Over the last couple of years, CD recording has become as commonplace as writing data to a floppy disk. And while Microsoft has made CD burning easier with Windows XP’s built-in CD recording capabilities, there are still areas where things can go wrong. Here are a few common CD recording failures I’ve identified when using XP and how you can prevent or fix them.

Recording a CD in Windows XP

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Windows XP CD recording interface, click here to read about how it works.


Troubleshooting the recording process
There are many things that can go wrong and prevent a user from being able to record a CD in XP. In the sections that follow, I’ll discuss several areas where the process can fail and ways to correct the problem.

Is the drive connected?
Check the obvious first: Verify that the recordable CD drive is hooked up properly. The data, power, and audio cables must be attached to the drive to be able to properly burn CDs. Fortunately, you can test the drive without having to disassemble the computer. Begin by inserting a standard data CD into the recordable CD drive. If the system can read the CD, you can be sure the power and data cables are attached properly. Next, insert an audio CD and try to play it. If the CD plays and you can hear the sound, the audio cable is connected correctly.

Incompatible hardware
After you’ve verified that the drive itself can read and play, you should next make sure the drive is compatible with Windows XP. Unfortunately, CD-R and CD-RW drives aren’t standardized. The best comparison would be to a video card. If you plug any video card into a PC, the card will support standard 640 x 480 VGA. However, if you want to use higher resolution and Windows doesn’t have a built-in driver, you’ll have to supply your own driver. Recordable CD drives work very similarly. When you attach a recordable CD drive to your system, Windows will be able to read data from the drive but won’t be able to write data to the drive unless there’s a built-in driver or you supply a third-party driver. You can find out which CD recordable drives are natively supported by XP by checking out Microsoft’s Hardware compatibility list.

You can also tell whether or not Windows supports the recordable CD drive by viewing the drive’s properties sheet. If there’s no Recording tab on the properties sheet, Windows doesn’t recognize the drive’s recording capabilities. If this is the case, go to the Hardware tab (see in Figure A) to view a list of all storage devices found in the system. You can then select the drive and click the Troubleshoot button to launch the Troubleshooting wizard.

Figure A
Launch the Troubleshooting wizard from the Hardware tab on the drive’s properties sheet.

If you’d rather, you can manually troubleshoot the compatibility problem two ways. First, go to the recordable CD drive’s manufacturer’s Web site and download the latest Windows XP driver for the drive. If no Windows XP driver exists, you can usually use a Windows 2000 driver.

After downloading the driver, open Control Panel, click the Performance And Maintenance link, and then click the System link to see the System Properties sheet. Next, select the Hardware tab and click the Device Manager button. When the Device Manager opens, navigate through the hardware tree and locate the recordable CD drive. Right-click the listing for the drive and select Update Driver from the menu, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
Updating the recordable CD drive’s driver often allows Windows to recognize the drive.

Updating the driver should make Windows recognize the recordable CD drive. According to Microsoft, however, there are times when Windows may be able to recognize a recordable CD drive but still can’t write to it because of other incompatibility issues. In this case, Microsoft recommends downloading a firmware update for the drive.

Data-underflow errors
The next most common problem is a data-underflow error, which occurs when the computer can’t send data to the recordable CD drive fast enough to keep up with the recording process. To prevent a data-underflow error, first open the drive’s properties sheet, and select the Recording tab. This tab contains a drop-down list from which you can select the recording speed. Higher recording speeds get the job done faster but can result in data-underflow errors. By default, the recording speed is set to Fastest. So, if you’re having data-underflow problems, you might experiment with lower speeds.

Sometimes, reducing the burn speed isn’t enough. There are other factors that may prevent your computer from keeping pace with the recordable CD drive. You might have noticed in Figure B that you can select which drive is used for staging the data that’s waiting to be burned to a CD. If the drive is badly fragmented or in use by another application or the OS, the hard drive may not be able to supply data to the recordable CD drive quickly enough.

I recommend selecting a hard drive other than the one on which the Windows XP OS is stored. You should also verify that Windows isn’t configured to use the drive as a storage point for virtual memory. Otherwise, large writes to the hard drive could disrupt the burn process. You can see which partitions are used for virtual memory by opening the System Properties sheet and looking at the Advanced tab. Click the Settings button in the Advanced tab’s Performance section to view the Performance Options properties sheet. From there, go to the Advanced tab and click the Change button to view the virtual memory settings.

A slow hard drive might also be what’s holding things up. While upgrading to a faster hard drive is preferable, it may not always be an option. If the user’s hard drive is slowing things down, make sure the hard drive and the recordable CD drive use separate IDE controllers. By doing so, you can avoid the slow down that occurs when a single controller has to service multiple devices simultaneously.

Disk-space errors
Your user’s staging drive could run out of hard disk space during a recording session. Windows requires the staging drive to have approximately double the amount of space as is occupied by the files you’re recording. For example, if you were burning a 1 MB file to a CD, Windows would require the staging drive to have just over 2 MB free. Microsoft recommends always making sure that the staging drive has at least 1.3 GB free. This will allow you to burn an entire CD without having to worry about running out of disk space.

Don’t forget
Suppose your user tried to record a CD and had a data-underflow error. If after making the necessary corrections you tried the process again using the same CD, the recording process would fail because the CD would already contain a partial burn. Another really simple cause of a recording failure is the Enable CD Recording On This Drive check box isn’t selected.

Windows XP’s built-in CD recording interface has taken out the third-party software problems that plague CD burning failures, making it somewhat easier to troubleshoot problems. However, there are several factors that could still cause a CD recording session to fail. So use the list of techniques I’ve supplied to find the root of the failure and fix it quickly.