DVD/CD drive feeling unwell - suggestions?
September 4, 2009 9:50 PM   Subscribe

My DVD/CD and CD drives only work a little bit.

I apologize in advance as this is very long and tedious. I am trying to be thorough so that maybe someone can read this and have a suggestion or ask a question to get more information that might prompt a suggestion for me.

I have Windows XP Home and I bought a Dell. I've been very happy with this machine. I am still happy with it, just puzzled by this issue. The computer is perhaps 5-6 years old.

My computer used to happily read, rip, and burn CDs and DVDs with no problem. A few months ago, I started getting errors occasionally when burning a CD. The last couple of months it has gotten worse and now when I put a CD, over half the time it will not burn. I was using Easy CD Creator that came with my machine, and then I got DeepBurner, which is free. They both work about the same amount of the time.

Now the DVD/CD drive that reads and writes will not automatically bring up the disk I put in like it used to do. I like for that drive, when I put in an audio CD, to just start ripping the tracks. I do this mainly for audio books I get from the library. I rip them to play on my little player while I walk, and then I delete them when I'm done listening. Sometimes if I buy an audio book on 10 CDs, I prefer to rip all the CDs and then burn all those tracks, after sticking them back together with Windows Movie Maker, to ONE CD instead of 10. This makes it easier when I want to listen to my book again. This works well for me. But now I am having all this trouble with the drives.

If I open Windows Media Player (I have 11), and click on "rip" it will let me choose from the two drives and then I can rip the CD. So on some level, Windows knows the CD is there. But if I double click on the CD drive listed under "My Computer" it just opens a blank empty window. If I right click and select "autoplay" it will ask me if I want to burn a CD (the answer is no, since the CD has stuff on it...).

My other drive, which is just one for reading CDs, still seems to work okay but it also is not showing up with the name of the CD in the My Computer list like it used to.

I started to have these problems about 6 weeks ago in earnest. Recently I started a new job and had to download some software, which mostly works fine except for some occasional glitch where the sound stops working on my entire computer. I don't know if these things are related. I did not have that issue come up today, where the last 3 days it happened multiple times each day. Last night I upgraded to Windows Media Player 11, and the software for work uses that program to play the sound files (I'm a medical transcriptionist).

I have done lots of looking around on Google and such and have followed many suggestions and none have offered a solution. There was some kind of upperfilters/lowerfilters thing to delete in the registry, which I did but that did not help. I have one of those disks with the little brushes on it for cleaning DVD drives and I used that but it did not seem to help. I did notice that the picture was a bit wobbly on that DVD, which did not happen before.

I am not a person who just takes the computer apart and looks inside. When it comes to the actual hardware I don't usually mess with that stuff. If I had specific directions, my husband can probably follow those and help me out. :) But he is at a loss here.

Thanks for any help or ideas you can provide.
posted by AllieTessKipp to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Best answer: I think the drive is probably dying and needs to be replaced. It happens; it's probably out of calibration.

Can you borrow a USB drive from someone and try it to see if it works? Try it with commercial disks you've purchased?

(Keep in mind that a disk burned by a drive that's out of calibration won't easily be read by a drive that is in calibration. So if a borrowed drive can't read disks you've made yourself, that doesn't prove much.)

If a borrowed USB drive does work properly, then a purchased USB drive is your easiest solution to your problem. It doesn't require you to replace the drive in your computer.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:13 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: That's so awesome. I just plug it in and that's it? That would be so cool. I can get my husband to ask around and see if anyone he knows has one I can borrow for a minute to see if it would work. My only problem would be a USB port, of course. I am using all of mine. :)

My husband says, too, that if it's just the drive going bad, he could replace that for me pretty easily.

That USB thing is awesome, though. I'll have to get one for my husband for Christmas, because he is always making me burn CDs for him... He could do his own that way. So cool. I didn't know those even existed.

Thanks so much for taking the time to slog through my endless thing, there, to try and help me out. I really appreciate it. :)
posted by AllieTessKipp at 10:21 PM on September 4, 2009

They're relatively cheap (though probably not so much as a new internal drive, which are pretty trivial to swap out). Pick yourself up one of these when you're shopping for an external drive, they are also cheap!...
posted by nanojath at 10:59 PM on September 4, 2009

Seconding Chocolate Pickle on the USB CD/DVD drive. You're looking at somewhere around US$50-100, as I understand, but I haven't done a lot of research on that. Naturally, more capabilities, such as DVD recording or Blu-Ray, mean a more expensive drive.

Optical drives tend to be more vulnerable than most components to this kind of failure--they get exposed to the environment a lot what with the discs going in and out all the time, and it takes comparatively little grit in the wrong spot to make something go awry. One of my co-workers needed to have our IT guy come in and replace her optical drive recently because while it could read discs just fine, it couldn't write them, and her machine was well under a year old at the time.

