DVD, CD Blu-ray Drive Diagnostic Flowchart
|Warning! You must unplug your ATX power supply from the wall before working inside the case.|
Copyright 2013 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
The optical drive troubleshooting for DVD, CD and Blu-ray is from my book,
"Computer Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts, Third Edition." The updates
this edition for optical drive failure and recording (separate flowchart)
include Blu-ray and some HDMI, HDCP issues.
CD and DVD Troubleshooting
Note that these steps correspond with decision points on the flowchart and are reached directly by clicking on the diamond symbols. The text below cannot be read sequentially.
The most basic and potentially most disastrous problem that can occur with an optical drive is a stuck tray. Will the tray eject when you press the eject button? Press it once, like a doorbell, and then move your finger away, or you may be sending it repeated open and close commands. The drive won't pop right open if it is actively playing a disc, and the operating system may be able to override the stop and open command. If you're trying to eject a music CD or DVD using Media Player software (clicking on a software eject button on the screen) and it doesn't work, try the manual button on the drive. If this is a newly installed drive, make sure you used the short screws shipped with the drive and not longer screws which can jam the mechanism. If there's a disc in the drive that can no longer be read, make sure the power supply lead is still seated in the socket on the back of the drive.
Shut down, restart, and try again. If the tray still doesn't eject, reboot again and note whether the BIOS registers the drive. Some brand name PCs don't report installed hardware on a boot screen, so you'll have to access CMOS Setup to check. If the BIOS doesn't register the drive, it may have dropped dead. Proceed to ATA Drive Failure if the BIOS no longer registers the drive.
Before you start tearing apart the machine, make sure that the tray isn't locked by software. The drawer will not eject while the drive is busy. If the operating system driver works properly, the hardware eject button will interrupt whatever software is controlling the drive. The easiest way to check if software is preventing a manual eject is to reboot the PC and hit the eject button before the operating system loads. You can also check the properties under the drive icon in Windows "My Computer." Some media player software may lock the hardware eject button, but you can eject using the software eject button on the player if everything is working.
Assuming the drive is still registered by the BIOS and seen by the operating system, you really do have a stuck disc. The next step is to look for a pinhole on the front of the CD or DVD drive. Power down the system and unplug the power cord, then straighten out a couple inches worth of paper clip, the heaviest gauge that will fit in the hole. Gently push the paper clip straight into the hole until you feel it depress the release mechanism. This will often cause the tray to pop out a fraction of an inch, other times you will have to pry it a little to get it started. Once you have enough tray sticking out to grab it with your fingers, you should be able to pull it out far enough to remove the disc. If the faceplate seems to be bulging as you pull, the disc is hung up on it, and the best thing to do is remove the drive from the PC and then remove the faceplate.
If you still can't get the tray to eject and you need to recover the disc, the only option is to disassemble the drive. The odds of the drive being repairable are low because ejection failures are due to a broken mechanism for which you are unlikely to find replacement parts at less than the cost of a new drive.
Does the drive cause the whole PC to tremble when it spins up? Is it noisy? Make sure that the drive is mounted with four screws, and level. High speed drives will vibrate like crazy if a disc is off balance, usually because the disc itself has some weighting problem. Aside from obvious physical flaws (like the dog or the kid took a bite out of the edge of the disc) a miss-applied label can create an unbalanced disc. Try ejecting and reinserting the disc. Don't keep running a drive that vibrates badly even if it plays discs. It could end up damaging the discs (discs have been known to shatter at high speeds) and it doesn't do the other components in your system any good to be vibrated, which can lead to connections working apart or worse. If the problem only occurs with some discs, you can blame the discs. Otherwise, purchase a new drive.
Does your problem involve recording DVDs, CDs or Blu-ray discs? If so, proceed to the Recording Problems flowchart. For a problem playing or booting a factory CD in a recorder, stay here. It's become increasingly difficult to tell factory pressed CDs from recorded CDs, due to the highly polished labels that can be easily printed for recorded CDs and DVDs. Factory produced discs are usually silver on the read surface, while recorded discs are often gold or green, or show two different tones of silver.
