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Bone Head Burner

Dale Swafford is a retired ol' codger (you know, a que tip), who enjoys burning coasters - and learning from his mistakes.

So, you bought and installed a CD recorder/rewriter (a burner) in your computer. You might have expected it to be a simple plug and play (like a VCR) operation. Big surprise! For most folks who install the drive themselves, youíre entering the unknown zone. Almost everyone needs help with the technology terms in the drive install instructions. There are many good glossaries available on-line. I recommend you try www.adaptec.com/tools/glossary/cdrec.html, it always worked for me. 

Three cords and a jumper must be plugged-in and set for the drive to function properly. Plug-in the power connector. Itís Murphy proof (can only be inserted one way). Next decide if the drive will be the master or slave in the EIDE hookup. The boot hard drive will always be on the primary IDE ribbon cable and set to master. The burner will be set to master and ribbon cable attached to the secondary IDE connection on the motherboard if no other drive is attached. If a CD-ROM or other IDE drive is already installed as master, set the burner jumper to slave and plug-in the ribbon cable to the burner using the middle connector. The master device is plugged-in to the end connector. The ribbon cable has a colored stripe down one edge to indicate the # 1 pin connection. Some connectors are Murphy proof, some are not. If you plug it in backwards, it could damage your drive. The last cord is the audio or sound cord that will be plugged into your sound card. Are we having fun yet?

Getting windows to recognize the new drive in Windows Explorer is the next hurtle. Follow the install instructions with the drive to the letter. Windows 95/98 will recognize the new hardware and install itís own driver, in most cases.

The best thing you can do for yourself, hardware wise, is make sure the firmware in your burner is the most up to date. Firmware is the interpreter of commands from your operating system and software to your burner. It is a flash bios that can be updated with downloaded files from the burner maker. I know, itís brand new. Why would it need to be updated? Because as fast as the maker discovers a problem with his instruction set, he can fix the problem with a new firmware version. Itís a good thing, as Martha would say.

Installing the software bundled with the burner is pretty simple thanks to the Windows installation wizard. I recommend installing the software in the same partition with about a GB of unused space to create image files. The only problem is, most bundled software is either abbreviated or crippled versions of their regular software. Not to worry, it will get you up and running and maybe, give you an opportunity to burn a few coasters (thatís what we call failed attempts to record a disc due to a buffer underrun). Also, go online to your Burner software maker and check for updates to your software. Most software firms are constantly updating their software to improve it and remove bugs. Every time they fix something, it makes your life a little better. Get in the habit of checking every month or so. If they donít offer free updates, start thinking of getting different software. Things are changing fast in this young industry. If a firm is not constantly making their product better, theyíre going out of business.

Now go to your favorite discount computer store and buy a 100 or 50 disc spindle of 74 or 80 minute 8X or better recordable discs for about $20. on sale. Might as well pick-up a few rewritable discs with the same rating as the middle number in your burner description, usually 4X (8X4X32X refers to the maximum speeds the burner will record recordable discs (R) - rewritable discs (RW) - and read data. One X being the speed music is played (1,411Kbps). Might as well get some CD labels, while youíre there, so you wonít have to write with a pen on the successful disc. Then watch the sale papers for CompUSA, BestBuy, OfficeMax, and Office Depot for free (after rebate) disc offers. I havenít got a bad one yet, and try never to miss a free offer.

Your education must start now. Read the manual that came with your burner. Then, read the manual or help files that came with your burner software. Then, download the best all around primer at www.fadden.com/cdrfaq/. Itís updated monthly by Prof. Andy McFaddenís students at MIT. Keep it handy, youíll need it frequently on this little adventure. Also, go to the Website of your drive and software maker. Seek out the frequently asked question (FAQ) section and read the questions and answers.

Now weíve got our stuff together, so itís time to organize for a burn. Keep in mind, the rules are slightly different for each type of disc you burn. For copying data from your hard disk, you have several choices. You can burn an ISO 9660 in two flavors (with 8+3 or long file names) that when closed, will play on any CD-ROM. Or you can choose a multisession burn that allows you to fixate the current session and later write additional sessions until the disc is full, then close the disc and it will play on any CD-ROM. Or you can use DirectCD (packet write) and format the disc to use it just like a 500 MB floppy using Windows Explorer. If the UDF reader file is included on the disc, before it is closed, it can be read by any CD-ROM. If you want to make an archive copy of a program disc, you will probably run into some form of copy protection. Please do not try to copy a Microsoft disc - they will punish you. For all data burns, both recordable and rewritable discs work fine.

