CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, February 5, 2001

Burning own CDs a hot idea

Burn, baby burn!
Such were the household cries over the holidays as I finally succumbed to teenage pressure and replaced my old CD-ROM drive with a newer drive capable of writing, or "burning," our own CDs. I'd experimented with recordable CDs a few years ago, but it was a hit-and-miss experience that left me with a lovely collection of silver coasters.

The technology has improved significantly since then and is much more reliable. I've enjoyed the convenience of archiving large data files and making program backups on single discs with capacities of 650 MB. Because CD-ROM drives are so universal, it's a better medium than zip disks for transporting large data files between computers. And as long as it's true confession time, I'll admit I've also been dabbling with Napster and have compiled some pretty good music CDs of my own.

The first compact-disc drives on computers were the CD-ROM variety. Read-Only-Memory (ROM) meant you could read programs or data from the disc, but couldn't write or record to the media. CD-R (compact disc-recordable) drives emerged, allowing users to create their own CDs using WORM technology (write once read many). The CD-RW (compact disc-rewritable) was the next-generation drive, which supported an erasable disc that could be written to multiple times.

Users today also have the option of a DVD-ROM (digital versatile disc) CD-RW combination drive for enjoying high-capacity multimedia as well as the ability to create CDs. DVD-ROM stores data in gigabyte quantities, rather than in megabytes as does a CD-ROM, and the quality is far superior.

Recordable and rewritable versions of DVD are available as well, but are quite pricey. Regardless of the media or drive, most CDs created can be read from today's multi-read CD-ROM drives and CD players. Some older drives may have difficulty reading CD-RW discs, however.

Successfully creating your own CDs requires an understanding of burning basics. Be clear on the distinction between drives and discs. Discs store data whereas drives read from or write to the discs. There must be compatibility between the drive and the discs you are using. A CD-RW drive can record to either CD-R or CD-RW media, but a CD-R drive, for example, can use only CD-R discs. Most drives sold today are of the CD-RW variety that can handle either media.

Also understand the concept of drive speed, which measures the data-transfer rate. The original CD-ROM drive had a data-transfer rate of 150 KB per second and all subsequent drives are measured relative to this using an X to represent the original speed. A 24X drive, for example, has a data-transfer rate of 3600 KB or 3.6MB per second. CD-R and CD-RW drives are associated with the speeds of reading, writing and rewriting respectively, such as 24X/4X/4X. It's important that you know your drive's write speed so can purchase the appropriate media.

Writing or copying to a CD requires software that's usually installed along with the disk drive. Adaptec's Easy CD Creator software, for example, walks you step-by-step through the process of creating audio or data CDs. It also includes software for creating jewel-case and CD labels. If you want to copy directly to your disc, just as you would to a floppy disk, you must use packet-writing software such as Adaptec's Direct CD. There are compatibility issues, however, reading CDs created with packet-writing software in some CD-ROM drives.

Even though I have a CD-RW drive, I've elected to use CD-R discs only. The media is much cheaper and more reliable in terms of being read more universally by other CD-ROM drives. True CD-RW rewriteability is still less that perfect.

Remember: Copying commercial CDs to sell or give away is illegal. CD-R and CD-RW discs containing copyrighted material (music, software, and so on) are for personal use only.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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