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How CD Burners Work

In 2000, one of the biggest news stories was the rise of Napster and similar file-sharing programs With these programs, !ou "ould get an #$% &ersion of 'ust about an! song !ou want without shelling out a dime (he re"ord "ompanies were fairl! upset o&er this turn of e&ents, and understandabl! so) (he! weren*t making an! mone! off the distribution of their produ"t to millions of people

An external writable CD drive, also called a CD burner: With this type of drive, you can take music or data files from your computer and make your own CDs.

But there was mone! to be made on the +Napster re&olution,+ as ele"troni"s manufa"turers and retailers soon dis"o&ered In ,---, 2000 and earl! 200,, sales of CD burners and blank CD-.e"ordable dis"s sk!ro"keted /uddenl! it was feasible for the a&erage person to gather songs and make their own CDs, and musi"-mi0 makers e&er!where wanted to get their hands on the means of produ"tion (oda!, writable CD dri&es 1CD burners2 are standard e3uipment in new $Cs, and more and more audio enthusiasts are adding separate CD burners to their stereo s!stems In less than fi&e !ears, CDs ha&e e"lipsed "assette tapes as the mi0 medium of "hoi"e In this arti"le, !ou*ll find out how CD burners en"ode songs and other information onto blank dis"s We*ll also look at CD re-writable te"hnolog!, see how the data files are put together and find out how !ou "an make !our own musi" mi0es with a CD burner

A CD has a long, spiraled data track. $f you were to unwind this track, it would extend out .! miles %! km&.

CD Basi"s) (he Bumps


If !ou*&e read How CDs Work, !ou understand the basi" idea of CD te"hnolog! CDs store musi" and other files in digital form -- that is, the information on the dis" is represented b! a series of ,s and 0s 1see How 4nalog and Digital .e"ording Works for more information2 In "on&entional CDs, these ,s and 0s are represented b! millions of tin! bumps and flat areas on the dis"*s refle"ti&e surfa"e (he bumps and flats are arranged in a "ontinuous tra"k that measures about 0 5 mi"rons 1millionths of a meter2 a"ross and .! miles 15 km2 long (o read this information, the CD pla!er passes a laser beam o&er the tra"k When the laser passes o&er a flat area in the tra"k, the beam is refle"ted dire"tl! to an optical sensor on the laser assembl! (he CD pla!er interprets this as a " When the beam passes o&er a bump, the light is boun"ed awa! from the opti"al sensor (he CD pla!er re"ogni6es this as a #

A CD player guides a small laser along the CD's data track. $n conventional CDs, the flat areas, or lands, reflect the light back to the laser assembly( the bumps deflect the light so it does not bounce back.

CD Basi"s) (he $ath


(he bumps are arranged in a spiral path, starting at the "enter of the dis" (he CD pla!er spins the dis" while the laser assembl! mo&es outward from the "enter of the CD 4t a stead! speed, the bumps mo&e past an! point at the outer edge of the CD more rapidl! than the! mo&e past an! point nearer the CD*s "enter In order to keep the bumps mo&ing past the laser at a constant rate, the pla!er must slow the spinning speed of the dis" as the laser assembl! mo&es outward

)he CD player spins the disc while moving the laser assembly outward from the middle. )o keep the laser scanning the data track at a constant speed, the player must slow the disc as the assembly moves outward.

