How to Avoid the Top Five Disc-Burning Mistakes
Jon L. Jacobi
CD/DVD recorders and media are pretty mature and stable products at this point. But if you aren't careful, a bad burn could still happen--and leave you with only a bicycle reflector for your effort. Here are the five most common disc-burning errors, and how to avoid them.
1. You didn't verify: If there's a golden rule for burning discs, it's "Thou shalt verify." Using your burning software's verify (or validate) function to compare what has been written with what was read is your best hedge against nasty surprises down the road (see FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1: Find out right away whether your new CD or DVD burned successfully by verifying (or validating) the disc before you play it.
). The verify function won't increase your chances of burning a disc successfully, but it will let you know of a problem in time to burn another disc. Many a seemingly successful burn will bug out when you play it--not because the disc has gone bad, but because the burn was bad to begin with.
2. It's the wrong media: In a perfect world, choosing the right media wouldn't be an issue. But nothing is more frustrating or embarrassing than sitting down in front of Grandma's TV at the family reunion only to watch her DVD player choke miserably on the photo album you labored over so dutifully. The moral of the story? Select media that you know your player (or Grandma's) will support. In the case of DVDs, that means choosing from DVD±/RW or DVD-RAM.
If you buy bare, no-name blank media (CD or DVD), follow the golden rule above (verify!)--and prepare to run into the occasional bad disc. In my experience, DVD media tends to be a lot more reliable than CD media; but generally speaking, the lower a disc's cost, the better its chances of heading straight to the scrap heap.
3. You're going too fast: Nobody likes waiting around for a disc to burn. Unfortunately, going as fast as you can isn't always the best strategy. While I've rarely had problems burning rewritable CDs and DVDs, their recordable counterparts are a different story. Some CD-R and DVD-R discs burn at top speed correctly, but I've experienced blowouts with many others. Once you factor in the time you spend trying to determine what the problem is, you might be better off stepping your burn speed down a notch (see FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2: Move into the slow lane--use a setting below your burner's max to avoid wipeouts.
). And unless you're using a stopwatch, you'll never notice the difference between, say, 18X and 16X anyway.
More Common Disc-Burning Errors
4. The firmware's gone soft: With the intense pressure to get products out the door in a competitive market, your burner's firmware or software bundle may not have been exactly perfect when you bought it. Shocking, I know, but the point is that the firmware or software has almost certainly been updated (or soon will be), and if you're not happy with your burner's performance, you should avail yourself of those updates, which you'll find on the vendor's Web site. Still, there's a heap of truth to the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Updates all too often cause problems of their own. If your discs are burning fine, let your burner be. (Even drive vendors will tell you that.) But if your drive habitually stutters when you switch to a new brand of disc, for example, a firmware or software update will likely help.
5. You're cruisin' for a bruisin': Today's PCs are more than fast enough to juggle other tasks while burning discs. But as I hinted above, programmers sometimes have bad days, and software does crash--taking your nearly completed burn with it. You'll increase your chances for success if you minimize the number of apps running while you burn your discs. I'm not saying that you should avoid multitasking or burning in the background altogether, but I am saying that you ought to be careful. If you're down to your last disc and you have time for only one go, shut down all your other apps, set the disc to burning, get a cup of your favorite beverage, contemplate the universe for a few minutes--and don't mess with your computer until the job is finished.
PC World contributor Jon L. Jacobi says he can give you a great deal on shiny coasters.