CD/DVD Writers

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CD/DVD Writers

TIP : Own made CD's are less permanent than manufactured ones. The latter have the indentation pressed into an aluminium layer, while your own copies merely use a dye.  This can be affected, eventually, by daylight or heat, so that is why it is recommended you keep them in albums. If they are precious you should make a copy of them now and then.  I understand that DVDs are actually a sandwich of plastic so can be treated more roughly. But watch out for labels on CD's. I peeled one off the other day and the aluminium came off with the label !  End of CD. For records you want to last 1000 years there are more expensive M-DISCs but these need a special writer, too. LG Electronics, Samsung, Hitachi, and Pioneer offer optical drives touted as M-ready

Lightscribe is a DVD writer technology which etches words and patterns onto a DVD.  The special, coated, disks, which can be coloured, are only slightly more expensive

I get fairly frequent enquiries about CD and DVD Writers. If you PC does not have at least a CD writer it is tme to get a newer one, although netbooks and tablets do not have sufficient space to contain one.  But many can have an external one attached to the USB socket. It is important to check that the writer will work with your computer.  Recently I found one that required a minimum 64Mb RAM, a 500Mhz processor and over 600 Mb of disk space. So, older, slower PC's will need an older CD writer and you may have to search an auction site such as for one. I am afraid it is one more reason to upgrade from an old machine.

These days you will find that new machines are likely to be fitted with a DVD writer (which will also read and write CDs). So, if you are upgrading there is little point in buying a CD (only) writer, as the cost of a DVD writer, which does everything, is little more than one which only reads and writes CDs (around 20 - see Novatech or Ebuyer).

If you haven't got any CD writing software try the free Deep Burner from Another one is CdburnerXP (works with Vista, and Windows 7, too). But XP has simple CD/DVD burning software and Vista and W 7 have more sophisticated versions. To burn a CD with XP (SP3) this is a two part process. Pop a blank CD in the drive, click Burn writeable disk, then drag and drop files into this folder. Then click Write these files to CD. n.b. You can add files until the disk is 'finalised'. Until this is done they may not be suitable to use in other equipment. Windows Media Player has the facility to copy things from  (Rip) and to (Burn) CDs, though until June 2014 copying copyright music was illegal even for your own use !

Making Videos that will play on your PC AND a DVD player attached to a TV.  This is a thorny question and I admit that I have spent many hours (and wasted a few disks) experimenting with this. Bear in mind that video files are almost inevitably very large, so you will probably need to have a DVD writer in your PC and blank DVD disks. Some of my failures have been down to unsuitable disks and I finally settled on disks by Sony. But, although Windows comes with Movie Maker and DVD Maker (regretably not included in Windows 10). Vista (Premium) and Windows 7 are more powerful and officially can make Video CDs.  XP users will probably have to buy some software for converting files to DVD format. Beware of websites offering 'free MPEG2 encoders' or converters as they are littered with hidden viruses ! I have user a program called 'Any Video Converter' without ill effect. And you may also be able to convert video formats usining VLC Player,

You may be able to make an exact copy of a DVD on your PC with some of the above software but the problems seem to arise when creating a DVD from a video (AVI or WMV) that you have created. If you look at a professional DVD with your computer you will see that it is made up of more than just a WMV file.  It has numerous other files needed to make it run on the domestic DVD player.  The best results I have obtained have been with a series of programs in the AVS4You series. ln particular, AVS Video remaker.  This enables you to add the sort of Menus that you get with professional videos.  But it does cost a bit of cash.  Read more on DVD Maker below.

Here are the Computer Active instructions for making DVDs using Windows Vista or later Windows
Launch DVD Maker from the All Programs list.  Click Add items and browse to the folder where your videos or photos are.  Click NEXT and pick a menu style from the list on the right.  If you are just adding photos click Slideshow. When you have completed any customisations insert a blank DVD, click Burn and the DVD will be recorded.  Sounds simple, doesn't it. But they also suggest that this could be a time when you lash out on some professional DVD writing software. Surprisingly Windows 7 dropped the adequate Windows Movie Maker and you may wish to download the free Windows Live Movie Maker.