Planning for an audio disc is way different. You can record from an analog source (your sound card) and not be concerned about copy protection. You will pick-up noise artifacts that are not present in a digital copy, but you can record from any source that you can plug into your sound card. The analog to digital converter in the soundcard will determine to a great extent, the quality of the sound recorded to a wav file. Or you can record digital from an existing CD. You then have a choice of using DAE (Digital Audio Extraction) or downloading a replacement Windows virtual CD file system file in zip format(with test file instructions) from <> that will show the wav files on the source music disc. This allows you to drag and drop using Windows Explorer to move wav files to your hard disk. Be sure and reset the file attributes from Read Only to Archive by right clicking on the downloaded wav file and select Properties. 

For some unknown reason, copy protection has not complicated any burns since using drag and drop. Copying the same files using digital audio extraction resulted in a coaster except with the best heavy duty burner software (Nero). When you have all the wav files on the hard disk, you can improve the sound by running the filters in your burner software to clean-up the tracks or just normalize the sound level of all the tracks. Always listen to the music in the sound file to make sure it is the quality you want to burn on a CD. This is the place to fix it or start over.

Now, it’s time to set-up the computer and the software for the burn. This is the most unforgiving part, a mistake here and you’ve wasted a lot of time and burned a coaster. First, check your software manual. Should Windows AIN (Auto Insert Notification) be active or not? Check its status in the Device Manager, in the Control Panel, click on CD-ROM - Properties - Settings. A check in the box by Auto Insert Notification means itís active. To deactivate it, click to remove the check mark and reboot the computer for the change to take effect. The Settings page also has the version number of the installed firmware. Also, take a look at whatís running in the background of Windows. Hold down Ctrl + Alt and hit the Del button will bring up the Close Program dialog box. Anything that can interrupt the burn means trouble. End Task will shut it down. If DirectCD is active, shut it down. It interferes with many burner programs. 

Now itís time to fire up your burner software. Most decent programs have a wizard to provide a little hand holding until you become familiar with the program. Use it! Donít be in a big hurry to hit that burn button. Before every burn, open the properties, options, or settings section to make sure the burn will interface with the operating system, hardware and software. Memory utilization should always be set to the partition with the largest block of contiguous open memory. A little defragging will put all the existing file pieces together and make access faster. For a music burn, select disc-at-once which will close the CD to make it playable on most CD players. Use track-at-once only if hard disk space is at a premium. For a data burn, you can select multi-session to keep adding groups of data until the disc is full, then close the CD to make it readable on any CD-ROM. 

Do not use multi-session for music. CD players will only recognize the first session, even if more sessions are recorded on the disc. Until you become familiar with the limitations of your burner set-up, let the test and burn (or simulation if available) function set the burn speed. As you add more RAM or a faster, bigger hard disk, or a later operating system, gain experience with your rig. Then experiment with the burn speed. The most bullet-proof burn will be from an image file on your hard disk. The speed rating of the blank disc should be the same or higher than the record speed. The rewritable (RW) discs are real touchy about this. The recordable (R) discs are not as fussy. There is a 99.9 percent probability that if a burn failed, it was not caused by the blank disc. 

Now is the time to select and organize the files you want to burn in the burner window. Load the blank disc in the burner so the software will know the time available on the disc (74 or 80 minutes). Click the burn button and in most software, a dialogue box will allow you to set some burn options. Click Write or Burn or Record and leave the computer alone. Do not bump it or run another program. Creating a CD is a very intensive operation. It uses most of the resources of the entire rig. One little burp in the data chain and a buffer underrun will occur, which in almost all cases, makes a worthless disc (coaster). Except on a burner with Burn Proof, or software with the simulation feature, the laser does not tolerate any interruptions and kills the disc.

When the software opens the tray and proudly announces a successful burn - the fun is only beginning. Itís time for the crucial test. With data discs, most closed discs will play on CD-ROMs due to the emphasis on error detection and correction. With music discs itís another story. Will it play (and sound good) in all of your CD players? I first play the CD in my CD player hooked up to my main sound system. I listen to part of every track. If it passes that test, then I put it in the car CD player, my most finicky player. If it recognizes the TOC and sounds OK, then I have a good CD. With some software and using digital audio extraction, about half of the burned CDs will not play in the car (two year old Honda). Most will play in the CD player (Sony) in my sound system. Even music on rewritable discs will play on the Sony. Go figure!

I know you donít believe it, but this is the basic course. If youíre like most of us, youíll burn a few coaster, get frustrated, go online and read the frequently asked questions, reread your manuals, and then realize, help is available by participating in the Alamo PC Burner Sig classes. See you at the next meeting!

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