4t its heart, this is all there is to a CD pla!er (he e0e"ution of this idea is fairl! "ompli"ated, be"ause the pattern of the spiral must be en"oded and read with in"redible pre"ision, but the basi" pro"ess is prett! simple In the ne0t se"tion, !ou*ll find out how data is re"orded on CDs, both b! professional e3uipment and the home CD burner

.eading CDs
In the last se"tion, we saw that "on&entional CDs store digital data as a pattern of bumps and flat areas, arranged in a long spiral tra"k (he CD fabri"ation ma"hine uses a high-

powered laser to et"h the bump pattern into photoresist material "oated onto a glass plate (hrough an elaborate imprinting pro"ess, this pattern is pressed onto a"r!li" dis"s (he dis"s are then "oated with aluminum 1or another metal2 to "reate the readable refle"ti&e surfa"e 7inall!, the dis" is "oated with a transparent plastic layer that protects the refle"ti&e metal from ni"ks, s"rat"hes and debris

)he different layers of a conventional CD

4s !ou "an see, this is a fairl! "omple0, deli"ate operation, in&ol&ing man! steps and se&eral different materials 8ike most "omple0 manufa"turing pro"esses 1from newspaper printing to tele&ision assembl!2, "on&entional CD manufa"turing isn*t pra"ti"al for home use It*s onl! feasible for manufa"turers who produ"e hundreds, thousands or millions of CD "opies Conse3uentl!, "on&entional CDs ha&e remained a +read only+ storage medium for the a&erage "onsumer, like 8$s or "on&entional D9Ds (o audiophiles a""ustomed to re"ordable "assettes, as well as "omputer users who were fed up with the limited memor! "apa"it! of flopp! disks, this limitation seemed like a ma'or drawba"k of CD te"hnolog! In the earl! *-0s, more and more "onsumers and professionals were looking for a wa! to make their own CD-3ualit! digital re"ordings

Writing CDs
In response to this demand, ele"troni"s manufa"turers introdu"ed an alternati&e sort of CD that "ould be en"oded in a few eas! steps CD*recordable discs, or CD*+s, don*t ha&e an! bumps or flat areas at all Instead, the! ha&e a smooth refle"ti&e metal la!er, whi"h rests on top of a la!er of photosensitive dye When the dis" is blank, the d!e is translucent) 8ight "an shine through and refle"t off the metal surfa"e But when !ou heat the d!e la!er with "on"entrated light of a parti"ular fre3uen"! and intensit!, the d!e turns opa,ue) It darkens to the point that light "an*t pass through

A CD*+ doesn't have the same bumps and lands as a conventional CD. $nstead, the disc has a dye layer underneath a smooth, reflective surface. -n a blank CD*+ disc, the dye layer is completely translucent, so all light reflects. )he write laser darkens the spots where the bumps would be in a conventional CD, forming non*reflecting areas. B! sele"ti&el! darkening parti"ular points along the CD tra"k, and lea&ing other areas of d!e translu"ent, !ou "an "reate a digital pattern that a standard CD pla!er "an read (he light from the pla!er*s laser beam will onl! boun"e ba"k to the sensor when the d!e is left translu"ent, in the same wa! that it will onl! boun"e ba"k from the flat areas of a "on&entional CD /o, e&en though the CD-. dis" doesn*t ha&e an! bumps pressed into it at all, it beha&es 'ust like a standard dis" 4 CD burner*s 'ob, of "ourse, is to +burn+ the digital pattern onto a blank CD In the ne0t se"tion, we*ll look inside a burner to see how it a""omplishes this task

Burning CDs) 8aser 4ssembl!


In the last se"tion, we saw that CD burners darken mi"ros"opi" areas of CD-. dis"s to re"ord a digital pattern of refle"ti&e and non-refle"ti&e areas that "an be read b! a standard CD pla!er /in"e the data must be a""uratel! en"oded on su"h a small s"ale, the burning s!stem must be e0tremel! pre"ise /till, the basi" pro"ess at work is 3uite simple (he CD burner has a mo&ing laser assembl!, 'ust like an ordinar! CD pla!er But in addition to the standard +read laser,+ it has a +write laser + (he write laser is more powerful than the read laser, so it intera"ts with the dis" differentl!) It alters the surface instead of 'ust boun"ing light off it .ead lasers are not intense enough to darken the d!e material, so simpl! pla!ing a CD-. in a CD dri&e will not destro! an! en"oded information

