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Data Storage Hardware

Short Lifetimes of Optical Drives? 369

lpq asks: "I have various optical disc readers from standard DVD players (apart from a computer), and both CD and DVD readers on one or more computers. My home stereo DVD's have been problematic for a while. One of them won't even take a DVD cleaner disk as it doesn't 'recognize' it as a playable disc, even though it plays discs that my other DVD player won't play. Usually, between the two of them, I can play most discs, but occasionally some discs, purchased new, won't play on either of them. Heaven forbid if it is an older or used DVD which have even more problems (some of my DVDs are approaching old age at an age of around 5 years). However, this is more about my computer's optical drives, including the CD readers. Both CD readers on two different computers have 'died' and are not able to read program disks. Am I specifically plagued by bad luck or do others go through CD/DVD drives so quickly?"
"My built-in DVD reader (Dell laptop) no longer reads DVD's, but can still read CD's. My external SCSI plextor has a hard time with music CD's, but can still read most program CD's. My iomega external won't recognize program CD's but can still seem to do DAE on audio CD's.

My internal DVD/CD drive in my desktop can't read either DVD's or CD's. It was about 3 years old. The iomega external was about 2 years old. The laptop internal DVD was about 3-4 years old.

I took apart the IOMEGA, thinking it the easiest to get apart and took an air blower to the lens, but looking at it under a magnifying glass, I can't see a thing wrong with it. It still won't load any program disks, and kicks them back out as unreadable.

One computer is in my bedroom, the other in my living room with both commercial DVD players being in the living room (one used to be in bedroom, but with reliability issues of the older one in the living room, I moved the one in the bedroom out to living room. I still have to switch cables frequently depending on the DVD, as most play on the Digitron, the Sony seems to have poorer error recovery.

Is there anything I can do for maintenance. Air-canisters seem fairly limited in effectiveness and I've verified, at least in the IOMEGA external USB, it wasn't a scratched lens or at least nothing visible under magnification. This is really starting to drive me a bit crazy. It doesn't seem like I should have to replace these things so often.

My parents bought a new DVD player, and 2 out of 3 movies they tried to rent to play were unplayable. They are in their 70s-80s, so they just didn't want to bother with such unreliable technology.

It concerns me to hear about higher capacity DVD's, since with greater density, errors will affect wider areas on the disk. I'm always careful not to touch surfaces of CD's/DVD's but I don't know if the higher density DVD's will be very stable for movie or data storage if they don't do something to improve error recovery.

What do other people do for optical disk drive maintenance? Do other people have to replace them every 2-5 years because the drive is no longer cleanable?

As for video DVD's, should I just be resigned to play errors on almost 50% of DVD's -- usually they won't play on at least one of my players. What about bit-rot on the DVD's. Should I also be resigned to the fact that a DVD purchase is really only a temporary (5 +/-2 year rental) before it becomes unreadable?

The more egregious DVD problems have been with new, multi-CD series, where maybe one disk out of a 6-disk set (Buffy-season 2), Stargate Season 7, just won't play? It's a pain when they are gotten via mail-order even if they are a reputable dealer, since in both cases I've had 1 out of the set be bad, it was the last disc which I didn't get to for a few - several weeks.

What am I doing wrong?"
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Short Lifetimes of Optical Drives?

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  • yeah. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:37PM (#12255839)
    bad luck. sorry man. mine has been working since 1840.
    • Re:yeah. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mikecito ( 777939 )
      On a more serious note - I still have a 6-disc cd changer from 1993 made by Sony. It works perfectly, and will play anything I throw at it, regardless of burn speed or whatever. I wouldn't be surprised if the disc changing mechanism actually goes before the disc reading mechanism. It's been used consistently for all 12 years, and still going strong. I'd say it comes down to a well made, and semi-pricey, cd player. They just don't make 'em like they used to.
    • I've had a Panasonic 200-cd changer for almost 8 years that runs almost continuously with little problem. On the other hand, I have to replace a CD-ROM drive in at least one of my computers yearly, even though I don't read a lot of CD's. The only drive I've not had to replace is an HP CD burner, now 4 years old. Too bad the CD-ROM drives I get to avoid reading with it fail regularly.
  • DVD cleaner disc (Score:4, Informative)

    by SpudB0y ( 617458 ) * on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:39PM (#12255852)
    Stop using a cleaner disc.
    • by glesga_kiss ( 596639 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:58PM (#12256014)
      I concurr. A cleaner disk is a set of brushes hitting the sensitive lens designed to delicately float on electromagnets at several hundred RPM(!). They are a last resort "my player is on it's last legs" scenario. Not for preventative maintainence.

      Original poster, are you a smoker? The same buildup that makes white walls go yellow also builds up on the lens. You can clean it with the right tools.

      I recondidition anything I have that breaks, and CD readers are a common one. You can often fix them by dismantling, cleaning, regreasing, then reassembly. It's common knowledge that mechanical parts are more prone to failure than solid-state, so the likelyhood is that in each of your devices there is a hardware problem.

      Remember the original Playstation that had serious problems after a while? Problem there was that the little sled that the lens was on had a plastic runner. After X hours of seeking, it would wear down slightly, causing the lens to drop on one side. This is why turning the PSX upside down made a difference. You could fix that by filling in what had worn with some glue, filed down to make a smooth runner.

      • That depends... (Score:3, Informative)

        by IcEMaN252 ( 579647 )
        ...on your usage pattern. I work in the operations department of a television station, and we regularly (once a month) use a cleaner disk on our DVD burners. But then again, we have dirty dvds going in non stop every day.
        • Re:That depends... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          It is also a good idea to take a look around in the area it will be in. Is there a lot of dust/dirt/other around it? In the time I have been using dvds/cd players I have a total of 2 stop working. Both of those were physical mechanical problems (plastic bits broke). That is also over a period of 15 or so years.

