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In terms of construction and basic components, CD-ROMs are rather similar in most regards to other
storage devices that use circular, spinning media. The main difference of course is the way the information
is recorded on the media, and the way that it is read from the media as well.


• Ease of use and durability of media.

• Random access capability as compared to tapes.
• High storage volumes.
• Data is not affected by electrical / magnetic fields,
• Does not require maintenance or special handling methods.
• Permanence of data is ideal for distribution of error free software as well as music, movies etc.


• Access is slower than hard discs.

• Presence of dirt on the R/W head or scratches on the media may affect efficiency.
• Normal CD-ROMs do not have write capability. CD-R and CD-RW have reduced portability than
normal CD-ROMs.

Construction and Working Principle

The compact discs consists of a polycarbonate substrate 120 mm in diameter and 1.2 mm in thickness.
The polycarbonate layer contains microscopic pits. Each pit is 100 nm in depth and 500 nm in width. The
space between two pits is called lands. The polycarbonate substrate is covered by reflective aluminum or
gold to increase reflectivity. The reflective surface is protected by a layer of lacquer to prevent oxidation.

The head is a lens--sometimes called a pickup-- that moves from the inside to the outside of the surface
of the CD-ROM disk, accessing different parts of the disk as it spins.
A beam of light energy is emitted from an infrared laser diode and aimed toward a reflecting mirror. The
mirror is part of the head assembly, which moves linearly along the surface of the disk.
The light reflects off the mirror and through a focusing lens, and shines onto a specific point on the disk.
A certain amount of light is reflected back from the disk. The amount of light reflected depends on which
part of the disk the beam strikes. When the laser hits a land, it reflects cleanly off the aluminum coating,
but when it hits a pit much of the light is diffused. The reflected light falls on a photodetector that can
sense the presence of a land or pit by the intensity of the light falling on it. As the disc spins the LASER
traverses from lands to pits many thousands per second. A transition from a land to a pit or pit to a land is
interpreted as a “1” . Absence of a transition is interpreted as a “0”.
Most of these components are fixed in place; only the head assembly containing the mirror and read lens
moves. This makes for a relatively simplified design. CD-ROMs are of course single-sided media, and the
drive therefore has only one "head" to go with this single data surface.
There is no intricate close-to-contact flying height as with a hard disk so there is no concern about head
crashes and the like. However, since the mechanism uses light, it is important that the path used by the
laser beam be unobstructed. Dirt on the media can cause problems for CD-ROMs, and over time dust can
also accumulate on the focus lens of the read head, causing errors as well.

Like all spinning-disk media, the CD-ROM drive includes a spindle motor that turns the media containing
the data to be read. The spindle motor of a standard CD-ROM is very different from that of a hard disk or
floppy drive in one very important way: it does not spin at a constant speed. Rather, the speed of the
drive varies depending on what part of the disk (inside vs. outside) is being read.
In a magnetic hard disk, the recording surface is divided into concentric tracks and sectors. Each sector
contains 512 bytes. Thus area A and area B both contain 512 bytes although their sizes are different. That
means for area B a larger space is taken up for the amount of data which would actually require a smaller
space like area A, leading to a wastage of space. To eliminate this wastage of space in a CD, the tracks
are not concentric but spiral outwards, so that the sectors are all equal in area.
However this poses another problem. In a disk as it rotates at a constant angular velocity (e.g. 3600 rpm)
the linear velocity of a point nearer to the center of the disk (e.g. in area A) is lower than the velocity of a
point nearer to the outer periphery of the disk (e.g. in area B). This is because a point inside area A has to
traverse a smaller distance than a point inside area B, within the same duration of time. Hence data bits
(i.e. pulses representing 0 and 1) moves slowly past the R/W head in A than the bits in B. However the
length of A being smaller than the length of B, this is balanced out and the R/W head takes the same
amount of time reading 512 bytes from A as well as B. This scheme is therefore called Constant Angular
Velocity (CAV).
However in case of a CD, the sector sizes are same throughout, but the linear velocity of a point in B is
more than a point in A. So data flows past the R/W head at different speeds depending on its location. To
compensate for this, the speed of the disc rotation is altered depending on the position of the R/W head.
When the head is positioned near the center, the speed of the disc becomes faster and when the head is
positioned near the periphery, the rotational speed becomes slower, so as to keep the linear velocity of
the data bits flowing past the R/W head constant. Since size of the sectors is the same, this implies that
the time taken to read 512 bytes from A and B will be the same. This scheme is called Constant Linear
Velocity (CLV).

