BOOT CAMP 158 (18/01/01)


Fitting a DC-RW drive


After ensuring your PC has the optimum amount of memory fitting a CD-rewriter or CD-RW drive to your PC is arguably the next most useful upgrade you can carry out, and like adding extra memory, it's the sort of job you can easily do yourself, providing you know which end of a screwdriver to hold…


If you've got by happily up to now without a CD-RW drive you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. In a nutshell a CD-RW (the RW bit stands for read-write) allows you to make or 'burn' your own data and audio CDs. There are two types of blank disc: CD-R or CD-recordable discs, where the data is fixed and cannot be erased, and CD-RW discs, which work in a similar way to hard or floppy discs in that data can be erased and re-written many times. CD-R discs are absurdly cheap; you can buy them in bulk for as little as 30 pence each. CD-RW discs are a bit dearer – typically between £1.30 and £1.80 if you shop around; both types of disc hold around 650Mb of data.


Unlike most other forms of removable mass-storage CD-R/RW discs can be read on just about any PC or laptop made within the past five years, fitted with a CD-ROM drive, which makes it a near universal format. A disc can more than 400 times as much data as a single floppy so it is ideal for backing up essential data, swapping or sharing large files – such as digital images -- between PCs. CD-RW drives can also make and copy audio CDs, or you can make compilations of your favourite album tracks. A growing number of home entertainment devices, like DVD players, mini hi-fi systems and personal CD players can also read CD-R discs containing MP3 music files. MP3 is a data compression system and it is possible to get up to 20 hours of music tracks on one CD-R disc, albeit at lower than normal CD sound quality.


The cost of CD-RW drives has fallen dramatically recently and the cheapest EIDE/ATAPI models (see Jargon Filter) now sell for less than £100, though it's probably a good idea to budget around £150 or so for a model with faster writing speeds. Also worth considering are 'combi' drives that can play DVD data and movie discs, these are more expensive (circa £200 at the moment), but prices are falling quickly.


Like any job that involves delving inside your PC, fitting a CD Rewriter drive comes with a health warning. Do not attempt it unless you are confident of your abilities and have at least a passing acquaintance with your machine's innards, if not get a knowledgeable friend or pay an expert to do it for you. Disconnect your PC from the mains before opening it up, (some engineers prefer to leave the mains lead plugged into the socket – with the power switched off, of course -- so the case stays earthed). There is a small risk that static electricity on your clothes and body can damage or destroy sensitive microchips inside the PC, so it is important that earth yourself on the metal case, before touching anything.


You need to determine whether or not you have room for a second drive, on some recent models there is only room for one CD-ROM drive. Of course, in such cases you could just replace the existing drive, but it's far better to keep it as this will allow you to copy data from one drive to the other, and you can keep a disc in one drive – a CD-ROM encyclopaedia say – and use the other drive to play audio CDs. In any case you may need to keep the original drive in place so you can load the driver and utility software, which is usually supplied on a CD-ROM. Most 'mini tower' PCs have a spare drive bay – look for a blanked off panel on the front, but check inside the machine in any case, and familiarise yourself with the internal layout.


When you've got your new drive, and before you pick up the screwdriver, please read the instructions! Fitting the drive into the drive bay should be fairly straightforward but you may need to gently move some cables inside out of the way. A dry run without any cables attached, is a good idea, to make sure everything lines up. When you are ready and before you slot the drive into position fit the ribbon data cable, (usually supplied) pay particular attention to the orientation of the plug, one side is normally marked with a red stripe, which indicates Pin 1. The other end of the ribbon cable fits into a socket on the PC motherboard; the power cable can be fitted last, when the drive has been screwed into position. Leave the audio cable, which connects your existing CD-ROM drive to the PC's soundcard or motherboard, where it is, unless you specifically want to be able to play audio CDs on the new drive. Check that the cables going to the other drives haven't been disturbed and replace the lid.


The installation process varies but usually Windows automatically detects the new drive during boot up and assigns it a new drive letter (usually drive E), then requests that you load the driver CD-ROM. The software should only take a few minutes to load and unless you are an expert or have reason to so, it's generally wise to accept the defaults.  


All that remains is to give it a whirl. The operating software supplied with CD-RW drives is usually friendly and intuitive and very soon you'll wonder how you ever managed without it!


Next week – Back to basics -- Email





Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics/AT Attachment Packet Interface – industry standard disc drive connection system and data communications protocols, used on the most CD-rewriters, suitable for use with most Windows PCs



Motion Picture Experts Group audio layer 3 -- digital audio compression system commonly used to send files containing audio and music over the Internet



Current norms are 300 and 600 kilobits/second or x2 and x4 'normal' speed. Faster (and dearer) drives can achieve speeds of x8 and x12



Here's another one of those undocumented Windows 98 utilities that can prove useful when your PC gets into trouble. It's called the Version Conflict Manager Utility or VCMUI and it should be of special interest to anyone who routinely updates their software applications. This can cause problems when files from older or newer versions of a program conflict with one another. If you've had difficulty with a recent update VCMUI should track down the offending files, and might even provide a solution, it can also highlight potential conflicts, before they've had a chance to cause problems. To give your PC's software a quick health check go to Run on the Start menu and type 'VCMUI', without the quotes of course. All being well you'll see an empty dialogue box, indicating that your applications are conflict-free, if not just follow the instructions.

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