NB.  If you have put something vital on a CD (or even a floppy disk) and it seems to have disappeared (perhaps you overwrote it somehow) there is a program called Badcopy Pro from which is an excellent recovery program. It is advertised as "Comprehensive data recovery software for floppy disks, CD-ROM/CD-R/W discs, digital media, and zip disks". ...Another program is called RECUVA by reputable company Piriform

Advantages of installing a CD or DVD Writer :
You can make backups of complete CDs or DVDs
You can backup files and folders from your hard disk in case it has to be replaced or in case you get a new machine and want to transfer programs and data.
You can make slide shows of your photos which can be shown on your TV, providing you have a suitable CD/DVD player.
You can make copies of music CD's or downloaded music (e.g. MP3 format music)
Please bear in mind the copyright rules when making copies of anything.

The capacity of a CD is around 650 megabytes (650 million 'characters'). The number of minutes would indicate how much music would play on one disk. A standard DVD can hold up to 4.7Gb or twice that if you have a 'dual layer' recorder.

There are several types of  'writeable' CD and DVD e.g. DVD-R CD-R and DVD+R and CD+R.  It is important to get the correct one for your writer.  This type is a write once type and data cannot be changed once it is burnt in by the laser which creates the disk; then there is a DVD and CD-RW (re-writable) disk, which can be rewritten many times. These days most are capable of reading and writing disks. Earlier ones may not be capable of creating disks but can merely play existing disks.

Re-writable disks cost a little more than CD-R's but are actually not as versatile. Generally, they can only be used on the machine on which they were created, although you may find that you can download software that enables them to be read on another machine. So the CD-RW is ideal for frequent backups of data which you may wish to restore to your machine i.e. because the original is vital and might become corrupt or affected by a virus. But they may not be so useful for restoring to another machine.

For most people the CD-R is preferable as they are quite inexpensive. A drum of 50 might cost less than 10. Quality can vary, though and, if you expect to record music for later use on a music CD player you should be sure to get disks advertised as suitable for this purpose.

At this point I would like to make it absolutely clear that, if your DVD player says DVD-ROM (Read only Memory) on the front no amount of software (or swearing) will make enable it to create a new DVD!  

The layout of the CD is the same as for your hard disk with files and folders and CD writing software enables you to 'drag' whole folders (including their files) from your hard disk to the CD. To restore a file or folder to the hard disk it can be dragged back again. Another way would be to Select and Copy files or folders, then Paste them onto the CD. However, the process is two-part and you will have to 'burn' the disk after dragging or pasting. If you cannot understand the principle of 'dragging' try playing Solitaire a few times.

Drive Installation in a Desktop PC  You may wish to install a drive in a PC that doesn't have one, or one is malfunctioning or you wish to replaced a CDROM or DVDROM with one which can create disks. Th following applies whether you are adding a CD writer or DVD writer. It is something which non technical people can attempt, providing they can handle a screwdriver and follow basic instructions.

You must first decide whether you wish to replace the original CD player or add the new one. I would advise anyone who wishes to copy music tracks to leave the old CD (or DVD) in situ (providing there is room for an additional one) but for people who just wish to copy files from the hard disk or wish to make complete backup copies of an existing CD /DVD the easiest thing to do is to replace the old one. As well as writing CD and DVDs the writer acts as a normal CD/DVD player in every other respect.

The reason for preferring to replace (rather than adding) a drive is that the existing cabling to the old Cdplayer can be used to connect to the new one, whereas if you are adding an additional drive you may have to add an additional flat data cable. Fortunately most PCs have FOUR connections for use with Hard disks and CD.DVDs. There are three connections  to a CD : Power, Data and Audio. The power cable is always a small milky coloured plug with four holes. If you cannot find a spare then you can obtain a 'splitter' which can take power from an existing plug and give you an extension. The data cable is a broad flat grey one with a 40 socket connector at each end, of the type which connects to your existing hard disk. If you are lucky the cable will have a second connector near the middle.  Note that this cable has a red stripe on one edge. This stripe is always nearest to the power plug and must be connected in this way.  On the motherboard the red stripe is place next to a figure 1.  If you do not find a spare data cable or the existing cable does not have a second connection attached those wishing to add an additional Drive will need to use one with two connections.  They are sometimes supplied with a new CDwriter.

For the moment we will deal with the REPLACEMENT of the existing CD Player with a CD or DVD writer.

