Help Key: Burning Discs, Not Coasters


As I was thinking about this week’s Help Key topic, I tried to remember a few things that really made me angry when I first started using computers and when I first started using a Mac. My biggest pet peeve? Dead DVDs and CDs that littered my home office like so many belly-up roaches. Optical disks are, at this point in the game, mostly being used to store media and, in a pinch, back-up data. Hopefully optical media will soon go the way of the Dodo, but until then here are a few tips for burning without getting burned.

1. Use good media. When optical disk burners first hit the scene, they cost up to $5 a piece. That really pissed you off when you got a coaster. Now, with blank CDs costing less than nothing, it’s hard to spring for the good stuff. However, if you know you’re going to be burning lots of important stuff, spring for more expensive media. Bargain bin disks are fine for one-off data sharing, but if you intend for your media to last longer than a few years, invest in some quality disks.

2. Go direct. When you can, get an IDE or SATA burner. If you don’t have a directly connected burner, connect a USB or Firewire drive directly to the computer, not to a hub or a chain of devices. Don’t ask me the science behind this, but in my experience I’ve found that disks that won’t burn on a hub-connected USB drive burn flawlessly when connected directly to the machine. Blame it on gremlins.

3. Check your files. Most burning problems actually happen on the hard drive. You can prevent this by copying only the files you need to a separate folder and ensuring that all of them are readable. I experienced this problem last week, actually, with a bunch of image files I wanted to back up. One file was bad for no apparent reason and it shut down the entire burn process, rendering a few disks useless until I figured out the problem. Make a compressed archive of the files in question in order to confirm their usability.

4. Keep it in a case. This is kind of obvious, but put your burned disks in a case or sleeve. Burned disks have a very thin substrate of readable material and are very susceptible to errors due to scratches and dust. In fact, some players can’t read writable CDs or DVDs, although this problem has all but disappeared in modern devices.

5. Right hardware for the job. Look at your back-up or storage job. Look at your hardware. Are you trying to burn CDs on a dual-layer DVD burning drive? Recording family movies using an old DVD burner? Overkill is bad, but not horrible. Underpowered hardware, however, is the worst. Many first-time HAX()RZ try to make “backups” of their console disks using sub-par drives and get coaster after coaster until they finally give up. Smarter folks than us have figured out which drives burn the best disks for each purpose. Check out forums and FAQs before burning mission-critical disks.