CD-ROM troubleshooting under Windows 9x

Occasionally, a PC’s CD or DVD-ROM drive will stop responding for no known good reason. Sometimes the problem is hardware–a CD-ROM drive, being a mechanical component, can fail–but as often as not, it seems, the problem is software rather than hardware.*
Troubleshooting an IDE CD-ROM drive that quit working is pretty much the same under Windows 95, Windows 95B, Windows 95OSR2.1, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, and Windows Me, whether you have a Compaq, Dell, eMachine, eMachines, Gateway, HP, IBM, Micron, Packard Bell, Sony, or clone PC.**

In an effort to avoid tech support calls about DOS games, most computer manufacturers load DOS-mode CD-ROM drivers in a file called config.sys. This reduces tech support calls but increases the chances of software failure by about a million percent. Open My Computer, navigate to Drive C, and locate the file config.sys. (It might just say “config”.) Rename it to something else.

Don’t reboot yet. Often, this will solve the problem in and of itself, but frequently there’s another problem on Windows 9x boxes.

Sometimes Windows has trouble deciding whether to use the driver specified in config.sys or its own built in driver, so it’ll bluescreen. Then, the next time you boot, it adds a key to the registry that disables the CD-ROM drive entirely and makes the rest of the computer run about as fast as a Studebaker.

Nice of it, eh? To check this, click Start, then Run, and type regedit. Double click on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, then navigate to System\CurrentControlSet\Services\VxD\IOS. You’ll probably see a value named “NoIDE.” Right click on it and select Delete. Reboot. Your drive will likely come back to life.

If neither of these things work, you can determine for certain if the problem is hardware or software through a couple of methods. If your manufacturer gave you a restore CD, try booting off it. Hold down the shift key while it tries to boot in order to prevent it from doing anything nasty to your system–you just want to see if it boots up. If it doesn’t boot, you’ve got a hardware problem. Replace the drive. If it does boot, either try the above directions again, or you’ve got a problem I’ve never heard of.

If you don’t have a system restore CD, you can accomplish basically the same thing with a DOS boot disk. You can get one of those from Boot off the disk, pay attention to what drive letter the CD-ROM got (usually D: but it can vary), insert a data CD, and type the command DIR D: (substitute the drive letter that came up if it’s something other than D:). If you get an error message, you’ve got a hardware problem. Replace the drive.

Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Windows XP are immune to the problems I described here. If the drive quits working under one of those operating systems, either your drive lens is dirty or you’ve got a bad drive. Cleaning kits are hard to find and overpriced. As I write, an Artec 56X IDE CD-ROM drive costs $19 at, so outright replacement doesn’t cost much more than cleaning.

* Yes, I realize this is yet another boring troubleshooting entry. Having nothing interesting to say today, I’m writing entries that I know will get me Googlejuice down the road. Analysis of my early stuff and of some of the comments on this site has made me realize there are still some gaps in the Farquhar back-catalog.

** Yes, this is another paragraph written with the express design of getting hits from Google. If you can think of any search term I might have possibly left out, well, that’s what the comments are for.

20 thoughts on “CD-ROM troubleshooting under Windows 9x

  • January 30, 2003 at 12:27 am

    No shame at all…

    Windows 2000 CD Burner problems

  • January 31, 2003 at 8:00 pm

    It’s not boring to me. I use your troubleshooting advice. I also like your Linux.
    I enjoy your writings on religion.
    Keep it up and we will have to learn how to spell Renaissance Man:).

  • February 3, 2003 at 9:41 pm

    You left out Windows 95C which is also know as Windows 95 OSR 2.5. It’s basically 2.1 with Internet Explorer 4.0.

  • March 31, 2003 at 12:20 am

    I appreciate your troubleshooting tips but i find I”m still having problems with my CD Rom. ive checked the ribbon cable, the jumpers etc.. The system says the drive is installed properly and is functioning well. When I put a cd in the drive it doesn’t read the disk and I get an message to insert a disk. Can you think of any other area’s that I might need to check out to get this drive to work.

  • March 31, 2003 at 12:21 am

    I appreciate your troubleshooting tips but i find I”m still having problems with my CD Rom. ive checked the ribbon cable, the jumpers etc.. The system says the drive is installed properly and is functioning well. When I put a cd in the drive it doesn’t read the disk and I get an message to insert a disk. Can you think of any other area’s that I might need to check out to get this drive to work.

  • March 31, 2003 at 2:33 am

    Did you try the bootdisk trick that Dave mentioned? If you can’t access your CD-ROM from MS-DOS with proper device drivers loaded AND/OR you can’t boot from a bootable CD-ROM if your BIOS supports it then you have a dead drive.

  • April 9, 2003 at 8:32 pm

    I have a unique problem. The cd-rom on the computer will play music cd’s but will not read any other disc’. Any one have any ideas??

  • May 29, 2003 at 10:03 pm

    i have a problem. i tried to reboot my emachine 400i, and the cdrom read the cd enough to reorganize the hard drive, but when i try to boot up to go into windows it keeps giving me an invalid disk error. can you help me?

  • May 30, 2003 at 9:40 am

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about eMachines, it’s that their technical support department is rather nice.

    You may want to call or e-mail them with your problem.

    But if you want my opinion, it sounds like either:

    A) It’s not the hard disc drive you had when you first bought the machine and the recovery disc is borking the partitions

    B) The recovery disc is damaged

    C) You have a loose cable

    Have you changed any hardware from the factory configuration?

    Am I understanding right that by saying “reboot” and “reorganize” in the same sentence that you mean using the recovery disc?