)he laser assembly inside a CD burner

:n the ne0t page, !ou*ll find out how this write laser operates

Burning CDs) Write 8aser


(he write laser mo&es in e0a"tl! the same wa! as the read laser) It mo&es outward while the dis" spins (he bottom plasti" la!er has groo&es pre-pressed into it, to guide the laser along the "orre"t path B! "alibrating the rate of spin with the mo&ement of the laser assembl!, the burner keeps the laser running along the tra"k at a "onstant rate of speed (o record the data, the burner simpl! turns the laser writer on and off in s!n"h with the pattern of ,s and 0s (he laser darkens the material to encode a # and lea&es it translucent to encode a "

)he machinery in a CD burner looks pretty much the same as the machinery in any CD player. )here is a mechanism that spins the

disc and another mechanism that slides the laser assembly.

#ost CD burners "an "reate CDs at multiple speeds 4t ,0 speed, the CD spins at about the same rate as it does when the pla!er is reading it (his means it would take !ou about ;0 minutes to re"ord ;0 minutes of musi" 4t 20 speed, it would take !ou about half an hour to re"ord ;0 minutes, and so on 7or faster burning speeds, !ou need more ad&an"ed laser"ontrol s!stems and a faster "onne"tion between the "omputer and the burner <ou also need a blank dis" that is designed to re"ord information at this speed (he main ad&antage of CD-. dis"s is that the! work in almost all CD pla!ers and CD-.:#/, whi"h are among the most pre&alent media pla!ers toda! In addition to this wide compatibility, CD-.s are relati&el! inexpensive (he main drawba"k of the format is that !ou "an*t reuse the dis"s :n"e !ou*&e burned in the digital pattern, it "an*t be erased and re-written In the mid *-0s, ele"troni"s manufa"turers introdu"ed a new CD format that addressed this problem In the ne0t se"tion, we*ll look at these CD*rewritable dis"s, "ommonl! "alled CD*+Ws, to see how the! differ from standard CD-. dis"s

=rasing CDs
In the last se"tion, we looked at the most pre&alent writable CD te"hnolog!, CD-. CD-. dis"s hold a lot of data, work with most CD pla!ers and are fairl! ine0pensi&e But unlike tapes, flopp! disks and man! other data-storage mediums, !ou "annot re-re"ord on CD-. dis" on"e !ou*&e filled it up CD*+W discs ha&e taken the idea of writable CDs a step further, building in an erase function so !ou "an re"ord o&er old data !ou don*t need an!more (hese dis"s are based on phase*change technology In CD-.W dis"s, the phase-"hange element is a "hemi"al "ompound of sil&er, antimon!, tellurium and indium 4s with an! ph!si"al material, !ou "an "hange this "ompound*s form b! heating it to "ertain temperatures When the "ompound is heated abo&e its melting temperature 1around ;00 degrees Celsius2, it be"omes a li3uid> at its crystalli.ation temperature 1around 200 degrees Celsius2, it turns into a solid

$n a CD*+W disc, the reflecting lands and non*reflecting bumps of a conventional CD are represented by phase shifts in a special compound. When the compound is in a crystalline state, it is translucent, so light can shine through to the metal layer above and reflect back to the laser assembly. When the compound is melted into an amorphous state, it becomes opa,ue, making the area non*reflective.