          Also just simply taking better care of your discs is not such a bad idea. The player is usually replacable the media sometimes isnt...

          Dont let things like food or drink near the equiment either
    • Sure! The reason why these drives may have problems these days is 80% because the "laser" diod has lost power. Before you may've had a dust particle on the lens but today it has much higher chance to be blown away during "normal" operation (disks spin at really impressive speeds today, exploding disks are not quite "urban legend").
    • Re:DVD cleaner disc (Score:3, Informative)

      by BobPaul ( 710574 ) *
      Agreed. Clean the lense manually with a foam-tipped cotton swap and some good +90% Isopropyl alcohol. I've had bad luck with cleaning disks, and cleaning manually often does the trick.

      I'm not sure it's a good idea to blow canned air directly on the lense, either.

      Also, stop buying home theatre DVD players. They suck. I've not gone through as many as people I know, but they don't seem to last nearly as long as anything in my computers. Build a myth TV system with quality Plextor or Lite-on drives... had goo
  • Compatibility (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ryouga3 ( 683889 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:39PM (#12255857) Journal
    I think part of the original poster's problem is that the CD/DVD standards change subtley over the years without anyone really noticing. My toshiba laptop can't record on 700MB CDs for example. I don't think the problem will be solved until the industry is more forthright about versioning on media and drives.
  • I've had two CDR/CDRW drives so far which have decided that they won't let me burn above 8x and then died completely. The ones burned at 8x usually can't be read above 8x either. It's really annoying.
  • by x_codingmonkey_x ( 839141 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:41PM (#12255871)
    "from the dept."

    Well I guess this is from _the_ department :P

  • Just replace it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by beavis88 ( 25983 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:41PM (#12255872)
    They're so cheap these days (and I do mean cheap...plastic gears suck), it's hardly worth the trouble to try and repair them. One exception might be high-end jukebox type players, but for single-disc players I'll typically just buy a new one.

    I do agree though, that longevity seems to be a much bigger issue for DVD players than for CDs. I have one of the original Discmans with skip protection from circa 1993, and it still works just fine. I bought my first DVD player around 1997-8 IIRC, and am now on my third...
    • Re:Just replace it (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )
      Plastic gears are just fine when your drive system involves a belt resembling an o-ring.
    • I'll be thinking about this post when I'm at Earth Day next week.

      I won't buy component CD or DVD systems anymore. They fail too much. I'm building a MythTV system so I can swap out the drives when they fail. Sadly, I wish it wasn't like this..

      Then again, I haven't really bought a lot of CDs in the last two years though, streaming music has kept me pretty happy.
      • Re:Just replace it (Score:3, Informative)

        by silentbozo ( 542534 )
        Actually, some component DVD players use a standard IDE drive. Before you toss your player, crack it open and check to see if the drive has an IDE connector on it. If it does, you might be able to sub in a replacement drive.
    • I've actually had 4 CD drives fail on me in the last couple years. I wasn't sure what was causing their deaths, but I later decided it was the motor that was going.

      I'd put a disc in and it would kinda spin up, but didn't sound right.

      I had a CD drive in one of my servers (B&W G3 from 1999) that would actually drop the CD onto the tray. I could hear it spin up then there would be a click and a plastic-on-plastic sound as the disc dropped into the tray and spun a revolution or two.
    • Just out of curiosity, where was your discman made, was it made in Japan or China?
      I think the real problem is most people are so concerened about saving a couple bucks when they buy it only to have to buy a replacement later on. We trully are living in the "throw-away" society. Quality is just another buzzword in advertising anymore, it doesn't actually mean anything.
      Not to troll here, but the quality of most manufactured goods in China SUCK unless the manufacturer actually forces them to do a good job.
      • " We trully are living in the "throw-away" society. Quality is just another buzzword in advertising anymore, it doesn't actually mean anything."

        You realize we're talking about the digital world where standards are always in flux, right? It's a lot easier to pay $50 for a DVD player that'll last a year or two than it is to spend $300 on one and hope it 'lasts'. It isn't like these are items of high importance.
        • Re:Just replace it (Score:3, Insightful)

          by saskboy ( 600063 )
          "It isn't like these are items of high importance."

          Tell that to the hypothetical mother who put her baby's photo CD into her drive, only to have the disk explode into a million pieces, or the student who can't get his photos or report off the disk, or the guy who put his family's Christmas present onto a DVD that isn't readable in any other players.

          These devices are about the most important I/O device a computer has besides the monitor and keyboard.
    • I'll typically just buy a new one.
      Yup, and it's no biggie since these days you can get players for 50 euros that have pretty good audio and video quality. Still, I feel bad about throwing away an old piece of equipment, even a broken one.

      For what it's worth, my plastic 45 euro Chinese DVD player has far outlasted my 350 euro JVC player, and has seen a lot more use too.
  • Pollen? Smokers? I've got an African Grey parrot, they shed a talc like substance that fairly covers everything in his room. You might consider setting up your computer with filtration and airflow so that it pushes filtered air out past the drive, rather than pulling unfiltered air past it towards the back of the machine.
  • You're not alone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmw ( 115903 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:41PM (#12255877)
    I've been through 4 CD drives in the last 2 years and this is only counting my personal hardware. 3 of these drives were burners, one of them a Plextor SCSI drive. From what I hear this seems to be quite common and the burners are especially likely to go bad. At least prices have gone down so much now that they are pretty much disposable. Hell, it practically costs more to buy a spindle of blank DVDs than it does to buy the DVD burner itself. Reminds me of the situation with printers and ink.
    • by Dogtanian ( 588974 )
      Reminds me of the situation with printers and ink.

      Welll.... no, not really. There isn't really any manufacturer lock-in, and the discs are actually pretty damn cheap.

      A spindle could include 100 discs, which is a *lot*.