Does the drive read discs? When you mount a disc, be it software or music, does the drive acknowledge that a disc is present and let you view the contents? It doesn't matter (at this point) whether or not you can get through installing the software on the disc or playing the movie or music. The question is simply, can the drive see anything at all on the disc?
Is the problem with a Blu-ray drive? The Blu-ray standard has not caught on with PC manufacturers in a big way, and one of the results is that the software support is sketchy. When new operating systems and software appear, the drive may not only require a new driver, but also a firmware update from the drive manufacturer. Other than checking for a firmware update, the troubleshooting for Blu-ray drives follows the same path as that for DVD drives.
Does the drive play CDs but not DVDs or DVDs but not CDs? Can it play Blu-ray but not DVDs, or any other mix-and-match combination? The different generations of optical discs are read by different color lasers (different wavelengths of light) through different lenses. Manufacturers played some pretty clever tricks in making DVD drives backwards compatible with CDs using a single laser, but some designs include multiple lasers or mechanically swapped lenses. This means is it's possible for a laser failure or one dirty lens to lead to a drive that can play one generation of media and not another. Confirm this with multiple factory discs and try cleaning before replacing the drive.
Do you have Blu-ray and DVD drives installed? It's easy enough to mix up drives on a PC, and a DVD drive isn't going to going to have much luck reading a Blu-ray disc. A CD recorder along with a DVD player was a common two drive combination years ago, but the DVD may not be able to read CDs recorded just two inches away. Check the drive for compatibility logos, Blu-ray drives may not be fully backwards compatible. See Recording Problems if you're having trouble reading a recorded disc. Some ancient systems have both a CD ROM (reader) and a CDR (recorder).
Are you reading the right drive? If you have two physical drives, make sure the operating system is actually looking at the drive the disc has been placed in. Trust me, I've been fooled myself into opening up a machine by blind belief in the wrong drive letter, and just a couple months ago I was called in to look at a drive failure in a two drive system where the owner had labeled them incorrectly with stickers. Most drives have an activity LED that tells you when the drive is active. Make sure the activity LED is lighting up on the drive you put the disc in when you try to read it.
Does the drive read other discs? Try another factory disc if you've been having trouble with recorded discs. If the factory disc works, the issue is with the media or drive compatibility, and it's unlikely any tweaks will cure that. Clean the disc with a soft bit of flannel. The discs are plastic, so don't use solvents. Scratches can render a disc unreadable, including deep scratches on the label surface which cause distortions in the layer that is actually being read from the bottom. Try the disc in another reader before chucking it out, it could just have trouble with the device you were trying it in.
Have you run a lens cleaner disc? Laser lens cleaning discs are purpose built for cleaning optical drives. They cost around $10 through a retail store, cheaper if you buy them online through third parties. The discs clean the lenses by physical contact, running brushes over them as the drive spins the disc. A surprising number of reviewers on sites like Amazon report that a cleaning disc fixed their problem. Since the disc will be rotating at high speed in the drive, do not try to improve the process by adding isopropyl alcohol to the brushes, because the centrifugal effect will just splatter it on the electronics.
Can you listen to music CDs through your speakers? The following assumes that you can get operating system sounds to play from your speakers. If not, proceed to Sound Failure. First, make sure that the CD isn't muted in the software mixer panel. Next, if the drive is equipped with an audio jack on the front, stick in a cheap headphone (if you have one) and see if the CD is playing. In any case, if the CD is spinning and the time is advancing in whatever version of Media Player you have installed, the drive is actually playing the CD. New drives support DAE (Digital Audio Extraction) and some SATA drives don't support the old analog audio output at all. If you have a newer drive, check the DAE settings in the drive properties.