Having disconnected the cables at the back of the PC and opened the PC Box - often the most difficult part - use a Philips type screwdriver to unscrew the three or four screws holding in the existing CD/DVD player. Disconnect the three cables, making a note of the connections. Push out the old CD/DVD from the front. If there any rails attached to the side of it these must be attached to the new CD/DVD. Push the new CD/DVD into the same slot and reconnect the cables. The power cable can only be pushed in one way because of its shape. The data cable can be put in either way but MUST be connected with the red stripe nearest the power cable. The audio cable can only be pushed in one way in one of the audio sockets on the CD/DVD.

Now reconnect the PC, start it up. The new CD/DVD should be automatically recognised by Windows and you can put a CD/DVD in and see if you can access it from Windows Explorer. If you purchased CDwriting software you can now install this.

If the CD is not recognised by the PC, or if the light stays on indefinitely it may be that the data cable is the wrong way round... remember.. red stripe nearest the power plug

ADDING another CD player, writer or DVD. This is a little more complicated.

Obviously you must have the space in your PC to be able to do this, unless you are adding an external drive. Pop out the blanking plate on the front of the PC. Some are easy. Some require a screwdriver.

Now you must find the three cables to connect to the Cdwriter.  An audio cable, a power cable and a flat data cable. The audio cable, which usually runs between the original CD and your sound card, is only required if you wish to hear CD sounds via your sound card, so you will need to attach this if you expect to play music or other sounds from the NEW player. Even if this cable is not connected it is still possible to hear sound from the CD by connecting earphones to the socket which some have on the front of the CD writer.

If you do not have a spare power cable you will need to obtain a 'splitter' from your local computer shop (or a fair). Take out an existing power cable (from your CD or hard disk) and connect the splitter, thus providing TWO power outlets.

Now the data cable. Almost every computer can support four devices such as hard disks and Cd or DVD players. But only two cables are ever present. They may only have a single grey connector or there may be two connectors on one cable. If you find only one connector I am afraid it is back to the computer shop and it will be necessary to detach the existing one from the motherboard with a determined tug, noting which edge has the inevitable red stripe. The red stripe is nearest Pin 1 on the motherboard - but you will probably need a torch and good eyesight to see this number. Better to make sure you know which end was attached to the red striped edge of the cable.

One further point about attaching a second device to a single cable : If both devices were of equal 'standing' the computer would not know to which it was sending data. So one of these devices must act as 'Master' and the other will act as 'Slave'. The existing device (CD or hard disk) will have been set as 'Master', so the new device on the same cable must be set as 'Slave'. This is done by altering a 'jumper' on the back of the CD. If you had a slip of paper with your new player look at it now. This should indicate how to make the new CD into a Slave. Generally there are three settings on the back of the CD (or a hard disk): Master, Slave or CSEL (cable select). But they rarely have sensible markings such as M for Master or S for Slave. So, look at the documentation. No documentation ? I am afraid you are back to trial and error. But not harm will be done if you get it wrong. Usually the Slave setting is the middle one and the Master is on the right. Always place the jumper in a vertical position, not sideways. If you use CSEL it will do no harm and, some say, may make disk access more rapid.

Note that both cables can have a Master and Slave device attached. Either cable can be used for hard disks or CD/DVDs. However, the hard disk which starts the machine MUST be a master. Generally the LAST device on the cable is set as the Master and the first (middle) one is set as Slave.

What if you have a laptop or don't fancy opening your computer ?  In this case the answer is an external DVD writer, which can be plugged into a USB socket. An example is the LiteOn LH-20A1PX-500C 20x Dual Layer RAM USB2.0 External Kit with DVD writing software at around 45

Using your CD or DVD writer

Having installed your new CD writer here are a few notes about using it.  You will need some CD/DVD writing software. There is a great variety of this and they vary a great deal in their method and ease of use. Windows XP has a basic method built in.

One of the most popular CD/DVD writing programs was Adaptec's (called Roxio, now Sonic Solutions) EasyCD. Another popular one is Nero Burning.  If a program is not provided it is worth purchasing or downloading one.  Windows XP does enable you to do a limited amount of work but it will not make identical copies of music or program CD's. XP is capable of transferring data from your hard disk, so you can backup things. With Windows Media Player it is possible to compile a collection of music and write it to CD.

The name of Roxio's (now sold to Sonic Solutions) software  (Easy CD) is very appropriate. It is the most user friendly software I have used. When you put in a new CD-R disk you are presented with this screen. Incidentally, the earlier Easy CD program is one which will not work with Windows XP and an upgrade is needed.