      Personally, my Lite-On DVD-ROM drive started giving me problems with CD-Rs and CD-RWs, to the extent that it won't read them at all (including those from reputable sources); and yet it gives no problems whatsoever with pre-recorded media.
    • by Len ( 89493 )
      Of 5 CD & DVD drives I've bought in the last few years, 2 failed just after the 1-year warranty period. These are drives that saw moderate use in a home environment.
  • I love Taco Bell (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kuj0317 ( 856656 )
    The issues u have probably aren't dust, but the laser getting 'worn out' - this is especially bad for PS2's, where often the only thing u can do is manually adjust the potentiometer (voltage the laser gets) or take some clear film and creat a second lens to help the laser focus. And really, i think its just you. My xbox (a refurb) cant read DVD's, but thats the only dvd drive that i have tha has failed me in an unreasonable period of time. I have a Toshiba DVD player from like 1999 or something that is p
  • by ites ( 600337 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:42PM (#12255884) Journal
    DVD is a mess. Between incompatible formats and cheap and nasty players, I've stopped trying to use DVD at all.

    My home DVD player will play most movies but with jitters - skipping through parts of movies, freezing on the occasional disk.

    I've switched to using disk & lan for everything except rented DVDs. No backups onto CD or DVD, but instead onto multiple redundant HD servers. Movies in digital form where possible. Music all digital since at least 5 years.
  • Laptops (Score:3, Informative)

    by keesh ( 202812 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:42PM (#12255890) Homepage
    I've had two ultrabay optical drives fail on my ThinkPad. Both failed just after the year's warranty expired. One won't play anything at all, the other will play and burn CDs but refuses to read any DVDs (I get repeated DriveSeek errors for DVDs). Very annoying, considering the price.
    • Re:Laptops (Score:3, Interesting)

      by oolon ( 43347 )
      The reason why some drives work with only CDs or DVDs, is because oftain use different lasers and one has died, it happened to a toshiba dvd rom drive I had, it read DVDs not CDs!

  • by sgant ( 178166 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:43PM (#12255891) Homepage Journal
    Most of the CD-ROM's and DVD players on the computers I've bought have gone out on me, prompting me to replace them.

    That is until I started building my own computers. Haven't had a problem...yet that is. I don't know if Gateway and Dell just cheap out when it comes to the CD-ROM drives they put into their machines, but I've had several go out on me over the years.

    Put crap in, you're going to get a crap Drive. But honestly, I don't know why there were so many failed drives.
    • I've never had a CD or DVD reader go out on me from a computer I've built. They've lasted years and years.
    • I don't know if Gateway and Dell just cheap out when it comes to the CD-ROM drives they put into their machines

      Of course they do. Think lowest bidder. Dropping an extra five bucks per drive is a one time hit for you that you won't notice. To them, it cuts into their margins big time.

    • Yeah OEMs LOVE to stick the cheapest drives possible on their systems. Even the high end IBM servers we have at work have the crappiest CD-ROM drives I've ever used. The part I scrounge out of systems that I'm disposing of is the CD-ROM, since I need so many replacements for the ones that fail in the lab. It's a real pain in the butt. On the other hand, I bought a 4X CD-ROM back when that was fast (1995 or so), and it still works like a dream. I have an old SGI with a 1x CD-ROM (and an old Macintosh (S
    • Gateway in particular cheaps out, and in particular when it comes to optical drives. I work for a community college that used to use gateway (now we use omnipro) and gateway's cdroms die extremely regularly. We have some of their profile series all in one lcd pcs and their floppies and cdroms are pretty prone to death, as well.
  • DVD cleaner disk? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tricops ( 635353 ) <tricops1111@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:44PM (#12255900)
    Uh... besides scratches, there's another pretty important thing called alignment. Does DVD cleaner disk refer to those stupid discs with a little brush on them? If so, what are you thinking? I've never understood how those things could remain on the market. Spinning a little brush at high speed and letting it hit the lens - that has to be incredibly great for its alignment... Sure it might clean it, but it's bound to have some effect.
    • Re:DVD cleaner disk? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by redelm ( 54142 )
      Ever take apart an optical reader? My daughter (12) does all the time. The lens is positioned by coils. I don't see moderate use of a brush doing much harm. It may not do much good either if the dirst is at all sticky/moist.

      Personally, I've had more optical drive failures than HD failures over far fewer operating (spinning) hours. And I'm fairly careful about air cleanliness and case ventilation (no sucking air through drive slots.

    • Re:DVD cleaner disk? (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )
      The normal way to clean a lens is with a foam swab and denatured alcohol. As long as you don't damage the suspension wires you're fine. The CD is not spinning that fast in audio mode (or even 1x DVD, like a commercial player) and the brush is extremely insubstantial. All it's really there to do is brush off dust.
    • Re:DVD cleaner disk? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SunFan ( 845761 )

      When I was shopping for a SCSI CD-RW for one of my workstations, I notced a huge correlation between price and the published MTBF number (up to a point, of course). I ended up paying twice as much for three times the MTBF, IIRC.

      I do understand that MTBF is a statistical quanity for large numbers of drives, but a high MTBF is also a vote of confidence on the part of the manufacturer regarding their expected average quality.

  • I dont know if this is the case, but sometimes spending the extra buck on a plextor [plextor.com]is worth it. They aren't cheap but I have never had a problem with one. Some of the other value lines like I would find at a rock bottom price on pricewatch [pricewatch.com] haven't been as good to me.
  • by Paladin144 ( 676391 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:45PM (#12255915) Homepage
    I had a Phillips Superdrive (4x DVD burner / 12x CD burner) that refused to play commercially pressed CDs. It was the strangest thing, because it could still read burned CDs, burned DVDs and regular, commercial DVDs. But if you tried to play a pressed CD, it would spin and spin. Sometimes it would recognize it if I ejected & put it back in enough times. Gradually, it got worse and worse until it didn't read any non-burned CDs. It still burned both CDs and DVDs just fine. I guessed that the laser was out of alignment or something. I replaced it with a 8x Superdrive and that has been working perfectly.

