Recordable CD drives or CD-RW drives are often
included with new computers. And more and more people with older computers are adding
CD-RW drives so they can create data backups or music
CDs. The beauty of backing up to CD instead of tape
or other magnetic media is that CDs last. In theory,
you could still retrieve your data decades after you
recorded it (assuming you could find a drive that would read it, of course). However, even though
the technology is undeniably useful, it can still be
confusing to purchase and use.
Choose a Drive
When you start shopping for CD-RW drives you have to make a number of decisions. First you
need to decide if you want an internal or external drive.
To install an internal drive, you need to have a
empty slot (or bay) available on the front of your
computer. (You usually see a blank "dummy" plastic
panel, which can be removed.) If you don’t have a
slot available, you’ll need to get an external drive.
Next, you need to decide which type of interface the
drive should use. The interface determines how the
drive "talks" to the computer. Many internal drives use
the EIDE/ATAPI (Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics/AT Attachment Packet Interface) interface,
which is the same one used for connecting most hard
drives. You usually attach the CD-RW drive to the
same cable that goes to the hard drive. If you don’t
like rummaging around inside your computer case,
you may want to get someone to install the drive for you.
SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) is another interface you may encounter. If you get a
SCSI CD-RW, you will either need to have a SCSI
controller (card) in your computer already, or you
will need to buy one because they often don’t come
with the drive. Finally, some CD-RW drives connect
using USB (Universal Serial Bus). If you have an
older computer, you may not be able to use this type
of connection, so be sure the computer has a USB
port before you buy the drive. You’ll also see
numbers that indicate the speed of the drive. Higher
numbers mean a faster drive. Another term to look for in
a CD-RW drive is BURN-Proof. This technology helps avoid data transfer problems that cause errors.
Pick a Disk
After you have the drive set up you need to figure
out which type of disk you want to put in the drive:
CD-R or CD-RW. The type of disk you use depends on what you want to do. With a CD-R
(CD-Recordable) disk, you can record information to the
CD, but you can’t really erase files. When you
"Delete" files from a CD-R disk, you don’t free up space
on the disk; the files just are made invisible to the
file system. CD-R disks are less expensive than
CD-RW disks and are usable on older CD-ROM drives and
in drives on other operating systems. They are great
for making a permanent back up of infrequently
Alternatively if you have data that you need to back up frequently like a monthly report, it’s
better to use a CD-RW drive because the data can be
overwritten. CD-RW is a newer format and you can
erase the contents of the CD and re-write new
information to it. CD-RW disks cost more than CD-R disks
and generally can be read only by CD-RW drives.
Most CD-RW drives come with bundled software. Two popular programs are DirectCD and Easy
CD Creator, which were made by Adaptec up until recently when they spun off their software into a
new company called Roxio (www.roxio.com). Again
you need to think about compatibility. If the only
person who is ever going to read your CD is you with
the CD-RW drive, you can use pretty much any program. However, if you want the CD to be usable
in other CD-ROM drives, you are better off using a program that "masters" the CD such as Easy
CD Creator. Programs like DirectCD are easier to
use because they use a file system called UDF that
lets you write files to a CD as you would to a floppy
disk or hard drive by just dragging and dropping them
to a drive letter in Windows Explorer. However,
the disks only work on Windows machines, so you
may run into compatibility problems.
Select a Format
After you’ve decided what type of disk and
software to use, you need to think about formats. In
general you can make a data CD or a music CD. The
options you choose in the software generally
determine the correct format for you. Mostly the format
depends on the type of files you plan to put on the
disk, such as music, data, and so on. If you plan to
share your disk with Macintosh users, be sure that you
find the option for ISO9660. This standard specifies
how data (such as file names and directory names) is
formatted on a CD. Also remember that if you want
to make a CD that can be read by a Mac, you can’t
use UDF software like DirectCD. To read your CD,
the Mac also must have a particular set of
"extensions" loaded, or it won’t work.
After you’ve thought about what you want to do
and made your selections, you are ready to burn the
CD. Exit all your other software and run your
CD-RW software. Most of the programs have a wizard
interface, so all you have to do is press a few buttons.
Basically, you give the software a list of files in
the correct order and then record them. One common error is called
buffer underrun, which usually means that your computer is passing data to the
CD-RW too slowly for some reason, which causes the
data buffer to empty. If you have trouble with this
error, try recording at a slower speed. Many programs
also let you do a test to make sure the software can
find, read, and burn the files correctly. If the
software finds problems, you can fix them before
you’ve wasted a disk.
Depending on the options you set and the number of files you are burning, it can take a while to
actually burn a CD. But when it’s done, viola the CD
tray opens and your new CD is done!
- Buffer: An area of memory where data is
temporarily held until it can be transferred to the
CD. The buffer is used to help regulate the flow of
data. If the buffer feeds the data to the drive too
slowly, the drive can’t write the data to the disk and
you get a "buffer under run" error message.
- CD-R (CD-Recordable): A type of disk you
can use to make your own CDs. You can record information to the CD, but you can’t erase files.
When you "Delete" files, the files are invisible to the
file system but it does not actually free up any space
on the disk. CD-R disks are less expensive than CD-RW disks and are usable on older CD-ROM
drives and other operating systems.
- CD-RW (CD-ReWritable): A type of disk you
can use to make your own CDs. CD-RW is a newer format and unlike CD-R, you can erase the
contents of a CD and re-write new information to
it. CD-RW disks cost more than CD-R disks and can be read only by CD-RW drives.
- Coasters: Popular slng term for CDs that
didn’t burn correctly, thus rendering them useless
for much else.
- EIDE/ATAPI (Enhanced Integrated Drive
Electronics/AT Attachment Packet Interface): An
interface that is used for connecting hard disk
drives that can also be used for CD-RW drives. The
CD-RW drive generally attaches to the same cable
that goes to the hard drive.
- ISO9660: A standard that specifies how data
(such as file names and directory names) is formatted
on a CD. If you write a CD in the ISO 9660 format,
it can be read by computers running under other
operating systems such as DOS, Macintosh, OS/2, Windows, and UNIX.
- SCSI: (Small Computer Systems Interface): A
type of Interface used to connect peripheral devices,
including CD-RW drives. If you get a SCSI CD-RW drive, you need to have a SCSI controller (card)
in your computer to attach it.
- Transfer Rate: Speed data is transferred to/from
a CD. Written with a number and an X, as in 8X.
- UDF (Universal Disk Format). A file system
standard used by software such as DirectCD
- USB: (Universal Serial Bus): A type of
interface used to connect peripheral devices. Older
computers may not have a USB port, so check first!
USB CD-RW drives tend to be slower than other types.