Windows XP CD Burning Secrets

Published: September 16, 2003
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Want to see evolution in action? Consider the floppy disk, which is now on the endangered species list, a victim of the larger, stronger, much more useful recordable CD. A single blank CD holds 650 MB or more (equivalent to more than 400 floppy disks), and you can use the CD format to store data and music for playback on all sorts of devices. Now that Windows XP includes built-in support for CD burning, a CD-R or CD-RW drive is an essential part of any PC, and the venerable floppy disk is passι.

In this column, I share some of my favorite tips, tricks, and secrets for getting the most out of your CD burner, including some not-so-intuitive troubleshooting tips and a checklist to help you decide when it's time to switch to a third-party CD burning program.

I assume you've already mastered the basics of CD burning in Windows XP. If you need a refresher course on burning data CDs, read Galan Bridgman's CD Burning Becomes Routine and Focus On: CD Burning and Windows XP. For instructions on how to create custom audio CDs from your Windows Media Player music collection, see Copy, Burn, and Transfer Music and Video.

Fix a Balky Burner

If you have a compatible CD burner, you shouldn't need to do anything special to get it working under Windows XP Home Edition or Professional. The core code that makes CD recording possible is enabled automatically when you set up Windows XP. If you're unable to record a CD, start the troubleshooting process by checking to ensure that the feature is properly configured:

1. Open My Computer, right-click the CD Drive icon, and then click Properties.
2. Click the Recording tab to display the settings shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1

Figure 1

• If you don't see a Recording tab, then Windows XP doesn't recognize your CD burner's recording capabilities. Check the Windows Hardware Compatibility List to make sure your drive is on the list. If the drive is listed and you can play CDs, but no Recording tab is visible, you'll need to manually edit the Registry using the instructions in Knowledge Base article, CD-R Drive or CD-RW Drive Is Not Recognized as a Recordable Device.
• Make sure the Enable CD recording on this drive check box is selected. This setting turns on the built-in CD recording features included with Windows XP. The only reason to disable this feature is if you always prefer to use a third-party program and want to avoid any possible conflict between that program and Windows XP.
• Try a slower speed. Instead of choosing the Fastest setting, dial the burning speed back to 18X or even 8X. Your drive may be able to keep up with a less demanding pace.
• And of course, don't overlook the obvious. You do have a blank CD in the drive and the drive is properly connected, right?

If the drive is configured correctly but you end up with coasters instead of readable CDs, check to make sure you've installed Windows XP Service Pack 1. Problems in the original release of Windows XP resulted in problems with certain CD-R drives; these issues were fixed in SP1. For more information, see Knowledge Base article, Compact Disc Recorded in Windows XP Is Missing Files or Folders or Is Unreadable.

Tweak Performance

Select a drive where you want Windows XP to store images of files you're getting ready to burn to CD. If you have multiple drives, select the one that has the most free space. In the CD Drive Properties dialog box, choose an available drive letter. If you have only a single drive C, of course, that's your only option. But on a computer with multiple drives, you can significantly speed up performance by choosing a drive letter other than your system drive.

Don't underestimate the amount of disk space you'll need, either. When you drag files into the CD folder in preparation for burning a CD, you actually copy them to a temporary folder in your local profile. Then, when you begin the actual burning process, Windows creates a separate image file. If you've selected enough files to fill a CD to its full capacity, you'll need more than 1 GB of extra disk space.

Defragmenting the disk where that image is stored can have a major impact on performance as well. The burning process can encounter hiccups if your image file is scattered in fragments across a nearly-full disk. Defragmenting regularly lessens the likelihood that you'll encounter problems. For more information, see Maintain Your PC and How to Analyze and Defragment a Disk in Windows XP.

Do Audio CDs Right

When you use Windows Media Player to create CDs containing your favorite audio tracks, the default settings automatically add a 2-second gap between tracks. That's fine if you're making a mix of hit songs, but the effect is downright annoying when you're copying live tracks or movements in a classical piece, where the flow should be continuous.

Most third-party CD-burning programs include the capability to eliminate these gaps, but if you use Windows Media Player 9 Series, there's a better solution: Download the free Nero Fast CD-Burning Plug-in. After you install this free add-in:

• Select a group of tunes in Windows Media Player, click Copy to CD or Device, choose Nero Fast Burning Plug-in as the device, and then click Copy.

The plug-in (shown in Figure 2) lets you choose the fastest speed your drive is capable of, and the No pause between tracks option makes short work of the 2-second gaps.

Figure 2

Figure 2


As a bonus, the Nero plug-in burns audio CDs noticeably faster than Windows Media Player on its own—with the plug-in installed, I was able to burn a CD in a little over 3 minutes, compared to nearly 14 minutes without.

Know When to Upgrade

Using the built-in CD-writing features in Windows XP is convenient, but this no-frills solution isn't enough for some demanding jobs. If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, you should begin looking into a more capable third-party CD-burning program:

• Do you want to create exact duplicates of data or music CDs? Windows Media Player forces you to copy the CD's contents to your hard disk first.
• Do you need to create ISO image files? As the name suggest, these files are perfect copies of a CD, which you can store on hard disk and use to make additional copies of a CD later. Windows XP can't create or copy ISO images, although the unauthorized ISO Recorder Power Toy can add this capability to Windows XP.
• Are you planning to make bootable CDs? Do you need to use disc formats other than standard data and audio formats, such as CD extra or Super Video CD? You'll need a program like Roxio's Easy CD Creator or Ahead Software's Nero to handle these chores.
• Do you want to use your CD-R or CD-RW drive as a backup device, with the option to compress files on the fly and span backups across multiple CDs? The newly released Nero 6.0 includes a serviceable backup utility, or you can invest in a dedicated backup utility.
• Do you want to record onto blank DVD disks using a recordable DVD drive? Windows XP can read and play back DVDs, but it can't record them.

Oh, and one more thing—anyone know what I can do with a few hundred gently used floppy disks?

Expert Zone columnist Ed Bott is an award-winning computer journalist who's been working with Microsoft Windows for more than 15 years. His latest Microsoft Press books include Faster Smarter Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Windows XP Inside Out (with Carl Siechert and Craig Stinson).



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