    To address your question, I think you may be on to something. Perhaps, though, few people notice that optical devices are flaky in general because we upgrade so often and so many other things go wrong with computers. All I know is that my work computer's CD burner is dying now. It reads CDs and DVDs fine, but it is starting to fail when burning CD burns. It's getting worse and now fails about 50% of the time. Are we getting screwed by shoddy manufacturers, or is there a fundamental problem with optical drives?

    • There's a particular Philips drive, not sure if it's the one you have or not, but it's been out for the last little while. You have to go get the firmware upgrade for it because, and this is weird, unless you upgrade the firmware, you have to make sure to put in a burned disc FIRST when you first try to use it. If you don't, it won't read anything BUT burned discs. The other rule with this drive, is that, without the firmware upgrade, that trick will work UNTIL the drive is slightly jarred by something, at
  • ...I've only ever had one computer optical drive fail on me, and that was an external CD-RW, that died after about two years. Even my 486 1x CD-ROM is still going pretty strong. That said, I do take great care of my discs, cleaning them, making sure they're not dusty when I put them in and so on.

    However, when it comes to portable CD players, my experience is completely the opposite. Normally (I'm still using a portable CD player, even though I have digital copies of my music collection on my PC...more to d
  • Eh? Dust/Dirt? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sH4RD ( 749216 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:46PM (#12255918) Homepage
    How hard do you PUSH those things? The old 2x SCSI CD Caddy drive in my computer from 1994 still works fine. All the media it comes with still works great too. All I can guess is maybe you live in a high humidty or extremely dusty/dirty house. My house is fairly clean, and I have never had optical drive problems. Don't just clean them out when they break, constantly clean them (if it is the dust/dirt problem) with air. Otherwise I can just suggest you be a little nicer to them and maybe they will be a little nicer to you.
  • I've had two: the regular CD reader on a PowerMac 8500 (1996), and the superdrive on my duel 1 GHz PowerMac G4. neither has ever given me any problems.

    Maybe you should avoid buuying cheap PC components, or else expecting to replace it every two years as the cost of going cheap.

    I also have a Sony jambox circa 1989 on which the CD player is slightly flakey but still functional. Ditto a 5 disc Teac CD player from around 1997. Maybe it's just you. ;-)

    • Its not just the cheap stuff, I had a 1 speed 1400 dollar Sun cdrom drive fail on me after 6+ years service, I also had a toshiba DVD rom drive stop reading CDs after 4 years, and a Yamaha CD Writer start burning costers after 2.5 years. I have also put other drives out of use because of upgrades which is the one silver lining, my DVD writer is only single layer, so it dies it will be a good reason to buy a dual layer :-)

  • by hackstraw ( 262471 ) * on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:47PM (#12255928)
    I have about a 60% success rate with hard disks working more than a year, my wireless router lasted just past one year. My DVD player from 1998 or so is about to go in the trash because it does not recognize enough disks to be worthwhile.

    The only upside is that everything keeps getting cheaper and more "featureful" so its not that bad to keep buying new stuff, but in general I find that consumer grade electronics are geared towards this quick obsolescence. If you want something to last, buy "professional" grade stuff. The low prices of regular junk is seductive, but don't count on any of it lasting.
    • "I have about a 60% success rate with hard disks working more than a year, my wireless router lasted just past one year."

      While it may be possible you just had bad luck, I suspect something in your computing environment sucks. As in, incredibly hard on equipment. I've had one CDRW fail out of all my components and I wouldn't consider myself easy on them. I don't buy high priced stuff either.

      Of course, it is entirely possible that you just got "lucky" getting hardware likely to fail. Both our experiences ar
    • My DVD player from 1998 or so is about to go in the trash because it does not recognize enough disks to be worthwhile.
      Given the horror stories I hear about bad DVD players, 7 years is a pretty good run. I'd be curious to hear how long had it before it started malfunctioning. Did it start having problems recently, or has it always had problems that only recently reached an unacceptable level?
  • DVD Cleaners etc (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mikeleemm ( 462460 )
    Don't use Drive cleaners or even compressed air, majority of the time it does more harm than good.
  • Hmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ksilebo ( 134470 ) *
    I don't know what you're doing, but I have several optical drives that have lasted well over 6 to 8 years. One being the 8x Compaq CDROM drive which came in my first computer which has a place of honor in an old server. Next being my TDK 24x CDRW drive that is actually a rebadged Plextor, I believe its about 4 years old. My DVD-ROM drive in this computer is a Pioneer that works perfectly, I've had it about 4 years as well. I sold a SCSI Yahama 6x CDRW drive to a friend and that's still kicking. Its about 6
  • by Tibor the Hun ( 143056 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:51PM (#12255955)
    1. Don't buy any more Dells.
    2. Don't use cleaner discs.
    3. If your disks get scratched, clean them with toothpaste. (make sure to clean the toothpaste afterwards.

    • by ceeam ( 39911 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:12PM (#12256119)
      Who modded this funny?! The toothpaste "trick" works really well with DVDs (on rented disks, for example; if you bother). Just don't try that with _CD_s, because the "data" layer is on top of the disk and you can damage _that_ while trying to polish "mirror" surface on the bottom. DVDs are two layers of plastic with data surface in-between them - that's the cool thing they've done about them. So - if your DVD disk does not read - put some toothpaste on it (with water), polish it with your _fingers_, don't use abrasive materials, of course. Wash it with the kitchen goo afterwards to remove grease. If successfully done, don't forget to copy the data to the new disk.
      • Whoops.
        I've used toothpaste on my CDs too, and it helped. At least I thought it did. The CDs that skipped before, didn't skip afterwards.
        I can't believe that so many people haven't heard of using toothpaste to clean discs.

        I suppose if I told them that toothpaste can also clean battery terminals they'd think I'm crazy, or a Crest sales rep.

