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Troubleshooting CD-ROM Drives

The troubleshooting steps for CD-ROM and DVD drives are nearly identical to those of an HDD system. The connections and data paths are very similar. Basically, three levels of troubleshooting apply to CD-ROM problems. These are the configuration level, the operating system level, and the hardware level.

Basic Checks

In most systems, the CD-ROM and DVD drives share a controller or host adapter with the hard disk drive. Therefore, verify their Master/Slave jumper settings to ensure they are set correctly. Normally, the CD-ROM or DVD drive should be set up as the master on the secondary IDE channel. In this manner, each drive has its own communications channel and does not need to share. If three or four IDE devices are installed in the system, you must determine which devices can share the channels most effectively.

Windows Checks

In the Windows operating systems, you can access the contents of the CD-ROM or DVD through the CD icon in the My Computer applet. The CD-ROM drive's information is contained in the System Properties dialog box, found by double-clicking the System icon in Control Panel. The Properties of the installed CD-ROM drive are located on the Settings tab. Figure 3.11 shows a typical set of CD-ROM specifications in Windows 9x.

Figure 3.11Figure 3.11 CD-ROM specifications in Device Manager.

If the correct drivers are not installed, load them or contact the CD-ROM manufacturer for the correct Windows driver. Check the system for old AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files that could contain commands concerning older CD-ROM drives. These commands overrule the Windows CD-ROM configurations and can create problems. Make a copy of the file for backup purposes and remove the MSCDEX lines from the original file.

CD-ROM/DVD Hardware Checks

In many systems, the CD-ROM and DVD drives share a controller or host adapter with the hard disk drive. Therefore, if the hard drive is working and the CD-ROM drive is not, the likelihood that the problem is in the CD-ROM or DVD drive unit is very high.

Before entering the system unit, check for simple user problems:

  • Is there a CD or DVD in the drive?

  • Is the label side of the disk facing upward?

  • Is the disk a CD-ROM or some other type of CD?

If the drive is inoperable and a CD or DVD is locked inside, you should insert a straightened paper clip into the tray-release access hole that's usually located beside the ejection button. This releases the spring-loaded tray and pops out the disc.

If no simple reasons for the problem are apparent, exchange the CD-ROM drive with a known-good one of the same type. If the new drive does not work, check the drive's signal cable for proper connection at both ends. Exchange the signal cable for a known-good one.

Writable Drive Problems

An additional set of problems comes into play when a write or rewrite function is added to the CD-ROM or DVD drive. These problems are concentrated in three basic areas:

  • The quality of the drive's controller circuitry

  • The makeup and version of the drive's read/write application interface software

  • Compatibility with the operating system's multimedia support systems

The quality of the drive is based on the type of controller IC it has. In less expensive drives, the BIOS extension on the drive might not support all of the R/W functions required to coordinate with the application package or the operating system's drivers. Although all newer CD-ROM and DVD drives are ATAPI compatible, they might not have an effective method of controlling Buffer Underrun errors. These errors occur when the system transfers data to the drive faster than the drive can buffer and write it to the disc. The ATAPI compatibility of the chipset ensures that the CD-ROM and DVD read functions work fine, but the nonstandard writing part of the drive might not produce satisfactory results.

Techniques that can be used to minimize buffer underruns include placing the CD-ROM or DVD writer on an IDE channel of its own. This keeps the drive from competing with other drives for the channel's available bandwidth. Also, conducting the write operation on the same drive as the read operation and using reduced write speed options in the R/W software can minimize data flow problems.

In addition, the R/W software for the drive might not be compatible with the operating system version in use, or with the controller chip on the drive. Likewise, the operating system's multimedia enhancement drivers (DirectX in Windows operating systems) might not be compatible with the controller or the R/W application.

Always consult the operating system's hardware and software compatibility lists before buying and installing a CD-RW or DVD-RW drive in a system. This typically means using a more expensive drive, but for now, you do seem to get what you pay for when it comes to rewritable drives.

If the drive has already been purchased, check its documentation for suggestions and check the manufacturer's website for newer R/W applications and driver versions. You might also be able to locate a flash program for the drive's BIOS to upgrade it so that it provides better support for the write function.

Some CD-ROM and DVD R/W applications are simply incompatible with different drive BIOS extension versions or DirectX versions. Check all of the parties involved to find a collection of components that are all compatible with each other.

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