Speed and Transfer Rate

The speed of the spindle motor is controlled by the microcontroller, tied to the positioning of the head
actuator. The data signals coming from the disk are used to synchronize the speed of the motor and make
sure that the disk is turning at the correct rate.
The first CD-ROMs operated at the same speed as standard audio CD players: roughly 210 to 539 RPM,
depending on the location of the heads. This results in a standard transfer rate of 150 KB/s. It was
realized fairly quickly that by increasing the speed of the spindle motor, and using sufficiently powerful
electronics, it would be possible to increase the transfer rate substantially. There's no advantage to
reading a music CD at double the normal speed, but there definitely is for data CDs. Thus the double-
speed, or 2X CD-ROM was born. It followed in short order with 3X, 4X and even faster drives.

Characteristic Constant Linear Velocity (CLV) Constant Angular Velocity (CAV)

Drive Speed Variable Fixed
Transfer Rate Fixed Variable
Application Conventional CD-ROM drives Hard disk drives, floppy disk drives

CD Formats
There are many different CD formats used on compact disk media today. Each one of these has a formal
name, but also has a somewhat odd name that refers to the color of a book.

"Book" Color CD Format Referenced

Red CD-Digital Audio (CD-DA)
Yellow CD-ROM Digital Data (CD-ROM)
Green CD-Interactive (CD-I), CD-ROM Extended Architecture (CD-ROM/XA)
Orange CD-Recordable (CD-R), CD-Rewriteable (CD-RW)
White Photo CD, Video CD

CD-Digital Audio (CD-DA)

The first CD format was of course that which defined the audio CD used in all regular CD players, called
CD Digital Audio or CD-DA for short. The specifications for this format were codified in the first CD
standard, the so-called "red book" that was developed by Philips and Sony, the creators of the original
compact disk technology.
Data in the CD digital audio format is encoded by starting with a source sound file, and sampling it to
convert it to digital format. CD-DA audio uses a sample rate of 44.1 kHz, which is roughly double the
highest frequency audible by humans (around 22 kHz.) Each sample is 16 bits in size, and the sampling is
done in stereo. Therefore, each second of sound takes (44,100 * 2 * 2) bytes of data, which is 176,400

Audio data is stored on the disk in blocks, which are also sometimes called sectors. Each block holds 2,352
bytes of data. 75 blocks are required for each second of sound. On a standard 74-minute CD then, the
total amount of storage is (2,352 * 75 * 74 * 60), which is 783,216,000 bytes or about 747 MB. From this
derives the handy rule of thumb that a minute of CD audio takes about 10 MB, uncompressed.

CD-ROM Digital Data (CD-ROM)

The standard that describes how digital data are to be recorded on compact disk media went through
several different iterations before the format was finalized. The first step was the creation of the original
data format standard, called the "yellow book", by Philips and Sony in 1983. Under the data CD standard,
there are two modes defined:

• Mode 1: This is the standard data storage mode used by virtually all standard data CDs. The data is
laid out in basically the same way as it is in standard audio CD format, except that the 2,352 bytes of
data in each block are broken down further. 2,048 of these bytes are for "real" data. The other 304
bytes are used for an additional level of error detecting and correcting code. This is necessary
because data CDs cannot tolerate the loss of a handful of bits now and then, the way audio CDs can.

The additional data are : 12 bytes for synchronization i.e. for detection of block beginning, 4 bytes for the
header which identifies the block, 4 bytes for error detection, 8 unused bytes, 276 bytes for error
correction. A CD-ROM contains 333000 blocks to be played in 74 minutes. The capacity is about 660 MB
(see problem-2 below).

• Mode 2: Mode 2 data CDs are the same as mode 1 CDs except that the error detecting and
correcting codes are omitted. The reason is that mode 2 format provides a more flexible vehicle for
storing types of data that do not require high data integrity: for example, graphics and video can use
this format. Furthermore, different kinds can be mixed together. The CD plays at the speed of 75
blocks per sec.
CD-Interactive (CD-I)

In 1986, Philips and Sony again joined forces to create the CD-Interactive or CD-I format. This concept
was quite ambitious, with the goal to develop both a format and a special new type of hardware to use it.
In some ways this was the first serious attempt at what we now call "multimedia", with authors creating
disks including text, graphics, audio, video, and computer programs, and hardware sold to handle all of
these and connect to a television screen for output.
CD-I represents an entire system. It contains a CD-ROM based format for interleaving of different media
and a definition of compression for different media. CD-I also contained a software for real-time
processing of media. The CD-I hardware is called the decoder. Its size is comparable to the size of a VCR.
It consists of a main processor from the Motorola 68000 family and special video and audio elements. It
also contains the CD player with a controller, joystick and mouse interface.