      • Actually toothpaste is an abrasive, which is why it works so well at polishing off the scratches. The main non water ingredient in any toothpaste is hydrated silica, or sand. This is also why dentists tell you to use a soft bristle brush and not brush too hard because if you really grind the paste you can damage the enamel.
      • ust don't try that with _CD_s, because the "data" layer is on top of the disk and you can damage _that_ while trying to polish "mirror" surface on the bottom.

        For CDs just use your fingers/thumbs. Often times just rubbing your thumb over the surface of the disk hard enough to generate a little heat will smooth out enough of the crap to make a copy of the disk. In reality what you are doing is *probably* filling the *small* scratches with the oils etc from your fingers. Whatever, I've managed to recover so
    • 4. Don't use your own toothbrush; use your girlfriends (or roommates) toothbrush when scrubbing the Discs.

  • The guy has a serious problem but no one seems to be providing him a solution! Slashdotters...bet on the go, and provide real answers to what he might be doing wrong. As for me, I have no clue! All I know is that there is some kind of conspiracy with all electronic vendors. They all seem to agree on one thing -- Vendor Lock-in, for as long as it's possible.
    • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:18PM (#12256155) Homepage Journal
      He's probably not doing anything wrong. From the sound of it, he's a knowledgable, careful techie, and has just had a run of bad luck with a technology that's not designed to last. I could be wrong about that, but if I'm not, there's nothing to tell him but "replace them when they break".

      I often carp about silly Ask Slashdots, but I consider this to be a really good one -- even though the basic problem is going unsolved. It's nice when we can help somebody, but that's not the main point. If you just want to solve a technical problem, there are plenty of places that can do a better job of helping you than Slashdot. What makes a good Ask Slashdot (or any other good Slashdot story) is when we end up talking about an issue that's important to all of us, debating its nature and consequences, and generall educating each other.

  • Typical (Score:3, Interesting)

    by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:55PM (#12255994)
    In my experience short lifespans are typical for optical drives, although if you spend a lot of money and get high-end Pioneer or Plextor drives they last a long time, and the Pioneer drives are good at reading the most scratched discs that other players will just spit out.

    On a related note, stop using DVD cleaner discs - all they do is scratch the lens unless your DVD drive is located somewhere that it collects massive amounts of dust. Electronics stores have been pushing those stupid things on consumers for years because the markup runs anywhere from nine-hundred to several-thousand percent depending on whether you just buy the disc or buy it as part of some silly cleaning kit comeplete with a soap and isopropyl alcohol solution.
  • Are you a smoker ?

    I am, and my drives display the same short-life behaviours as yours. I suspect tar glues to the optic and is not removable without a major cleanup (mechnical action like air blow or cleaner discs is inefficient).

  • My 2 cents (Score:3, Informative)

    by ceeam ( 39911 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @01:58PM (#12256008)
    Don't know about pure "reader" drives (except in standalone players, anybody uses them yet?) but modern burners in my experience tend to gradually go down after ~500 disks (you may not even notice that if not using some testing tools). And that's nothing to be surprised about - you get what you buy - these things work on the edge (why do you think after you burned 10 disks in a row the last ones are so hot?), they are made of cheapest components possible, and they cost $60 for a high-speed DVD burner. OTOH - earlier TEAC drives, like W58E are still going OK around me (maybe done several thousands burns and used as reader all the time). But they costed $150+ (multiply by 2 to account for inflation) and they weigh around a kilo (~2pounds).

    BTW, nowadays, I tend to buy Sony/LiteOn.
  • Ive noticed that newer drives tend to have a shorter life span then older ones.

    Harddisks, the same, tape drives, monitors.. Pretty much any conusumer product really... They may *look* cooler, have more features, but they just are not made to last.

    If they sell you something that lasts, where will their sales for next season come from?
  • Cheap optical drives will stop working after a while. I've gone through three drives on my PC, all of which have stopped working in the past 5 years. As much as I hate Sony, they seem to make pretty good portable products. My Discman still works perfectly, and my Walkman stayed alive for over ten years. The separate DVD player is a Panasonic, and is holding up OK except for one error it had when it just died in the middle of Fight Club.
  • I work in tech support, and fairly often people call in because their CD or DVD rom drive isn't working anymore. Roughly 60% of the time or more, it's actually a software problem and their drive is just fine. This usually happens when burning software has been removed, or replaced by another program, windows can't load the driver anymore and there's some stuff you have to clear out of the registry before it will work again. Or sometimes you just have to remove the IDE controller, reboot and let windows rein
  • Disposable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:09PM (#12256099) Homepage Journal
    I think the big problem with DVD players and drives is that the marketplace has dictated that they be a cheap, low-margin item. Consider: most DVD players don't even have RF outputs. Yeah, most people use component outputs, but RF is still widely used, and most VCRs and PVRs support it. Profit margins on DVD players must be really low for them to leave off a feature that's still pretty standard.

    So how else do manufacturers cut corners? By skimping on quality control, obviously. If 20% of your production run dies within months of coming off the line, it costs you -- but apparently not as much as making your production methods bulletproof.

    When my mother asked me to help her buy a DVD player, I knew she'd freak if she bought one that died quickly. So I looked hard for a model that has a solid reputation for never breaking down. Couldn't find a one. Even the expensive models from Big Name brands seem to get a lot of complaints that say, "Had it for a year, then it died." Thought of recommending a service contract, but that's almost as expensive as replacing the thing every other year. So I had her buy the cheapest one in sight, and crossed my fingers. So far so good.

    Perhaps you're doing something wrong, but I think you've probably just had a run of bad luck. The only thing you can do is just replace the drives as they die. There ought to be a better answer to your problem than that -- but I really don't think there is.

    • Re:Disposable (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SunFan ( 845761 )
      If 20% of your production run dies within months of coming off the line, it costs you...

