two ATA channels, a primary and a secondary. Each channel can control up to two drives, one master and one slave. The CD-ROM drive will operate as a slave if it's on the same channel as the hard drive. If the CD-ROM drive is on a separate channel, it will be set as master.
    In the Device Manager, click on the + next to Hard Disk Controllers to open that branch. Make sure that both 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 might be disabled in the BIOS setup. If there is an exclamation mark, the CD-ROM drive may be defective.
  • Eject button on CD-ROM drive doesn't work

    If a disc gets stuck in the CD-ROM drive, turn off the power to the computer. Next, insert a straightened paper clip into the tiny emergency eject hole on the front of the CD-ROM drive.

Unusual CD-ROM Drive Problems

Inside the PC's case, check to be sure that the power cable to the CD-ROM drive isn't loose. Next, make sure that the data cable is securely connected to the back of the CD-ROM drive and on the motherboard. A cable may have worked itself loose enough from the CD-ROM drive or system board to allow dust to cause a poor electrical connection.

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

Some software programs record the drive letter of the CD-ROM drive from which it was installed. If you later remove or install a disk drive, Windows will reassign the drive letters. The software program may not be able to find the CD-ROM drive at the old drive letter. If you can't reconfigure the software, you can go into the CD-ROM drive's Properties dialog box, select the Settings tab, and select a new drive letter for the CD-ROM drive.

Some CD-ROM drives require a driver. Follow the CR-ROM drive manufacturer's instructions to install the driver. This is usually done through the CD-ROM drive's Properties dialog box on the Driver tab.

Stephen Bucaro is the owner of Bucaro TecHelp. Visit him at: http://bucarotechelp.com

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