DVD and CD Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts
Warning! You must unplug your ATX power supply from the wall before working inside the case.
Copyright 2009 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
The 2nd edition of the eBook can downloaded anywhere in the world for $9.95 or the new 3rd edition of the book can ordered from Amazon for $17.00, or from Amazon UK for £13.95 or through any retail store by the title "Computer Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts Third Edition" or ISBN which is: 0-9723801-8-3.
CD-ROM 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 a CD or DVD 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 registered 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 easiest way to check is to reboot the PC and hit the eject button before the operating system loads, but you can also check the properties under the drive icon in Windows "My Computer." If the drive LED shows that it's trying to read a disc, and the eject button doesn't interrupt the task, it won't be able to eject either. Some player software may lock the eject button in hardware, but you can eject using the software eject button on the player.
Assuming the drive is still registered by the BIOS and 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 sometime 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. 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. .
Does the drive cause the whole PC to tremble when it spins up? Is it noisy? Make sure that the drive, if internal, 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. I wouldn't keep running a drive that vibrates badly. 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, I'd look into a new drive.
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. Newer 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, 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 incorrect audio patch cable (3 or 4 wires) connection without opening the PC is to try a multimedia disc, such as a game. 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 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 use Google and stay away from the advertisements, you should be able to get 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 certain discs from certain studios after a particular date.
Does your problem involve recording CDs or DVDs? If so, proceed to CD/DVD Recording Problems. For a problem 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.
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 read all of the information. The question is simply, can the drive see anything at all on the disc?
Does your system refuse to boot known good boot CDs, like operating systems from Windows 98 on up? Try setting the boot sequence in CMOS Setup to boot to the CD or DVD first. This shouldn't really be necessary if the hard drive is uninitiated, but I've seen it fix the problem. I've also seen some high speed drives which 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 CD while the drive is still active.
Do you have CD and DVD drives installed? It's easy enough to mix up drives on a PC, and a CD drive isn't going to going to have much luck reading a DVD. 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. See Recording Problems if you're having trouble reading a recorded disc. Some older 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 CD or DVD has been placed in. Trust me, I've been fooled myself into opening up a machine by blind belief in the wrong drive letter. 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. See the new illustrated guide for how to install a CD drive.
Does the drive read other discs? Try another disc, a factory CD in CD ROMs or CDRs or a factory DVD in DVD ROMs or DVDRs. If it works, the problem is with the media and not the drive. Make sure the disc you can't read is the right type for the drive your are trying it in, ie, CD, DVD, CDR, DVDR, noting that many of the recordable discs won't be readable in other players. Clean the disc with a soft bit of flannel. The discs are plastics, so don't use solvents. Scratches can render a disc unreadable, including scratches on the surface (label), 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.
Does the drive show up in the operating system, on your desktop or in Device Manager in Windows operating systems? If not, the first step is to reinstall the driver. Get the latest driver from the manufacturer's website and install it. If you can boot an OS CD in the drive, but the drive has disappeared from Device Manager, try reinstalling the OS. Check if there's a firmware update for the drive itself, though flashing a drive, just like flashing a motherboard BIOS, should be a last resort. Even though the BIOS registers the drive's presence, you can still try swapping the ribbon cable. The laser lens in the drive could be incredibly dirty, so if you can find an inexpensive cleaning kit, it's worth a try.
If you're using a newer SATA DVD recorder/player, 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 an external USB shell and connect it externally.
You 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.
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