  • June 21, 2003 at 6:17 pm

    Have critical strange problem. Machine = emach 4001 running orig clean install win98, 190MB(crucial ram), orig CDrom, orig HD. HDD 4.3 gig has ONLY 2gig data.
    Scan disk shows NO problems. Scan reg shows NO problems. Suddenly, w/o warning video got flakey, then quit. Have Samsung monitor which runs fines (checked it) with other boxes. EMACH wont’t even boot with it’s recovery start-up floppy. NO VIDEO!! HDD is booted fine, checked RAM (it’s ok), MB is booting OK.
    Only there is zero video signal. I can see by the connect signals from the MB to the CDrom which works, HDD spinning up, KB num lock, that MB is powered up.

    Only the video signal is crapped out. Since this box has on-board video (chip) my understanding is it’s NOT upgradable. If true, it means the entire system is dead for all intents. Can this be “true”?

    ANY help, comments or other — please write sys_lnk[at]myrealbox[dot]com.
    AND THANK YOU IN ADVANCE for any help… sys_lnk

  • August 23, 2003 at 10:18 am

    Here’s one for you:

    I got this (really cool) new game CD (Max Payne) and this machine (a new one I put together) will read the CD, but it won’t run the install program. I double click on it and nothing happens. I’ve had no other problems with any other CD’s. I can explore the CD and open and view files, but that install program just won’t run. I cleaned it well too. When I put that same CD in a different machine, wala, it autostarts and runs and installs just like it’s supposed to. What would be the cause of a drive that can read the CD but won’t execute an executable??? I can find no guidance anywhere and I’ve been looking for 2 days. This game needs this machine, which is why I want to solve this problem. Like I said, other games/programs run fine off this drive. Could it be something about the format of the CD-rom?

  • September 30, 2003 at 8:28 am

    My CDROM does not recognise CD’s. It just continually ask for CD o be inserted into the Drive.
    What can be done?

  • October 29, 2003 at 5:47 am

    When turning on my P.C.,emachines, everything goes normal while Windows XP is starting. About the time Windows XP should be done the screen goes blank and a few seconds later music starts playing. I did put in the restore CD and it did complete but after reboot had the same problem. When trying to change to another directory from A:\ anything you put in says invalid directory. Thank you for any help you can give me.

  • November 2, 2003 at 6:38 pm

    sys_lnk most likely the rest of your drive was left unpartitioned. What you can do now is partition the rest of the hard drive, about 2 gb but it will be a different HD.

    You could reinstall windows(pop in the cd, reboot system, you will lose all information on your hd save on disk whatever you need or upload), XP has an option to delete existing partition and recreate partition to incorporate the entire HD. i forgot what the other os’s did.

  • November 2, 2003 at 6:42 pm

    disregard my last message i suffered from dyslexia and misread the problem and jumped to conclusions (just read 1st line) OK


    Press F7 while windows boots up. Go into safe mode.

    Continue. Should load.

    Go into display properties, now change it to 16 bit, and 800×600 resolution and see what happens.

    Otherwise try to reinstall video adapter driver.

    Or install a PCI Video card and have that run as the display adapter rather than the onboard display.

  • November 2, 2003 at 10:37 pm

    Or you could read the rest of the comment and see that his integrated video was malfunctioning. A rescue floppy did not provide video. So I seriously doubt booting Windows into “safe mode” will help his problem.

    Besides, his comment has been here since June. He’s probably not reading here anymore.

    Why don’t you go troll somewhere else, hmm? Every comment I’ve seen so far is either very negative or not worth reading.

  • December 23, 2003 at 4:48 am

    okhaving probs just built a computer ok
    butits giving this message boot failure insert system disc and be buggered if i can get past it any ideas thanks

  • December 23, 2003 at 1:44 pm

    A couple of suggestions:

    1. Watch the POST screen. Does the computer detect your hard drive and CD/DVD-ROM drive(s)? If not, make sure the drives are jumpered correctly and all cables are secure. Try different cables if that doesn’t work.

    2. Can you boot off a bootable CD? Most Windows CDs are bootable. If you can boot off a CD but not the hard drive, the problem is related to the hard drive. If neither boot, there’s something else wrong with the system.

    3. If that’s not the problem, the usual fix is to boot off a DOS boot floppy and execute the command FDISK /MBR to fix the hard drive’s boot record.

    4. If all of that fails, go into your computer’s CMOS setup and find the option to load the BIOS defaults (it’s also sometimes called “Failsafe settings” or “Safe settings”.) Some obscure setting in your CMOS setup may be keeping you from booting. The failsafe settings will sacrifice some performance, but if they get the system running, you can go back in and change settings one at a time to safely gain performance.

    Failing all of that, you’ve got a hardware problem–either your motherboard or hard drive are bad. At that stage, I’d contact your vendor for replacement.

    • March 4, 2004 at 4:57 pm

      Two days ago, out of nowhere my CD-Rom stopped working correctly right after I had taken out a game. It will still eject and all, but when I try to put any type of CD into the drive it will just spin a little, like it is unable to read the disk, then eject out the tray after a couple of minutes. As well, when I try to click into My Computer to open up the drive, the window will just freeze up until I eject the tray. Anyone have any ideas of how to fix this????

      • March 5, 2004 at 1:06 am

        I’ll try to help, but I’ll need some more information, first.

        What operating system and version number are you using?

        Have you tried all of the trouble-shooting tips outlined in the article?

        Which game had you most recently installed? Some newer video game discs include "SafeDisc" copy prevention software that hooks into your CD-ROM device drivers so that it can verify you have a legitimate disc. This can cause some problems with your drive if the SafeDisc software has become corrupted, is conflicting with other software on your system, or just doesn’t like your particular hardware configuration.

        Dustin D. Cook, A+

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