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The list of problems that can occur with optical drives isn't huge.
The most common problems are related to reading from discs.
If you find that a drive cannot read a disc, the first thing to do is to examine the disc for damage. If the disc has a crack, there is little hope of saving it. If there is no serious visible damage, try the disc in another drive you know to be working. If the disc still can't be read, the problem is most likely to be in the disc. Scratches can often be repaired using a scratch repair kit. Follow the directions on the kit. This might be a good time to copy the files to a hard drive folder and then burn a new disc, as long as this doesn't violate copyright laws. Most computer supply stores can stock or can order you a hand-operated or motorized CD cleaner. Be aware that you might have to get a different type of tool for data CDs and DVDs.
If the disc is good in other drives, the problem should be in the drive. Try another known good disc in the drive. If the drive still will not consistently read the disc, you should start by using a compressed air spray and a vacuum hose to blow out the dust. If all else fails and you feel comfortable with it, you can sometimes carefully disassemble the drive and find hairs and dust in the works of the drive and remove it. If you then carefully reassemble the drive, it might work again. This step should be used only as a last resort.
You might run into a situation in which you try to read a CD-R or CD-RW in a CD-ROM drive, but the disc isn't recognized. There are a few reasons why this could occur. One is that the disc was not finalized after being burned. The disc should be taken back to the machine it was burned on, and then finalized. Another possibility is that the CD-ROM drive is so old that it was not designed to read these discs. While there is an outside chance that the drive manufacturer might have a firmware update that will allow the drive to recognize these, your best bet is usually to replace the drive with a new one, especially considering how inexpensive they have become.
It is common, when writing to a disc, to get buffer underrun errors. These errors indicate that the data is being read at a different rate than it is being written. The result of these errors is that the destination discs become beverage coasters. Newer drives are designed to avoid these errors, but if you have this problem, there are a few ways to reduce the chance of this from occurring. One way is to copy all the files to a single folder on the hard drive first. The other is to lower the writing speed in the burner program. Another is to free up resources by closing all unneeded programs that are running. For ways to free up resources, see Chapter 2. These steps can be taken individually, or together to gain the best results. For troubleshooting a particular problem, it is recommended to try them one at a time to see what gives the best results. If you consistently have problems writing to CD-R and CD-RW discs, it might be more cost effective, due to lower prices, to purchase a newer, faster CD-RW drive with more buffer memory. Today's drives often come with 4 or 8MB of buffer, and other technology designed to minimize failures.
Occasionally, a particular drive might have a problem with a certain brand of disc. Once you find a disc brand that works, try to stick with it and you will be likely to have fewer failures.
Does a drive simply fail to work or even open? Try going into Device Manager, removing the drive, and then rebooting the system. The drive might very well work normally again. In Windows 9x, the IDE controller might not have the appropriate drivers. If the optical drive is connected to the secondary IDE controller in some versions of 9x, Windows might not be able to recognize the drive if the IDE drivers for the chipset are corrupt or not installed. You can usually test this by attaching the optical drive as a slave to the hard drive on the primary IDE controller and restarting Windows. If the drive is now recognized and working properly, this is most likely the problem. The solution is to reinstall the IDE bus mastering controller software drivers, or if you only have two IDE devices in the system, you can leave the optical drive connected as a slave on the primary.
Certain CD-burning programs can cause problems opening the drive. For example, Roxio Easy CD Creator™ 5.0 on XP might cause the drive not to open after a CD is burned. Roxio offers a software patch, at roxio.com, that solves this problem, but you can open the drive before downloading the patch by opening the Direct CD application and clicking Eject.
In case a disc gets stuck in the drive, if you need to remove a disc while the computer's power is off, or if there is a disc in a drive that's not installed in a computer, you need a highly specialized tool to open the drawer. The tool is a straightened paper clip. If you look closely at the front of the drive, you'll find a tiny hole. Insert the clip in this hole and push until the drawer opens, as shown in Figure 7.5.
Figure 7.5: Freeing a captive disc.
In case an Me, 2000, or XP user wants to listen to audio CDs through the front panel headphone jack, and it doesn't work, it's probably because the CD-ROM drive is configured for digital playback. Either instruct the user to use the speaker or headphone jack on the soundcard or speakers, or disable digital playback by accessing the drive's properties in Device Manager and clearing the "Enable digital CD audio for this CD-ROM device" check box.
Another problem that can occur is excessive noise when the disc is spinning. Although some noise is normal, if you hear a loud buzzing or grinding noise, there are two main possibilities: either the disc has a loose label that is flapping against the top of the drive, or the drive is broken or worn out.
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