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A New CD-RW Drive

My older brother Jim recently gave me a brand new CD-RW drive (thanks Jim!) for my 50th birthday milestone. A year ago he was given a trip to Spain; I got a computer peripheral. I got the better deal I think, no?

The CD writer was needed primarily so I could make a backup image of a pristine installation of Windows, and would replace our original CD-ROM drive, a 6x speed dinosaur. Even though my latest installation has remarkably lasted over a year (last done May 6, 2001) invariably junk builds up in the Registry and elsewhere after installing and uninstalling a variety of software and intermittent crashes result. For example Winamp 3 just came out, so I installed it though Winamp 2.8 was working fine. But when I played an mp3 song on it there was this horrible hiss blaring from the speakers, and it occurred on other songs I played. So I removed it and reinstalled version 2.8; and the noise was gone. And since Windows and the resulting applications we use is really a pain to install on a freshly formatted drive, it makes the most sense to clone the drive after a fresh format and installation. Now that I have a CD-RW drive I can do this.

The drive, a new Plextor 40/12/40 drive (40 write/12 rewrite/40 read speed), came with the much maligned (and maybe rightly so) Roxio Easy CD Creator. It can be said that this software is too user friendly; Ahead's Nero Burning Rom is much more functional. And Roxio didn't include any drive backup ability! So I downloaded a fully functioning trial of Nero (and subsequently bought the program for $9 including shipping (see www.pricewatch.com )) because that did have one. Now the fun begins.

The drive installed effortlessly. This is what makes computers fun, crack open that case and yank stuff out, put stuff in (no, I don't extend that thrill to installing Windows!). Bolt the drive to the chassis, plug in the IDE ribbon, connect the power and sound cable, turn on the power and that's it. The drive is recognized and ready to go. You do have to install software to be able to burn CDs and I did install the Easy CD Creator. I removed it upon seeing no Emergency Disk creation function and installed Nero. Nero has "Burn HD Backup" and I jumped into that part of the program. I had already reformatted my second IBM Deskstar drive and installed Windows 98 on it with IE 6.0 and all the updates to that moment to get ready for the burn, and this fresh drive stayed as the D:\ drive while I worked on my year old C:\ drive. I read all about the backup application to see how it was to work and then started. The only problem I had with "Burn HD Backup" is that it wouldn't work. So with a brand new CD writer that comes with "Burn Proof" technology to make perfect burns and avoid the "coaster" complex, my first 8 disks burned turned out to be worthless.

"Burn HD Backup" works by copying a drive image onto a CD sector by sector. This means if you have a 1GB drive with only 250MB of information on it the program will burn every bit of the drive onto a CD, or in my case 3 CDs. OK, I thought, no big deal, I've got this 10 pack of TDK disks to use up, only cost me under $5. So even though the program starts fine, I finish the first CD, put in the second one, that finishes, I put in the final one, it burns to the end then gives me an error message. What! I think to myself. The report read "Burn process failed, SCSI Target error." I looked on the Internet to see what this meant, I looked in Plextor's site and found some explanation that didn't seem to make sense to me. I checked out the drive settings, the computer settings, and determined there was nothing inherently wrong with either, at least that I felt like making any adjustments to both. For some reason the DMA setting wasn't present in the Device Manager (in the Control Panel) thought the drive otherwise was working fine. I tried it one more time, making 8 frisbees total I had to throw away. So I gave up on Nero to do what I wanted the drive for in the first place. Where to look next?

After performing another Internet search for a drive backup program and finding a number of them, all charging $40 or $50 each (I was looking for the cheap way out -- I wasn't going to spend more money on something I felt should have been included with the original software). But one of the programs looked just right, and there was a 30 day free trial of the full program. This was NTI Drive Backup! ( http://www.ntius.com/products/drivebackup.htm ). This program would make an image of a drive kind of like the free small DOS application Filebackup.exe that came with my IBM drive (except it didn't work with CD drives). It could compress the information or run without compression, but it only copied data, not empty sectors. Perfect! I could copy my 250MB of information on 1 recovery CD. This was it. And, most importantly, the application worked. At least it concluded without error. Later I swapped out an old Seagate (ugh!) drive that came with our first computer and ran the backup on it to see if it really restored the drive, and it did! Sweet! I ran some programs on the drive and they all worked. So this was the program to use, and I had 29 more days of free trial left.

During the next few days I would go back to this fresh drive that very soon would become my current C:\ drive and add applications and burn new images of it to make incremental backups that I could restore depending on which level of pristineness I wanted. After the 30 day trial ends I won't really need Drive backup! (don't tell them that, though!) since my main need will have been met. If I ever do get extra cash I don't know where to park I would like to buy Drive Backup! for the $49.99. One day.

With CDs burned of a variety of fresh new operating system and applications installed I turned my attention to the other functions of CD-R burning, making backups of photos and files like that of my web sites. With CD blanks running less than $0.40 a piece I can make quite a few back up disks of a variety of files. I also played with the Exact Audio Copy program ( http://www.exactaudiocopy.de/eac6.html ) which nicely combines with LAME ( http://www.hot.ee/smpman/mp3/ ), both freeware programs, the former app extracts music CDs to .WAV fies and the latter app encodes the .WAV files to MP3s. Chris Myden's tutorial explains the setup -- check it out and follow the instructions closely!! This is fun stuff but my main purpose for the drive is backing up files. But, hey, things change.

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