$hase-"hange Compounds
In phase*change compounds, these shifts in form "an be +lo"ked into pla"e+) (he! persist e&en after the material "ools down again If !ou heat the "ompound in CD-.W dis"s to the melting temperature and let it "ool rapidl!, it will remain in a fluid, amorphous state, e&en though it is below the "r!stalli6ation temperature In order to "r!stalli6e the "ompound, !ou ha&e to keep it at the "r!stalli6ation temperature for a "ertain length of time so that it turns into a solid before it "ools down again In the "ompound used in CD-.W dis"s, the "r!stalline form is translu"ent while the amorphous fluid form will absorb most light :n a new, blank CD, all of the material in the writable area is in the "r!stalline form, so light will shine through this la!er to the refle"ti&e metal abo&e and boun"e ba"k to the light sensor (o en"ode information on the dis", the CD burner uses its write laser, whi"h is powerful enough to heat the "ompound to its melting temperature (hese +melted+ spots ser&e the same purpose as the bumps on a "on&entional CD and the opa3ue spots on a CD-.) (he! blo"k the +read+ laser so it won*t refle"t off the metal la!er =a"h non*reflective area indi"ates a 0 in the digital "ode =&er! spot that remains "r!stalline is still reflective, indi"ating a ,

(he =rase 8aser


4s with CD-.s, the read laser does not ha&e enough power to "hange the state of the material in the re"ording la!er -- it*s a lot weaker than the write laser (he erase laser falls somewhere in between) While it isn*t strong enough to melt the material, it does ha&e the ne"essar! intensit! to heat the material to the "r!stalli6ation point B! holding the material at this temperature, the erase laser restores the "ompound to its "r!stalline state, effe"ti&el! erasing the en"oded 0 (his "lears the dis" so new data "an be en"oded

CD-.W dis"s do not refle"t as mu"h light as older CD formats, so the! "annot be read b! most older CD pla!ers and CD-.:# dri&es /ome newer dri&es and pla!ers, in"luding all CD-.W writers, "an ad'ust the read laser to work with different CD formats But sin"e CD.Ws will not work on man! CD pla!ers, these are not a good "hoi"e for musi" CDs 7or the most part, the! are used as back*up storage devices for "omputer files 4s we*&e seen, the refle"ti&e and non-refle"ti&e patterns on a CD are in"redibl! small, and the! are burned and read &er! 3ui"kl! with a speeding laser beam In this s!stem, the "han"es of a data error are fairl! high In the ne0t se"tion, we*ll look at some of the wa!s that CD burners "ompensate for &arious en"oding problems CD 7ormats In the pre&ious se"tions, we looked at the basi" idea of CD and CD-burner te"hnolog! ?sing pre"ise lasers or metal molds, !ou "an mark a pattern of more-refle"ti&e areas and lessrefle"ti&e areas that represent a se3uen"e of ,s and 0s (he s!stem is so basi" that !ou "an en"ode 'ust about an! sort of digital information (here is no inherent limitation on what kind of mark pattern !ou put down on the dis" But in order to make the information accessible to another CD dri&e 1or pla!er2, it has to be en"oded in an understandable form (he established form for musi" CDs, "alled $/- 011#, was the foundation for later CD formats (his format was spe"ifi"all! designed to minimi.e the effect of data errors

$hoto "ourtes! <amaha =le"troni"s Corporation

)he 2amaha CD+*D1!", a dual*tray stereo*component burner: With this burner, you take music tracks directly off of another CD, instead of from your hard drive. 3urners like this are usually fast and accurate, but typically can only be used to create music CDs.

(his is a""omplished b! "arefull! arranging the re"orded data and mi0ing it with a lot of e0tra digital information :n the ne0t page, !ou*ll learn about the e0tra information en"oded on a burned CD

(railer (ra"k CD-.s and CD-.Ws ha&e a "omponent that ordinar! musi" CDs do not ha&e -- an e0tra bit of tra"k at the beginning of the CD, before time .ero 100)002, whi"h is the starting point re"ogni6ed b! CD pla!ers (his additional tra"k spa"e in"ludes the power memory area 1$#42 and the power calibration area 1$C42 (he $#4 stores a temporar! table of "ontents for the indi&idual pa"kets on a dis" that has been onl! partiall! re"orded When !ou "omplete the dis", the burner uses this information to "reate the final table of "ontents (he $C4 is a sort of testing ground for the CD burner In order to ensure that the write laser is set at the right le&el, the burner will make a series of test marks along the $C4 se"tion of tra"k (he burner will then read o&er these marks, "he"king for the intensit! of refle"tion in marked areas as "ompared to unmarked areas Based on this information, the burner determines the optimum laser setting for writing onto the dis"

