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65. A Primer for Burning CDs

By Mark Alberstat

If you have bought a new computer within the last few years, it probably came with a CD burner. Once upon a time this piece of equipment, now-standard, was an expensive luxury as were the blank CDs. However, like many things related to computers, CD burners and their media grew in popularity and their price dropped.

The price has dropped so much that computer manufacturer Dell is now selling computers without a floppy drive, assuming most people will burn files to a CD when they need to transfer a file or backup their data. A 1.4-megabyte floppy just isn't as attractive a medium as a 700-megabyte CD.

Unfortunately, many people who have burners are not sure how to use them or what options they have when creating CDs. The complaint I hear most often is that after putting only a few files on a disk the disk is reported to be full.

This problem is not actually an error in the cd-burning software you are using, or in the way you created the disk. The software, more than likely, did just what you told it to do.

Each time you burn a disk it is called a session. You can leave a session open or you can finalize it. If you plan to add more information to the CD at a later date, you have to leave the session open. If you copied just a few files to the disk and it later claims to be full, the session was finalized. Although in actuality there may be lots of empty space on the disk, the burning software has hidden it from the operating system, thus showing a full disk.

Many disk burning software programs are capable of multi-session CD burning. This means that the disk is not finalized until you instruct the software to do that last step. Disks left open in this manner can be added to later. However, not all readers can read an un-finalized disk. This is especially true if you are creating a music CD.

If you are continually creating finalized disks but want to create disks you can later add to you will have to delve into your program's commands and help file. Most of the popular programs, such as Nero or Roxio, allow multi-session burning, you just have to make sure that you have this option selected before you hit the record or burn button.

In general there are two main methods of cd burning. Track-at-once and Disk-at-once are the terms that some software help files may call the different methods.

Track-at-once recording means the laser turns off after each track is burned to the disk, even if several tracks are being written during a single recording session. A two-three second gap is placed between each of the tracks . Most software programs cannot control this gap, as it is a function of the burner and the software. If you have a burner and appropriate software that allow for variable-gap recording changing this between track gap is possible.

Disk-at-once recording means that one or more tracks are put on the cd without turning off the laser and the session is closed. You cannot use disk-at-once recording for multi-session recordings.

If you want your CD to act more like a large capacity floppy drive you will have to use CD-RW, or CD-Rewriteables. These CDs allow you to write to a cd and later remove the information. For this you will need a burner that has this ability and disks that are clearly marked CD-RW.

Knowing the difference between an open and closed, or finalized, session is one of the key pieces to creating good, useable and reliable CDs.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 7 August 2005


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