CD-ROM Extended Architecture (CD-ROM/XA)

The CD-ROM Extended Architecture (CD-ROM/XA) standard was established by Phillips, Sony and
Microsoft. The main motivation for this additional development was the concurrent output of several
media which was insufficiently considered in previous approaches. The experiences of CD-I were taken
into account during the development of the CD-ROM/XA. CD-ROM/XA defines a sub-header which
describes a particular block. It can be distinguished into two forms :

• Form 1 : Analogous to CD-ROM mode 1. Here the unused 8 bytes are used for the sub-header.

• Form 2 : Analogous to CD-ROM mode 2. Here 8 bytes are used for sub-header and 4 bytes for error
detection, thereby allowing 2324 bytes for user data.

In the case of CD-DA and CD-ROM a track always consists of homogenous data meaning either audio or
computer data. The computer cannot concurrently retrieve uncompressed audio data and traditional
computer data. The main advantage of the CD-ROM/XA is that within one track blocks of different media
can be stored. Thus it makes interleaved storage and retrieval possible.

Video-CD, Photo-CD

Support for a special CD format for the storing of compressed video information is defined as part of the
"white book" specification. Through the use of MPEG compression it is possible to store 74 minutes of full-
motion video in the same space that uncompressed "red book" audio uses! This format is called video CD
or sometimes VCD. Playing video CDs requires either a video CD player or a CD-ROM drive that is video
CD compatible. Developed in the early 90s by Kodak and Philips, photo CD is designed to hold
photographic images. They technically use mode 2 form 1 of the CD-ROM architecture. The developed and
printed pictures are scanned and converted to digital form, encoded into the photo CD format, and written
to the CD.
CD-Recordable, CD-Rewritable

In 1990, part II of the so-called "orange book" published by Philips specified the characteristics and
format of a recordable CD, or CD-R. CD-R is also sometimes called CD-WORM or CD-WO, where WO
means "write once" and WORM "write once read many". CD-R drives, and the media they use, allow a
regular PC user to create audio or data CDs in various formats that can be read by most normal CD
players or CD-ROM drives, at a reasonable cost. As "write once" implies, the disks start out blank, can be
recorded once, and thereafter are permanent and not re-recordable. Part III of the "orange book" defines
rewriteable CDs, which are erasable, unlike CD-R.
CD-R media starts with a polycarbonate substrate, just like regular CDs do. On top of the polycarbonate, a
special photosensitive dye layer is deposited; on top of that a metal reflective layer is applied (such as a
gold or silver alloy) and then finally, a plastic protective layer. It is these different layers that give CD-R
media their different visual appearance from regular CDs. The key to the media is the dye layer (and the
special laser used in the drives.) It is chosen so that it has the property that when light from a specific
type and intensity of laser is applied to it, it heats up rapidly and changes its chemical composition. As a
result of this change in chemical composition, the area "burned" reflects less light than the areas that do
not have the laser applied. This system is designed to mimic the way light reflects cleanly off a "land" on a
regular CD, but is scattered by a "pit", so an entire disk is created from burned and non-burned areas,
just like how a regular CD is created from pits and lands. The result is that the created CD media will play
in regular CD players as if it were a regular CD, in most cases. Since the media is being physically altered
by a process of heat and chemistry, the change is permanent and irreversible. Once any part of the CD
has been written, the data is there forever. Some drives allow you to record some information in one
sitting, and then more information later on, if the disk is not yet full. This is called multi-session recording,
and requires a CD player capable of recognizing multi-session disks in order to use the burned disk.