=n"oding Data
(here are a number of important aspe"ts in&ol&ed in making a CD readable to a CD pla!er)

(he CD tra"k is marked with a sort of timecode, whi"h tells the CD pla!er what part of the dis" it is reading at an! parti"ular time Dis"s are also en"oded with a table of contents, lo"ated at the beginning of the tra"k 1the "enter of the dis"2, whi"h tells the pla!er where parti"ular songs 1or files2 are written onto the dis" (he data tra"k is broken up b! e0tra filler, so there are no long strings of ,s or 0s Without fre3uent shifts from , to 0, there would be large se"tions without a "hanging pattern of refle"ti&it! (his "ould "ause the read laser to +lose its pla"e+ on the dis" (he filler data breaks up these large se"tions =0tra data bits are in"luded to help the pla!er re"ogni6e and fi0 a mistake If the read laser misreads a single bit, the pla!er is able to "orre"t the problem using the additional en"oded data .e"orded information is not en"oded se3uentiall!> it is interlaced in a set pattern (his redu"es the risk of losing whole se"tions of data If a s"rat"h or pie"e of debris makes a part of the tra"k unreadable, it will damage separate bits of data from different parts of the song or file, instead of eliminating an entire segment of information /in"e onl! small pie"es of ea"h file segment are unreadable, it*s easier for the CD pla!er to "orre"t the problem or re"o&er from it

(he a"tual arrangement of information on musi" CDs is in"redibl! "omple0 4nd CD-.:#/ -- "ompa"t dis"s that "ontain "omputer files rather than song tra"ks -- ha&e e&en more e0tensi&e error-"orre"tion s!stems (his is be"ause an error in a "omputer file "ould "orrupt an entire program, while a small un"orre"ted error on a musi" CD onl! means a bit of fu66 or a skipping noise If !ou are interested in the &arious wa!s that data is arranged on different t!pes of CDs, "he"k out 4udio Compa"t Dis" - Writing and .eading the Data With some writable CD formats, !ou ha&e to prepare all of the information before !ou begin burning (his limitation is built into the original format of CDs as well as the ph!si"al design of the dis" itself 4fter all, the long tra"k forms one "ontinuous, "onne"ted string of ,s and 0s, and it*s diffi"ult to break this up into separate se"tions With newer dis" formats, !ou "an re"ord files one +packet+ at a time, adding the table of "ontents and other unif!ing stru"tures on"e !ou*&e filled up the dis" CD burners are an ama6ing pie"e of te"hnolog!, and the inner workings are "ertainl! fas"inating But to the t!pi"al "omputer user, the most "ompelling aspe"t of burners is what !ou "an do with them In the ne0t se"tion, we*ll find out how !ou "an put all of this te"hnolog! to work and make !our own musi" mi0

Creating <our :wn CDs) /oftware


While CD-.s "an store all sorts of digital information, the most widespread appli"ation these da!s is making music*mix CDs with a "omputer If !ou*re new to the world of CD burners, this "an seem like a daunting task But it*s a"tuall! &er! simple, on"e !ou ha&e the right software and know the general pro"edure If !ou ha&e alread! hooked up !our CD burner, the first step in making a CD is loading the software !ou need (his musi"-management software ser&es se&eral fun"tions)

It "on&erts songs to the "orre"t format for burning It allows !ou to arrange the songs for !our mi0 It "ontrols the en"oding pro"ess for writing to the CD

(hese da!s, most burners are pa"kaged with one or more musi" programs, but !ou "an also bu! programs or download them o&er the Internet <ou ma! need separate media appli"ations to handle different elements in the pro"ess, but there are some good programs that handle e&er!thing 1see below2 Cli"k here to do a sear"h for software related to burning !our own CDs

