Several weeks ago, a neighbor asked if I could investigate why a program on his computer wouldn’t run correctly. After a quick diagnosis, I realized that his CD-ROM drive had gone out. Without thinking, I told my neighbor to simply buy another drive; after all, they’re cheap these days. A few days later, I received a phone call from the same neighbor. He’d been CD-ROM shopping, and he was thoroughly confused because I had neglected to explain that there are different types of CD-ROM drives.

The average person knows very little about CD-ROM drives. This article will cover the basics of these drives, including controllers, drive types, and speeds. The next time an end user asks for information about a CD-ROM drive, simply direct him or her to this article.

There are two basic types of CD-ROM drives: IDE and SCSI. The difference is based on the type of mass storage controller that the computer uses (IDE, SCSI, or both). SCSI drives are typically much more expensive and are usually found only in network servers or in high-end workstations. The majority of home computers and business workstations use IDE drives.

CD-ROMs, CDRs, and DVDs, oh my!
Once you’ve determined which type of controller your computer uses, it’s time to decide what type of CD-ROM drive you want to use. You can choose a basic CD-ROM, CDR, CD-RW, or DVD-ROM drive. There are also several varieties of DVD-RAM drives, but that’s another article.

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As the name implies, a basic CD-ROM drive is a no-frills drive that reads CDs. A CDR drive is capable of both reading and creating CDs. These drives use blank media known as CDR disks, which may be written to only once. CD-RW drives, on the other hand, may read CDs, write to CDR disks, or write to CD-RW disks. Unlike a CDR disk, a CD-RW disk allows you to write data to it multiple times.

Finally, DVD-ROM drives are capable of reading CDs or DVDs. There are endless varieties of DVD-ROM drives, some of which are equipped with CD burning capabilities. For now though, let’s focus on CD drives.

How fast is fast?
Once you’ve decided which variety of CD drive is right for you, the next step is to decide what speed of drive you want to buy. CD drives’ speeds are measured by a number followed by an X. The X represents the original CD-ROM speed of 150 Kbps. Therefore, a 2X CD-ROM will transfer data at two times the speed of the original 150-Kbps drives, or at 300 Kbps. The higher the number, the faster the drive. Today, the standard speed for many CD-ROM drives is 52X.

Speed is measured a little bit differently on CDR and CD-RW drives. With these drives, you see multiple numbers, which may or may not be followed by an X. CDR drives use two numbers, such as 12X/10X. This means that the drive is capable of reading CDs at a speed of 12X and writing to CDR media at a maximum speed of 10X. CD-RW drives, on the other hand, use three numbers to represent their performance. A 16/10/40 drive writes to CDR media at 16X, writes data to CD-RW disks at 10X, and reads CDs at 40X. Because the number positions are different between CDR and CD-RW drives, be sure you understand which number is which when judging their speed.

Stay tuned
Now that we’ve covered CD-ROM basics, we need to look at CD-ROM installation. In my next article, I’ll cover the installation process, which is usually a snap.

Just enough knowledge to be dangerous?

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