Posted: January 27, 2000
Written by: Keith "Farrel" McClellan

Introduction

Once again, I'm back with another installment in the How to series - How to Install an Optical Media Drive. You might be asking, what the hell IS an optical media drive? Well, basically I am referring to your CD/DVD/CD-R/CD-RW drive(s). The optical part refers to the laser that reads the information off the disk. This is one of those upgrades that really isn't done very often (a 12x or better CD-ROM drive will do most people just fine until DVD becomes the gaming media of choice), but when it is done, boy is it a doosey. Configuration errors, system lockups, and other problems often plague the installation of a new optical media drive, and it is my duty, as a concerned citizen and a supertweakmeister, to guide you through the horrors of it all and bring you out into the light.

Overview

Here's the lowdown on what I will be covering in this article:

- Basic installation
- Advanced installation
- IDE Channels and the Slave/Master properties
- Cooling
- Overclocking
- Troubleshooting
- Taking care of your Optical Media drive

Once again, not as simple as you thought it would be, eh?

IDE Channels and the Slave/Master Fiasco

IDE channels are a pain in the rear end for system builders/optimizers such as myself - there just never seems to be enough of them. Even the new ATA/66 motherboards, which have four channels, can fall short for a guy who's obsessed with each drive having its own channel. Yes, I said each drive having its own channel. Every drive, be it a hard drive or some other form of storage media, runs faster and more efficiently if it doesn't have to fight another drive for bandwidth. That said - here's the scoop. Do WHATEVER you can to keep your optical media drive on its own channel. If it has to share a channel, have it share with something like a zip drive or another optical media drive - something that won't be using the channel at the same time as your optical media drive. This will optimize speed and generally just make your computer feel faster. ;)

Basic Installation

Here's the basic process of installing an optical media drive - in step format:

- Prepare your work area. You will need a Phillips head screwdriver and possibly a pair of tweezers (if you have absolutely no fingernails at all) for this operation. Don't ya just love the word operation... makes the whole process sound important - and scary.
- Shut down the PC, open the case, and ground yourself (by touching the chassis) before touching anything inside the case.
- Remove the drive from its packaging and set the jumper on the drive to the appropriate setting - most likely you will want to set it to master.
- Fasten the drive to the case. This can be done a variety of ways, depending on the case itself - but the most common setup now is the use of drive rails which are attached to the drive and will snap into the case.
- Plug the IDE, Power, and Analog I/O cables into the drive. If you don't have enough space to plug in the I/O and IDE cables after attaching the drive to the case, you can plug those in beforehand. The red line on the IDE cable should be on the left (if you are looking at the drive from behind) or on the side closest to the power connector (which should be etched as pin 1). The other two cables are "dummy-proof." Newer IDE cables that have the protruding little box are dummy-proof as well.
- Plug the IDE cable into the appropriate port on the motherboard and attach the Analog I/O cable to the sound card.
- Close the computer and boot up into Windows. Windows should automatically detect and install appropriate drivers for the device, unless otherwise mentioned in the drive's instruction manual.

Advanced Installation

If you are REALLY into squeezing the last little bit of speed out of a system, you need to take the following things into consideration.

- Optical drives, especially those that write as well as read, are particularly sensitive to nonstandard bus frequencies and can cause system crashes whether there is adequate cooling or not. This will be covered more in the overclocking section.
- Try to keep at least one free bay between your optical drive and other drives within the system. Optical drives, particularly newer ones, create immense amounts of heat which can shorten the life of the drives above and below it. Ways to deal with this extra heat will be covered in the cooling section.
- The cable select jumper option isn't something to fool around with... I've had it cause problems for me when I was experimenting for this article, and I still couldn't figure out how to get the system to run with the drive set this way.

Cooling

Optical drive cooling is difficult at best because not only is it a full sized 5 inch drive, it needs to be accessed from the front. This generally eliminates front and side-based cooling options, short of ones that are already built into your case. My recommendation on the subject would be to get bay coolers such as the ones sold at The Card Cooler's online store. I know, they take up an entire 5 inch drive bay, but it is the best solution I could come up with.

Overclocking

Generally, nowadays, CD-ROM and DVD drives are pretty good on the overclocking front - much better than they used to be. Rarely will you find that a plain, vanilla drive will cause you any problems with your need for speed. However, write-able CD drives are another story. They can take a rock hard, super stable OC'd system, and turn it into a bowl of lime Jell-O faster than you can say "muhahahahaha...it works!" What causes this instability? Unsupported bus speeds. Basically, here's my recommendation - unless your overclocked processor is on a supported bus speed (66/100/133), don't even try installing any kind of write-able optical media drive - you will lose one too many discs to the pretty coaster pile, and could very well suffer from unexplainable systems hang-ups as well.

Troubleshooting a Failed Installation

Things to check:

- Are all the cables set properly in their respective ports? Push on each plug to check.
- Is the jumper set properly? If you have another drive on the same channel, one must be the master, and the other the slave.
- Is there power getting to the drive (does the light turn on at all?)? If not, try switching power cables.
- Are you using an old IDE cable? If so, make sure you haven't plugged it in backwards in one or both of the ports (motherboard and drive).
- Does the drive work, but you can't play any music CD's? Make sure the Analog I/O cable is properly attached to the sound card. If the sound card isn't dummy-proof enabled (it just has pins, but no "socket", try plugging it in the other way).


Caring for your Optical Media Drive

Here are a few tips on caring for your optical drive:

- Wipe your discs off before inserting them in the drive - this will increase the speed of the drive and lengthen its life as well.
- Occasionally clean the caddy. Dust and other particulates gather in there and can damage your discs and the reading laser.
- Use a CD-ROM cleaner on your drive about once a month to clean off the laser.
- Do not push the tray into the drive - using the button will extend the life of the drive and will make sure the disc tray sets right - allowing for optimal disc mounting.


Conclusion

Well there you have it. If you have any comments/questions, feel free to email me or post a message on our *new* message boards.

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All Content Copyright ©Dan Kennedy; 1999