DVD or the Digital Versatile Disc is the next big thing in home entertainment, and data storage. DVD-ROMs are now in the shops, first off the starting blocks are multimedia encyclopaedias like Britannica and Encarta (see last week's Boot Camp), you can be sure large office suites and multimedia games won't be far behind. As an added bonus PCs with DVD drives can play DVD-Video discs, with the picture shown on the PC monitor or even your living room TV.

A recordable DVD or DVD-RAM drive is another possibility worth considering, and with a capacity of 4.7 gigabytes per disc, it has the potential to back up all of the data and programs on your PC's hard drive on just one or two discs. DVD drive prices are falling fast. A quick trawl through a couple of recent computer magazines revealed 'bare' EIDE type internal DVD-ROM drives (supplied without an MPEG video decoder card) selling for as little as £70. Drives with MPEG cards start at around £100; DVD-RAM drives are still a bit thin on the ground and cost from £400 or so.  

Installing a DVD player in your PC is a simple and satisfying job that will not only help to stave off obsolescence a little while longer, it could even improve the functionality of your computer. The PC in question should be a reasonably recent Pentium model (133MHz or faster) with Windows 95 or 98; whilst is possible to install a DVD drive in older slower machines I wouldn't recommend it.

The procedure for installing DVD-ROM and RAM drives are basically the same and shouldn't take you more than half an hour. Before you start, however, you will need to check a few things. First, does your PC have room inside an extra drive? (If not you can get external drives that connect to the printer port). Normally you will leave your existing CD-ROM drive in place so you'll end up with two drives, which can be quite handy, if you routinely need to access a particular CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. If you are in any doubt whip off the lid (switch the PC off at the mains first but leave the plug in the socket) and look for an empty drive bay. You can swap the new DVD drive for your old CD-ROM, as we indicated last week all DVD-ROM/RAM drives are backward compatible and can read all of your CD-ROMs (and play audio CDs).

While you have the case open – and remember don't touch anything  – look for the data and power connectors. There should be a spare plug on the grey 'EIDE' ribbon cable that goes from the motherboard to the rear of the resident CD-ROM player, (most DVD drives come with a 2-way adaptor cable, in case there isn't a spare plug). The power connector is the same as the ones that goes into the back of the other disc drives, it has four wires (two black, one red and one yellow). Don't worry if you can't find a spare plug, adaptor power cables are available from most PC dealers.

Lastly, check for an empty PCI socket on the motherboard. This is for the MPEG video decoder card, assuming you want to be able to play DVD-Video discs on your PC; if you're only interested in accessing CD and DVD-ROMs you should get a bare drive (you can upgrade later on). PCI sockets are usually white or grey and about three-quarters of the length of the adjacent ISA sockets.

With the PC switched off at the mains socket (but still plugged in), and lid removed, pop out the blanking plate covering the empty drive bay. It's easier to do this from inside the case, but before you go poking around touch the metalwork first, to dispel any static charges. Make sure the new drive is configured as a 'slave', there should be a set of pins and shorting contact on the back (refer to the instructions), this should be in the 'S' position. If you are replacing the resident CD-ROM drive set the shorting contact to 'M' for master. If the ribbon and power cables are long enough it's a good idea to fit them before you insert the drive into the bay. Make sure the ribbon cable is the right way, around, a red marker along one edge indicates Pin 1. If you want to play audio CDs on your new drive swap over the audio lead that's plugged into the back of the CD-ROM drive. Align the drive in the frame and screw it into place. If you are installing an MPEG card, fit that now, along with any additional connecting leads, as outlined in the instructions.

Switch on the PC, Windows should automatically detect the new drive and start the hardware installation wizard. If not use the Add/Remove Hardware utility in Control Panel. Follow the instructions and be ready to insert any driver and software discs as requested. Windows will assign the drive a new letter (usually E, if the C: drive isn't partitioned). It will be ready to use straight away, your old CD-ROM drive should continue to operate as normal. It sounds easy, and it is, but if you have problems the most likely causes are badly/wrongly fitted ribbon cables, you dislodged something or you installed the wrong driver software, so pay attention during the loading routine, and read those dialogue boxes before clicking OK!    

Next week – The Millennium 'bug'




Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics – data interface and control system used by most current disc drives


Industry Standard Architecture – connection system used on IBM PCs and compatibles, for plug-in 'daughter boards' such as sound and video cards and modems etc.


Peripheral Component Interconnect – high-speed connector and control system, used on most recent PCs, also used for sound, video, adaptor cards  


If your PC is misbehaving you might need to access the troubleshooting options on the Windows 95/98 Start-Up menu. You have be fairly quick and hit the F8 key, after the initial boot-up routine, before Windows starts loading. This simple tweak displays the Start Up menu for a few seconds every time you switch on.

Open Windows Explorer and find the Msdos.sys file, it is stored in the root of the C: drive. If necessary check the 'Show All Files' under Folder Options on the View menu. Right-click on the Msdos.sys file icon and select Copy. Open another folder (My Documents or Temp), and Paste the copy there, just in case… Return to Msdos.sys on the C: drive, right-click, select Properties and uncheck 'Read Only'. Double-click on the icon and use Notepad to view it. Following the entries listed after [Options] type in the following three lines:




Make no other changes! Note there are no spaces between any of the characters, 'xx' is the time the menu appears on the screen in seconds, start with 10 seconds and see how you get on. Save the file then go back to Windows Explorer and recheck the Read Only attribute under Properties. Restart the PC and the Start Menu will appear briefly, with a second's countdown. To return the PC to its previous condition simply remove the three lines from Msdos.sys.

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