      Not with the magic 90-day Warranty.
  • by c0d3h4x0r ( 604141 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:13PM (#12256129) Homepage Journal
    Two short stories:

    A friend of mine had a portable CD player that he hooked through his home stereo with a Y-cable. He put the CD player on top of the amplifier when in use. Guess what happened? The heat from the ventilation slots on the amplifier ultimately killed the accuracy of the CD player such that it wouldn't track anymore.

    My parents bought a cheap DVD player and set it on top of their TV. They don't have a home theater or stereo system, so they just use the speakers built into the TV. Plus, my dad is losing his hearing so he always has to jack the sound way up on movie to hear the dialog. Guess what? The DVD player now doesn't track right, probably due to all the vibrations being constantly sent through it by the speakers inside the TV set.

    Laptop optical drives (and hard drives and screens and everything else) die frequently because people jostle their laptops around and mistreat them, so no surprise there. But if you're having as many optical drive tracking-related failures as you claim to be having, then your drives are probably getting damaged through thematic mistreatment. Make sure your drives aren't sitting on any surface that eminates heat or is carrying vibrations.

    BTW, the reason heat kills tracking of optical drives is that 99% of optical drives are built with a standard type of laser-tracking mechanism. The laser head rides along a metal rod/rail on one side, and then a parallel worm gear drives the head movement on the other side. With this approach, it's crucial that the metal rod/rail and the sleeve that rides on it have a low-friction relationship so they don't catch when the worm gear on the other side is trying to slide the head around. It's also crucial that the worm gear itself have a low-friction relationship with the threaded sleeve that rides along it so that it won't catch or bump as it does its work. It's typical for manufacturers to put some special lubricant on both the worm gear and the slider rod to reduce friction -- and it turns out to be essential for the whole thing to work. If you continually expose the device to heat, or to extremely dry conditions, the lubricant dries up and then the device won't track properly anymore. I've fixed several CD/CD-ROM drives that weren't tracking right by simply opening them up and applying a safe-for-plastics (silicone-based) lubricant to the worm gear and rail/rod with a Q-tip, and then working it in evenly by putting in a full audio CD and skipping from track to track to cause the head to move along the full range back and forth a few times.

    • This used to happen on hard drives as well. In the previous century, I had a bunch of Quantum brand hard drives fail due to "sticktion." The lubricant became a "glue" over time. The data recovery tech used a tape measure to drop the drive from a certain height, held at a certain angle, to "unstick" the heads. He'd plug the drives back in, and recover the data.

      It looked so simple, with no disassembly required.

  • I have a stack of five optical drives under my desk. Four of them are dead, but only one of those is a DVD drive; the rest are old CD-ROM drives. The working drive is a K Hypermedia 48x CD-RW, which a friend gave to me after replacing it with a DVD burner.

    What's not in that stack is another drive of mine which failed in a very peculiar way: it reads silver-colored pressed discs and CD-Rs just fine, but it rejects gold-colored discs, which happen to be about half the DVDs I own. I'm not sure about CD-R

  • I've been noticing this a lot over the past couple years with friends bringing their computers for me to fix. I can't correlate to any particular brand of computer or drive. Just seems like a high failure rate in general. I've not been using DVD drives long enough to evaluate reliability, but will probably be on the lookout for good sales to keep one or two in the storage room cause I figure I'm going to be needing them.
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:20PM (#12256174) Homepage Journal
    1) Don't use cleaner disks that have the little brushes; they can knock the head out of alignment. As a last-ditch for a dead drive, you might try one of the cleaner PADS, but even so that is not something to do with a working drive.

    2) Make sure the case has positive air pressure inside (simplest way is to have one more intake fan, placed at least halfway up the case, than it does outflow fans), to keep air flowing OUT through the various drive orifices. I live in the dusty desert with house cats, and even so, thanks to their intake fans, my systems stay nearly white-glove clean inside.

    3) Make sure the case has good cooling; some CDRWs are extremely heat-sensitive.

    4) If you smoke, quit. Cig smoke residue is very hard on computer components. (Damp ocean air isn't much better.)

    5) DON'T put labels on burned disks; there is no way you can align them exactly enough to avoid throwing the disk out of balance, and that can eventually damage the drive's alignment.

    As to personal experiences:

    ALL Yamaha CDRWs I've seen to date (20 so far, both SCSI and IDE) have died prematurely, due to overheating that eventually warps the laser out of alignment.

    But otherwise, they're pretty damned durable. Right now in everyday use I have:

    -- Plextor 24x CDRW (2001)
    -- LiteOn 52x CDRW (2002)
    -- LiteOn 48x CDRW (2002) -- has burned over 1000 disks (with occasional all-day marathons).
    -- Acer 50x CDROM (2000)
    -- Mitsumi 4x CDROM (1995)
    -- LiteOn 16x DVD (2002)

    Plus a whole bunch of CDROMs (Panasonic, Sony, various generics) in other boxes, that date back as far as 1994, and still work. Also, I've *never* seen ANY LiteOn unit go bad, and most clone dealers will say the same.

    The only optical drives I've had die were three Yamaha CDRWs (see above), and one ancient Panasonic 2x (1994) that lost its drive belt at age 6, tho it still worked otherwise.

  • I have also had bad luck with optical drives. They seem to last 6-8 years before dying and I wouldn't be surprised if this was due to my buying the cheapest hardware possible.

    And this makes me wonder... is there a site out there anywhere that tracks component lifetimes and RMA rates? Anyone know of a consumer reporting agency that deals with lifetimes and durability (instead of the typical advocacy based on features/power)?

    I've found subjective claims on hardware [alsheating.com], for instance, but it would be nice to se
  • Between cheap (as in low quality) equipment, name brand seems to have little impact, and the bazillion formats and standards, both hardware and software, I've only had a few optical devices that have been rock solid over the years.