The specifications for CD-RW

are codified as part III of the
"orange book" published by
Philips. CD-RW media are
formed in the same basic way
that CD-R media are; they
start with a polycarbonate
base and a molded spiral pre-
groove to provide a base for
recording. There are several
layers applied to the surface
of the disk, with one of them
being the recording layer
where ones and zeroes are
encoded. The recording layer
for CD-RW is different of
course than it is for CD-R. The
problem with CD-R is that the
dye layer used is permanently
changed during the writing
process, which prevents
rewriting. CD-RW media replaces this dye with a special phase-change recording layer, comprised of a
specific chemical compound that can change states when energy is applied to it, and can also change back
again. The material used in CD-RW disks has the property that when it is heated to one temperature and
then cooled, it will crystallize, while if it is heated to a higher temperature and then cools, it will form a
non-crystalline structure when cooled. When the material is crystalline, it reflects more light than when it
doesn't; so in the crystalline state it is like a "land" and in the non-crystalline state, a "pit". By using two
different laser power settings, it is possible to change the material from one state to another, allowing the
rewriting of the disk. The change of phase at each point on the disk's spiral is what encodes ones and
zeros into the disk. The spiral and other structures are the same as for CD-R; what changes is how the
pits are encoded.
CD-RW media have one very important drawback: they don't emulate the pits and lands of a regular CD
as well as the dye layer of a regular CD-R, and therefore, they are not backward compatible to all regular
audio CD players and CD-ROM drives. Also, the fact that they are written multiple times means that they
are multi-session disks by definition, and so are not compatible with non-multi-session-capable drives.

Magneto-Optical Discs
A thin LASER beam is focused on the surface of the disc. The energy of the beam heats up a tiny spot in
the alloy above a critical temperature. The heat loosens the metallic crystals in the alloy enough that they
can be moved by the write head’s magnetic field. The write head aligns the crystal in one direction to
represent a 0 and a different direction to represent a 1.

To read data a weaker LASER is focussed along the tracks created by the stronger beam. The alignment of
the crystals representing 1s and 0s reflect light in different ways to the sensor. The sensor contains a
photo-diode which senses the way light is polarized and translates the information to a stream of 1s and

CD Interface

ATA Packet Interface (ATAPI) / IDE

The most common interface used in modern CD-ROM drives is the AT Attachment Packet Interface, more
commonly called just ATAPI. This is a special protocol that was developed to allow devices like CD-ROM
drives and tape drives to attach to regular IDE controllers normally used for hard disks. CD-ROM drives
that use ATAPI are often called "IDE CD-ROMs" but this terminology is not strictly correct.
The ATAPI interface is a derivative of the standard IDE interface; regular IDE commands cannot be used
properly for CD-ROM drives, so a modified command structure was created.
CD-ROM drives generally require two pieces of software in order to function properly. These are a driver,
and a file system extension. The driver is responsible for controlling access to the CD-ROM drive. The file
system extension is what allows the CD-ROM drive to appear to the system as a regular file system
volume, with directories and files, etc. Virtually all CD-ROM drives come new with a floppy disk that
includes the software driver designed for the drive. The driver is loaded in the CONFIG.SYS system file
when the PC boots up. In most cases these drivers are unique to the drive and cannot be interchanged
with a different one; if you install a new CD-ROM you need to install a new driver as well. The floppy disk
will normally include an installation program that will copy the driver to the hard disk and insert the
"DEVICE=" command into your CONFIG.SYS file for you.
There are two common file system extensions used to enable CD-ROMs to work on the PC. The first is
"MSCDEX.EXE" (which stands for Microsoft Compact Disk Extension). This program is used to permit CD-
ROM access under DOS and Windows and is normally loaded in the AUTOEXEC.BAT system file. The
second common file system extension is the one built into Windows 95. When using Windows 95, it is not
necessary to load MSCDEX.EXE in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file, because Windows 95 includes native support
for CD-ROMs (in fact, you shouldn't load it there under Windows 95).


Digital audio is recorded on a CD-DA using 44.1 KHz sampling rate, 16-bit sample size and stereo
mode. Calculate the data rate in KB/sec.

Audio data rate for a CD-DA is given by : 44100 samples/second X 16 bits/sample X 2 channels
= 1411200 bits/second = (1411200)/(8 X 1024) KB/sec = 172.3 KB/sec.


A CD-ROM contains 333000 blocks to be played in 74 minutes. Calculate the capacity of the CD-
ROM and its data rate if it operates in mode-1.

Capacity of the CD-ROM in mode-1 : 333000 blocks X 2048 bytes/block = 681984000 bytes
= (681984000)/(1024 X 1024) MB = 660 MB.
The data rate in mode-1 : 2048 bytes/block X 75 blocks/sec = 150 KB/sec.