Optical Tweak Guide
Posted: March 24, 2000
Written by: Keith "Farrel" McClellan


You might be asking yourself, what exactly is an optical drive? Well, it is any data storage media that uses a laser to write or retrieve information. The most common form of optical media is CD, but there are also CD-R, CD-RW, DVD, DVD-RAM, MiniDisc, etc.


While getting drivers isn't exactly the first thing you probably think about when tweaking your optical drive, it should be. Believe it or not, new optical media drivers include bug fixes, add features, and occasionally even increase performance. I personally recommend that you check out Drivers Headquarters for new drivers for your drive before continuing.

Device Manager Settings

There are several powerful tweaks that can be done from within the Device Manager (right click My Computer, choose Properties, choose Device Manager). To enable them, go to the CD-ROM or DVD drive listing and select it. Then hit the properties button. Switch to the driver tab and turn on Sync Data Transfer and DMA.

Sync Data Transfer - This setting enables a synchronization of data transfers between your optical drive and your system, which is by default asynchronous. The synchronization will speed up data transfers significantly.

Direct Memory Access (DMA) - This setting allows the optical drive to directly access system memory without intervention from the CPU. When this setting is enabled, there is a significant performance boost.

Enabling DMA can occasionally cause problems within your system - you have been warned.

Optical Drive Cache

Almost archaically called the CD-ROM cache by Microsoft, these controls handle how data is pulled off of the optical drive. You can reach the settings from within the system applet. Under the performance tab, there will be a file system button. Within the file system sub-applet, there is a tab that says CD-ROM. I personally recommend setting the "Supplemental Cache Size" to Large. While you are here, you might as well make sure that the Access Pattern for your drive is set to Quad-speed or higher.

If you have any problems with your system after changing these settings, you may need to lower the supplemental cache size.

WinBoost 2000

WinBoost 2000 includes a few settings that can help to optimize your optical drive. Select the "Optimize CD-ROM Speed" setting, and use it to set the cache to Large and choose the appropriate speed for your drive. If you have a DVD drive installed in your system, choose 24x for a 1x DVD drive, and the highest speed available for 2x and above drives.

CD-Quick Cache

This little bugger of a program pre-caches the most often used portions of a disc onto either the system RAM or the hard disk, improving disc performance in expense of one of those two system resources. If you happen to have a LOT of excess RAM or a spare hard drive lying around, this program can do wonders for your system.

Download CD-Quick Cache

IDE Channel Configuration

It is best to have your optical media drive on a different channel than your hard drive. If you can make the drive the master of that IDE channel, that is even better. For more information about configuring IDE channels, check out the How to Install an Optical Media Drive Guide.

Caring for your Optical Drive

In most cases, caring for your hardware is a usability thing, and not a speed thing, which is why we don't focus on it here. However, keeping the tray and lens of your optical drive clean can boost performance and lessen the chance of scratches to the media. Here are my recommendations on how to care for the drive:

- Use a little bit of isopropyl alcohol or Windex on a clean cloth and wipe the tray clean. Let it dry before closing the drive again.
- Use a commercial lens cleaner on your system. They all work about the same, just follow the directions and you should be good. Make sure you clean off the brush before trying to use it though, or you may be making matters worse.

Writeable and Rewriteable Media

CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-RAM, and other similar writeable media require some "special" tweaks and considerations. The trays for these media types need to be cleaned more frequently, because in my experience the less durable discs leave a residue on the tray when they are being burned. If you own any of these drives, there are a few programs that I recommend:

- Audiograbber - This program rocks. As audio "rippers" and encoders go, this is definitely one of the best - and fastest programs available.
- Nero - If you have a CD-R or CD-RW drive, this is one of the best programs. In my experience I have found that it will flawlessly grab and copy media that other programs won't, even on the same drive.

These drives will benefit from all of the same tweaks that I mentioned above, but I want to forewarn you that you should disable CD-Quick Cache before burning - for some reason or another, I have found that it will occasionally cause problems.


Hopefully you will find the information in this guide useful. As always, feel free to email me with your comments and suggestions.

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All Content Copyright ©Dan Kennedy; 1999