Get IT Done: Troubleshoot CD-R/RW burning speed issues

Media, available resources, and drive installation can all affect a CD drives ability to burn CDs

With CD-R/RW drives hitting speeds of more than 52X and prices dropping well below $100, it may not be long before the CD finally replaces the venerable floppy. But for this migration to take place, burning speeds must remain consistently fast and problems such as those experienced by member Moodye must be quickly resolved.

Moodye has a CyberDrive CD-R/RW drive that fails to burn at 40X, the drive's maximum speed. Although he sets the CD burning software to 40X, upon inserting a CD the speed is changed to 32X. Resetting the speed to 40X is ineffective; the software always changes the burning speed back to 32X. What should Moodye do?

Check the CD media
There are several factors that affect burning speed. Obviously, both the CD-R/RW drive and burning software must support the desired speed. In Moodye's case, since the software has a 40X option, both the drive and software should support 40X burning. So I would first check the CD media. All CDs are rated for a specific burning speed. Some burning software performs an integrity test on the CD prior to initiating the burn sequence. This test determines the CD’s speed capacity and can limit the burning speed. If you try to burn a CD at a higher-than-rated speed, the burn will likely fail.

Check the computer's available resources
Next, check your computer’s hardware. Adequate system resources are essential for high-speed burns. As member TheChas pointed out, "If the resources are low, the buffer under-run protection may force the drive to record at a slower speed [than desired]." Windows 2000/XP systems should have at least 256 MB of RAM, while Windows 9x/Me users may be able to get away with 128 MB, but would do better with 256 MB. You should also defragment your hard disk prior to the burn and verify that you have at least 800 MB of free disk space.

Check the CD-R/RW drive's installation
Still another thing to look at is the way that your CD burner is installed. On some older systems, the slowest device on the IDE chain limits an IDE drive's speed. So a 40X CD burner daisy chained to a 32X CD-ROM drive would be limited to 32X. If you have such a system, then you might consider moving your burner to its own independent IDE controller.

Even if your system doesn’t limit the speed to that of the lowest device on the IDE chain, it’s still advisable to have a different IDE controller servicing your CD burner than is servicing the hard disk that contains the data being copied to the CD. Using separate controllers for the hard disk and the burner allows each controller to dedicate the maximum amount of time to the respective device, resulting in higher data transfer rates and potentially higher burn speeds. You've probably seen burning software that slows down a burn half way through. This is because the IDE controller can’t keep up with the demand being placed on it by the hard disk and the burner.

If you don’t have the option of placing the hard disk and the burner on separate controllers, you might check with your system’s manufacturer for updated hard disk controller and system board drivers. Often these OEM drivers perform better than the Windows generic drivers.

Check the Windows swap/paging file
One more thing that you can do is to verify that the Windows swap file is enabled and that the minimum size is at least 1.5 times the size of the system’s physical RAM. "A small fixed size swap/paging file can also cause slow CD burn speeds," TheChas wrote. If possible, I also recommend moving the swap file to a different physical hard disk—not just to a different partition—than the one containing Windows.

Check out this article from Bill Detwiler for information on speeding up the Windows NT paging file and this article from Jim Boyce on moving the Windows 2000 paging file.

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