Older drives, both SATA and PATA (IDE), required an analog patch cord inside the case. The audio patch cord from the drive to the sound card or the sound port on the motherboard may not be connected, or the device volume could be turned down in a software mixer panel. The easy check for an incorrect audio patch cable (3 or 4 wires) connection without opening the PC is to try a multimedia disc, such as a game, because sound coded in the game software bypasses the direct D/A (Digital to Analog) conversion of music CDs. Note also that in two drive systems, the builder may only have patched the audio output of one of the drives through to the sound card.
If you can't play movies in your DVD that you can play on a television DVD player, the problem is usually with the software CODEC (COder/DECoder). Test the movie on a TV player first to make sure the disc is good. The media player you are using may display a specific error message, like telling you the screen properties must be set to a certain resolution and number of colors for a movie to play. Or, the player may report that it can't find a decoder (CODEC) to play the particular disc. Even if the movie worked last night, your media player may have received an automated update the next time you went online that rendered the installed CODEC obsolete.
If you search the Internet, you'll find plenty of people trying to sell you CODECs, but if you stay away from the advertisements, you should be able to find the updated version for free. You may also encounter new copy protection schemes that render some discs unplayable on your PC even though you aren't trying to copy them. The only solution for this again lays in software and Internet research for the specific failure. It may turn out that the only way to render your DVD player compatible with a new type of copy protection is to update the DVD drive firmware. If an update isn't available for your particular model, you can end up out of luck when it comes to playing discs from certain studios after a particular date.
Does your system refuse to boot bootable factory DVDs or CDs, like operating systems from the last fifteen years? Try setting the boot sequence in CMOS Setup to boot to the optical drive first. While this shouldn't really be necessary for new builds if the hard drive is uninitiated, it often fixes the problem. Some older high speed drives take too long to spin up and report to the BIOS that there's a bootable disc present. Sometimes you can get around this by opening and closing the tray, which should cause the drive to spin up, and hitting reset right after you've done so. With any luck, you'll get the timing right so that the BIOS checks for a bootable disc while the drive is still active. Make sure you test the boot disc in another PC, and if you are trying to get by with a recorded boot disc, at least test it in a different PC than the one where it was recorded.
If your drive reads data, plays movies and music, boots bootable discs, and doesn't vibrate or make noise, it's likely a PC performance problem is degrading the playback. Try ending other programs, and use the Widows performance monitor to see if your CPU and memory usage are swamped.
Does the drive fail to show up in My Computer on your desktop, or is it flagged with an error in Device Manager? The first step is to reinstall the driver. Delete the drive in Device Manager, reboot, and let Windows reinstall it. If you can boot an operating system disc in the drive, but the drive doesn't appear in Device Manager, the drive is being handled properly by the BIOS but not Windows. Make sure your virus software is functioning and download and run the latest comprehensive malware checker with good ratings since some malware interferes with the optical drive. Check if there's a firmware update for the drive itself on the manufacturer's website.
If you're using a newer SATA DVD recorder/player or a Blu-ray, there aren't any jumpers to set or cable sharing issues. If it's a new build, make sure that you don't have the data cable attached to a dedicated SATA RAID controller. But the safest way to determine if there's a problem with your SATA cable, or a compatibility issue with the BIOS, is to try the drive in another PC, or mount it in a powered 5.25" USB shell and connect it externally.
If you are using an old IDE drive, it could have a simple cabling problem or Master/Slave conflict. If the drive is the Slave on primary IDE controller with the hard drive, move it to the secondary IDE controller as the Master (requires another IDE ribbon cable). If you already have another device installed as the secondary Master, try the drive as the secondary Slave or temporarily replace the Master for the sake of seeing if it works.
Did the drive test out as working when you tried it in an external USB shell or in another PC? If so, the problem is either with your motherboard controller and drivers, or a hardware incompatibility.
If the drive fails to work in another PC or running in an external USB cage, the hardware is at fault. Before replacing the drive, you can take it apart and try manually cleaning the laser lens with a Q-tip and some isopropyl alcohol. It usually means removing the bottom surface of the drive, followed by the wrap-around shell, and then removing a circuit board to gain access. Be careful with any ribbon cables, since they aren't made for rough handling. You can find many decent video tutorials for this on YouTube.