Graphic of Easy CD first screen

This is an illustration from their older software

It is self explanatory. You click on the appropriate button and it takes you through the process. I have just made a copy if a disk by a click on the bottom one. It asked me whether it was an audio or program disk. It asked me whether I wanted it checked for errors. I said 'Yes', which takes a little longer. At the first attempt I made the process failed. This means that the disk is useless and I had to bin it. Checking on the Error details it said the dreaded words Buffer Underun (twice). This indicates that the computer was out of sync with the writer and so it failed to pick up some vital information. In fact, it is important that the Writer is fed information at the rate it can take it (or faster), without any pauses. I put in another disk. This time I had cleared out most of the Startup programs including my screen saver and all power saving features. This time I got a perfect copy and to make sure I made two more. Most CD/DVD writers these days have ways of avoiding this 'Buffer Underun' problem (this is often termed 'burnproof') But, most software will allow you to reduce the speed of the process.  This is more likely to give you a good result.

Re-opening an old CD-R

You will see from the Adaptec screen shot that you can create a Data CD which you can use like a floppy disk (multisession) OR make a disk (single session or finalised) which can be used on ANY PC or other equipment such as a domestic DVD player. What happens in the first case is that the CD is not finally 'closed off' and information is kept on your hard disk to enable you to make additions to the data by dragging more material from your hard disk, just as you can drag copies to a floppy disk (though there is an extra 'burning' process). However, another machine would not have this information or, necessarily have the Adaptec software, and so would not recognise the data. Does this mean that the disk is finally closed off and unable to be added to at a later date ? The answer is 'No' . But it will have to be reopened by the software and to make it available to another machine again a new index or FAT (file Allocation Table) has to be written to it - and the previous one ignored. You must realise that with a CD-R nothing can be actually erased from the disk but this does not mean that things cannot be added. It may reduce the total capacity of the disk but we are talking about over 600 Mb, which should be plenty for most people.

The other popular CD writing software (Nero Burning) starts like this. Incidentally, Nero 6 is one of the programs that Windows XP (Service Pack2) was not very happy with, though it works.  It is advisable to get the update from  

The normal Nero 6 initial screen looks like this: (Nero 7 now looks somewhat different)

Graphic of Nero Multisession recording screen

If you expect to reopen a disk after a session you would start by selecting Start Multisession and click New.  The second time you wish to add something you would use 'Continue Multisession'  If you wish to create a disk playable on other equipment then select No Multisession  If you wish to copy a disk select the Copy Disk  (two disks) icon showing at the bottom.

A simpler version of Nero is called Startsmart : It provides the easiest way to get started

Graphic of Nero Startsmart screen, showing alternatives

If you have two CD drives there would be no need to swap the CDs as it could copy from one to the other. But if you only have the one CD drive the way it copies music CD's is different. The software will copy the whole of the CD to a temporary folder on your hard disk and then back to the fresh CD. Therefore it would be an advantage to keep the original CD drive in place, providing your machine can physically accommodate it.
Your software may not always warn you that this temporary folder should be deleted afterwards, so you must watch out for this.

Other software ?  I have a high regard for Instant CD and DVD by VOB Computersysteme (Germany), which I loaded off a cover disk.  It was very intuitive.  You just keep clicking Next or OK most of the time.  About the most difficult thing was finding the folders or files you want to back up.  I tried it with the whole of the 'My Documents' folder, which contains all my correspondence and pictures (split into various sub folders).  It amounted to 250Mb. It took 2 minutes to do a simulated copy and another 2 minutes to write the disk. On this occasion I didn't close any of the other programs or screen savers and didn't have any difficulty. Neat

Backing up your whole hard disk ?  See Help16.htm for this

What about the speeds of CDWriters ?

Like everything else in computing new technology brings about increases in speed. The original CD players were one and two speed. You can now get 50 speed versions. CD writers are quoted with three figures such as 8 x 4 x 32.  This means that it will write a CD-R at 8 speed. It will re-write a re-writeable at 4 speed and it will read an original Cd at 32 speed. Currently the more expensive ones are 16 x 12 x 40.  If you obtain a faster writer it is necessary to match this with blank disks which are capable of writing at that speed, so look carefully at the pack. It is also important to have a machine that can keep up with the writer. However, most software enables you to check the best write speed and reduce it to that.

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