Creating <our :wn CDs) #usi"


When !ou ha&e all of the software !ou need, it*s time to gather some songs <ou ma! want to take songs dire"tl! from !our CD "olle"tion (o do this, !ou need to + rip+ the songs -- "op! them from !our CD to !our "omputer*s hard dri&e <ou*ll need an e0tra"tion program to do this (o "op! a parti"ular tra"k, insert the CD into !our built-in CD-.:# dri&e 1or the CDburner itself2 and sele"t the song !ou want through the e0tra"tion program =ssentiall!, the program will pla! the song and re*record it into a usable data format It*s legal to make "opies of songs !ou own, as long as the CD is onl! for !our personal use <ou "an also gather #$%s o&er the Internet <ou "an download #$%s from pa!-for-musi" sites or with file-sharing programs /ome #$%s are free, and "an be legall! downloaded and

"opied onto a CD #ost are illegal "opies, howe&er, and it is a "op!right &iolation to download them and burn them onto a CD (o sear"h for #$%-related Web sites, "li"k here #$%s are compressed files, and !ou must e0pand 1decode2 them in order to burn them onto a CD /tandard musi"-management programs "an de"ode these files If !ou don*t ha&e the right software, there are a number of de"oding programs that !ou "an download o&er the Internet :n"e !ou*&e gathered the songs, !ou "an use !our musi" manager to arrange them in the order !ou want @eep in mind that !ou ha&e a limited amount of dis" spa"e to work with CD.s ha&e &ar!ing capacities, measured in both megab!tes and minutes (hese da!s, most CD-.s are either AB minutes or C0 minutes long Before !ou mo&e on to burning !our CD, !ou should make sure that !our mi0 isn*t too long for the blank dis"

Creating <our :wn CDs) Burning


:n"e the mi0 is "omplete and !ou ha&e sa&ed it, all !ou need to do is insert a blank CD-. dis" into the burner and "hoose the +burn+ or +write+ option in !our musi"-management software Be sure to sele"t +music CD+ rather than +data CD,+ or !ou won*t be able to pla! the dis" on ordinar! CD pla!ers <ou*ll also need to "hoose the speed at whi"h !ou want to burn the dis" (!pi"all!, a slower speed redu"es the "han"e of a ma'or error during the writing pro"ess 4 lot of things "an go wrong when !ou*re burning a CD, so don*t be surprised if some of them don*t "ome out right /in"e CD-.s "an not be o&erwritten, an! irre&ersible mistake means !ou*ll ha&e to 'unk the whole dis" 4mong the CD-burning set, this is "alled + making a coaster,+ as that*s prett! mu"h all !ou "an do with the damaged CD If !ou "ontinuall! ha&e problems burning CDs, !our dri&e ma! be defe"ti&e or !our musi"management program ma! be fault! Before !ou return !our burner, tr! out some other programs and see if the! !ield better results (o make a CD*+-4, !ou*ll go through a similar pro"ess -- but !ou*ll "ode the dis" as a data CD, not a musi" CD /ome newer CD pla!ers and D9D pla!ers "an read untranslated #$% data files, and !ou ma! be able to make CD-.:# musi" mi0es this wa! /in"e #$%s are "ompressed files, !ou "an fit a lot more of them on a single dis", whi"h means !ou "an make a longer mi0 (he drawba"k, of "ourse, is that !our dis" won*t work in the &ast ma'orit! of CD pla!ers CD burners ha&e opened up a whole new world to the a&erage "omputer user <ou "an re"ord musi" that will run in most an!bod!*s CD pla!er, or !ou "an put together CD-.:#s "ontaining photos, Web pages or mo&ies With a pie"e of e3uipment about the si6e of a "ar stereo, and about the pri"e of a "heap bi"!"le, !ou "an set up !our own multimedia produ"tion "ompan!D