    They seem to act up after about a year of use, probably dust and part wear. Typically 1 in 10 of movie DVD's will just flat out not work reguardless of what player is being used. Though in those cases I've always been able to rip the DVD to my computer to watch it from the har

  • MTBF is key (Score:2, Informative)

    by Slayback ( 12197 )
    Look at the MTBF of a drive or player before you buy it. You'll notice that the more expensive one probably has a higher MTBF. Sadly, that spec is becoming harder and harder to find pre-purchase. If you need, you could probably download the product manual and it should be listed in there.

    As a side note, anyone notice the HUGE difference between a caddy drive and tray drive? I hung on to caddies as long as I could just because the drives were bullet-proof.
  • On consumer equipment I have an $80 Apex DVD player that stoped seeing DVDs or CDs in less than a year. Head still moves but it always says no DVD. I have an expensive JVC multi-CD player. It frequently skips past discs saying nothing is present, but if I keep trying it will usually eventually play them, although many times only after 4 or 5 failures.

    On PC equipment, my very first CD drive (1x) started randomly not seeing CDs after a couple of years. The replacement (a 2x writer, Hi-Val, a rebagged OEN ve

  • bah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:38PM (#12256291) Homepage
    I only recently purchased a DVD player. Like, in the last month.

    I still have misc. 4x and 8x CDROM drive which work reliably and consistently.

    I've had two CD burners die: a 24x/4x/2x and a 32x/8x/2x (I think).

    In general, I don't use either for much. That's why we've got networks. I really don't want a non-electronic data transfer method which gets openly exposed to the outside world on a regular basis.
  • I bought a lite-on cd-rw drive a couple of years ago because everyone was going on about how they were great burners for the money. It burned fine for the first few months, then started having problems writing. This was fixed a few times by reflashing the firmware. Now, however, the thing doesn't even read/recognize discs at all...
  • ...don't buy off-brands. I've only had bad luck with any no name CD/DVD drive that I've ever had.

    Right now I have a creative 6x DVD drive in my computer that's about 5 or more years old, and my normal DVD player for my TV is 4-5 (can't really remember, but more than 4 years for sure).

    The ones that have died? One was by "JustLink", and the other one didn't have any markings at all as to the brand. Right now I have another burner made by Sony and it's going strong.

    Buy cheap brands, get cheap products.
  • by JawzX ( 3756 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:46PM (#12256340) Homepage Journal
    Is to pay a lot of money for it.

    Dust and pollen, smoke (a really bad one!) do all shorten the life of a drive, but the REAL kicker is cheap-ass mechanisms. Anyone can buy a $1 laser diode and build an optical pickup, but these cheapo diodes are, well cheap crap. Just like LEDs (see earlier /. article from today) laser diodes dim over time, cheap diodes dim faster, and often have a lower voltage bias set because they can't handle as much power. The lower initial voltage makes them go out that much faster.

    Beyond the cheap diodes used in so many cheap electronics, the mechanism design itself is important. a good laser pickup will be SEALED. Many cheapo pickups have the internal guts of the pickup exposed to air, that means not only is the objective lens going to collect dust, but so is the prism, colimating lens, mirror and photo-diode face. Thats no fewer than 5 extra surfaces to collect dust, pollen and smoke (Did I mention that smoke is REALLY bad?) Spend about twice what the cheap ones cost and you'll get a unit that lasts twice as long.

    I have a Mitsubishi CD player that cost over $2500 in 1988, it STILL WORKS PERFECTLY! Not only that, but it reads CD-Rs just fine too! It sounds like crap 'cuz it's got first generation DACs, but the high quality laser diode and sealed mechanism have shown thier supperior resistence to the vageries of time. The 1x(!) CD drive for my SUN 3/110 (manf. date 1989!!!) also works perfectly, and that sucker probably went for almost $4000 new.

    Cleaning and re-alignment are both do-able and can correct the sorts of problems outlined here, but unless there's solid engineering and quality parts behind the lens it's not worth bothering.

    Another thing you get with a more expensive drive is better error correction, both HARDWARE and SOFTWARE. Many cheap drives have a set-screw for sled angle and tracking linearity, the best drives have self-adjusting mechanisms. Also, better drives will have wide-range variable power controllers for the laser instead of just a couple switched resistor pre-sets, this allows the drive to more accurately correct of the tranmissive and reflective changes in the surface of the disc. Even basic drives have pretty good "groove tracking" but being able to correct for optical variations is important too. Good error correction software is also important. A nice buffered oversampling drive should be ABLE to read through a pretty decent size scratch wihout issue. But drives with tinny buffers and poor re-read capability will choke on the smallest scuff.

    P.S. RE: celaning discs... Those little brushes don't pack enough force to alter alignment on most drives, unless they are cheap-crap or spin up to 52x. The lens itself is on a floating electromangenticaly aligned sub-frame, so it can get bashed arround by those brushes quite a lot without problems. The real issue with cleaning discs is that they just don't do a very good job. They are OK preventative maintenance, but once the lens gets dirty enough to start effecting the drive's ability to read discs, you'll probably need to go in there with an Alcohol dampened q-tip. Also, smoke residue (Did I mention this one is the worst?) is quite sticky and will not redily come off without a little alcohol.

    My 2-cents.
  • similar problems (Score:3, Informative)

    by bigbigbison ( 104532 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @02:50PM (#12256365) Homepage
    I had similar problems with early cd burners from a couple different manufaturers. They wouldn't play certain kinds of disks like the ones that come on gaming magazines or wouldn't recognize data on a cd-r that they just burned.

    I've had a bit of trouble with my set-top dvd players, but not much. Of course they are so cheap now I've managed to get 3 of them (not counting the ones in computers) so I can usually manage to get a disk to play.