One aspect of your story makes me think part of your problem could be a software issue, though: the fact that CDs aren't showing up automatically in Windows even on the CD-only drive. It could be that both drives failed at the same time, but it's not very likely. (That is, it's not remarkably unusual, just a little suspicious.) That makes me think that something may have messed with your Autoplay settings in Windows. I don't know exactly what the control panels for that look like (I use a Mac at home), but I found a tool from Microsoft that allegedly "scans your computer devices to find defective AutoPlay settings, and attempts to fix those it finds." It certainly couldn't hurt, but this won't do anything for your problems with burning discs.

Actually, based on those problems, if I owned this computer and wasn't about to upgrade, I'd think about getting a new optical drive and just installing it right away. An internal drive may even be slightly cheaper than the USB version (no case or USB interface to provide), and while installing it would be a bit trickier than plugging in a USB drive, it sounds like your husband's up to the task.

Also, when was the last time you reinstalled Windows? It's annoying, but a lot of Windows users try to reformat and reinstall the entire system from the original discs every year or so, to ensure you don't have any corrupt files or anything that could be causing strange problems like your sound issues. Of course, to reinstall your computer's operating system from the original discs, it needs to be able to read the original discs . . .
posted by tellumo at 11:01 PM on September 4, 2009

I guess I'd mention another problem my brother had with a Dell (not that this was necessarily relevant), was a matter of conflict between applications attempting to open a CD (seems similar issues to this question here): you may want to review the options on your applications that play sound files as well as your settings for what opens the drives. The issue of increasing problems with errors in burning really sounds like a hardware failure in the drive - but this could certainly be occurring concurrently with software issues. If the drive replacement solves some but not all of the issues you might want to explore down that road.
posted by nanojath at 11:07 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone! I like having lots of things to check.

tellumo: I will try out the thing for the autoplay settings. I would not be surprised if that was one of my issues.

I once did something by pressing some random key combination due to the gloves I wear for typing, which pressed on a key while I was pressing some other key... I had to restart... I could only type in capitals.. still a mystery...

I've never reinstalled Windows. As far as I am concerned, you have to be crazy to do that. ;)

My husband asked his computer expert friend which (internal) drive I should get, so I'll get what he suggests and my husband will swap that around for me.

nanojath: Thanks. I will check out that other thread. I would not be surprised if I did something that confused my computer and created a conflict by installing that new work software or something. I do stuff like that all the time. This computer has been very patient with me and I am grateful every day. :)

I have tried USB hubs before but I got some weird error repeatedly (husband said it was something with the computer trying to match up two USB thingies to one of some other thingie and there was a conflict) and it was not worth the trouble for the extra hamster cam so I just move the hamster cages around and Harry and Henry share a camera.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 11:40 PM on September 4, 2009

It looks like about $100 for a name-brand fast USB DVD-writer and $50 for a slower no-name drive right now.

I want to make sure you understand that we're talking about USB 2.0, not USB 1.1. If your computer only has 1.1 ports, this isn't an acceptable answer for you. And it's entirely possible that a 6 year old computer only has 1.1 ports.

You didn't say if this was a notebook or a tower of some kind. If it's a tower (which I suspect is the case because you say you have two optical drives) and you have an empty slot, you can buy a USB 2 interface card for it. (Scroll down a bit.) That should be something your hubby can install.

If your computer is a notebook, you'd have to go with something like this.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:53 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: It's a tower, and I'm sure it has 1.1 USB ports, though I have no idea how I would find out. I just know I tend to have the slowest/oldest everything most of the time. :) Thank you for explaining that, since I had no idea there are different kinds of USB.

I tried the Autoplay fix thing and that program told me there were errors but it could not fix them. However, after I had run it on both drives, the drive that only reads CDs now tells me what CD I have in the drive in the "my computer" list. No luck with the DVD/CD burner drive, though.

I am going to go ahead and order a new burner drive and my husband can install it. Then I will see where I am.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:38 AM on September 5, 2009

The difference is that USB 1.1 runs 12 million bits per second. USB 2.0 runs 480 million bits per second. Most USB 2.0 devices work with USB 1.1 ports, but the performance will be miserable.

If you plug a USB 2.0 device into a USB 1.1 port, Windows will pop up and tell you that there's a mismatch.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2009

Response by poster: My husband replaced the drive today and it works! Yay. His friend recommended the one to get and it came with software. I uninstalled the other burning software I had first and it turns out I like this new one better, so that worked out nicely.

It burned a CD and I was able to get files off the CD, so all seems good.

Thanks again, everyone, for your help. :)
posted by AllieTessKipp at 8:31 PM on September 13, 2009

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