    I agree with others that the lens alighment seems to be the likely problem. Years ago I had a portable cd player that would skip all the time so i took it apart and there was a thing in there that looked like it had a screwdriver slot, so i put one in and twisted it. Put it back together and it worked a lot better from then on. I'm not sure I would reccomend taking it apart unless you didn't mind breaking it completely.
    • Years ago I had a portable cd player that would skip all the time so i took it apart and there was a thing in there that looked like it had a screwdriver slot, so i put one in and twisted it.

      Hmm, I think it's more likely that thing you twisted (probably a tuning pot) controlled the laser's power output rather than it's alignment. Similar pots are in every CD/DVD-ROM but they're usually fairly hard to get to for obvious reasons.
  • by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @03:02PM (#12256432)
    I worked for many years (over 30 years..saw the change to solid-state from vacuum-tubes) as an electronics repair tech on everything from consumer electronics to industrial automation to aircraft avionics.

    That said, the number one and two killers of CD/DVD drives in my bench experience are physical shock that knocks the optics out of alignment, and using 'cleaning discs' that also fsck the optics alignment, with dust/smoke residue coming in a distant third.

    On some of the older drives, there were also trimmer-adjustments for various parameters in the support cicuitry that could become out of spec due to age and other factors, as well as being barely in-spec from the factory to start with. These trimmers (if they exist) should only be tweaked if you have the proper test equipment (*good* oscilloscope, DMM, frequency counter, signal generator at a minimum) and tech manuals with values and procedures specified, otherwise you'll have junk quickly.

    The bargain drives aren't really such a bargain, as the quality of components and initial alignment/adjustment and quality assurance are marginal at best. As has been the trend for some time now with most consumer electronics, it's easier and cheaper to just replace it rather than repair it.

    I noticed a few posts mentioning using compressed/canned air cleaning. This is about the best method, but use caution. The pressure of a compressed-air blast at close range to the optic head can damage it also. The actual optic lens assembly floats on extremely fragile, tiny springs, and is very easy to damage with a strong blast of air.

    Overall, the best ways to get maximum life out of your CD/DVD drives are to handle them like the fragile devices they are, don't use "cleaning discs", and by whatever method, try to keep dust/smoke/etc. away from the drives.

    Hope that helps.

  • Some drives use plastic guides for the optical pickup. Over time this wears and the drives go out of alignment. This plagued some Sony Playstations, wouldn't be suprised if some PC drives are like that.

    With technology changing so fast and prices for some units so low it's no wonder they're not built to last.

    I would imagine the best CD/DVD drives are laptop units, since you can see the internals.
  • by Gribflex ( 177733 ) on Saturday April 16, 2005 @06:00PM (#12257518) Homepage
    I find that there are a number of things that I buy that have a very short life. Optical drives are one of them (also, hard drives, keyboards, remote controls, blenders, etc.).

    My solution has always been to warranty the product for a free one. Most products come with a pretty decent warranty, but most people don't bother to cash in on it.

    Another good suggestion, buy the extended warranty that is offered by many retail outlets. Yeah yeah, I know that most of you will think that it's a scam, and they are just trying to get more money out of you; and you are right. It is a money maker for them, but not because they won't warranty, or because the product won't break, but because people forget about the extended warranty, or can't be bothered to use it. As long as you are smart, you will probably be able to cash in on it. The additional warranty typically runs for 3-5 years, and costs and additional 10-15% of the retail cost. This is well beyond the lifespan of most consumer grade electronics. Instead of thinking of it costing you 10% more, think of it as saving you 90% on the cost of a new one when it breaks in 2 years.

    The benefit to you: when your next optical drive craps out, take it to Best Buy and they will give you a new one.
  • First Up... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @12:33AM (#12259503) Homepage Journal
    ...I want to say I hate CDs and DVDs. Back when I was a teen, I could go to the record store and buy used vinyl for $4-6 a pop. That meant that I could save up three weeks allowance and buy up to three albums. It was a lot of fun. Then along came CDs and newer releases weren't being traded in as quickly. This meant I had to buy new CDs instead of used initially. And... one new CD would cost me $21 to $27. That sucked. The music industry FORCED people to move to a new medium even if they didn't want to. So screw you once for that RIAA.

    Now, more on topic: I haven't had the problems you mention with DVDs other than with software based players. My first DVD player was a Creative Labs DXR-2 kit that had a hardware decoder that did an overlay on the computer desktop. It worked most of the time and was certainly cheaper than buying a stand alone DVD player at the time (1997). But, every so often my friend would bring a movie over and I wouldn't be able to play it. I only used this setup under Windows 95 on a Pentium 100, so I can't tell if it was OS related, driver related, software related or hardware related. I'll never know because I chucked the system.

    My next DVD player was a software based player that came bundled with a cheap DVD drive ($79). It was the Cybervision PowerDVD. I used this for quite a few years on a Windows 98 system (P III 600). It worked OK for almost every disc. Occasionally it would crash in the middle of playback, but I am most certain that this was an OS issue due to the nature of the blue screen of death I would always get.

    Soon after I started experimenting with Linux as a media PC OS in 2000, I tried Ogle and used that for quite some time with no problem. Then I moved to MPlayer which I only ran into a few discs that wouldn't play. (In retrospect, I think I didn't wait long enough for the disc to decrypt) And I finally got my full Linux based home theater PC working just a few months ago, this time choosing to go with the latest Xine (1.0 dontcha know?) which works SO well it even ignores region encoding and the on-the-fly PAL to NTSC conversion works just great on a Celeron 1.7 GHz. I can't wait to check out the new series of Doctor Who on DVD when BBC releases it this summer/fall. :)

    I've never had a standalone DVD player because I think until the past year or two, they've been too expensive for what they do. The new $40 jobs are more on par with what the player should cost, but the quality is pretty low and you still don't get much of a decent feature set. I'm still wondering why no one puts an ethernet jack on a DVD player and the ability to stream the DVD with live transcoding so that you can watch discs on any device that is networked. Oh well... like the RIAA, the MPAA will never "get it".

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972