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If you have at least 8MB of RAM, and you're still running Windows 3.x, increasing the number of memory buffers in the MSCDEX driver of your AUTOEXEC.BAT file may improve your drive performance. Add the /M:xx flag to the end of the statement, and replace xx with a number between 8 and 12, depending on how much memory you have. Experiment with different settings to get the best results.
Control Cache Flow
Windows 95 has a built-in cache for improving CD-ROM performance, which can be optimized according to the speed of your drive. However, Windows doesn't always do it correctly on its own. To change the settings, open up the System Control Panel, or right-click on My Computer and bring up the Properties page. Under the Performance tab, click on File System/Advanced/CD-ROM. Under Optimize Access Pattern, choose the selection appropriate to your drive. If you have more than 8MB of RAM, you can also try pushing the slider for Supplemental Cache Size all the way up. Leave it at the maximum unless you see your system performance go down.
You can designate a specific letter or range of letters for your CD-ROM drive if you don't like the default D: or E:. Under Windows 95, go to Control Panel/System and click on the Device Manager tab. Locate your CD-ROM model under the CD-ROM list and double-click. Click the Settings tab and pick from the drop-down lists for start and end drive letters (to force the drive to a single letter, make both of these the same). If you're using DOS and MSCDEX, the "/L:x" flag determines which letter gets assigned to your CD-ROM drive, where "x" is the drive letter. You can add or modify this flag with the letter of your choosing.
Ought Not to Play
AutoPlay is one of those features of Windows 95 that can get on your nerves. You can hold down the Shift key when a CD is inserted to bypass AutoPlay, but there's also a more permanent solution. Bring up the Device Manager, located in the System Control Panel. Locate your drive in the list and bring up its properties page. Click the Settings tab, uncheck the "Auto insert notification" box and restart your computer.
Have It Your Way
You can have any application you like pop up when an audio CD is inserted. Pull down the View menu in any Explorer window, select Options/File Types. Find AudioCD in the list of registered file types and click the Edit button. Select the Play command from the list of actions and click the Edit button. Under the header, "Application used to perform action," simply replace CDPLAYER with the path to your favorite audio CD application.
Music to Your Ears
If you enjoy listening to music while you work, Windows 95 ships with a fully-functional audio CD player. It supports Random, Continuous and Intro play modes, and recognizes multi-disc CD changers. You can also edit the play list and type in the names of your CDs, and it will display the artist and song information as it plays. You can find it under Programs/Accessories/Multimedia/CD Player, but it will pop up automatically when a music CD is put in and AutoPlay is enabled.
Hear the Music
If your recently installed internal CD-ROM drive doesn't play music through your speakers, it could be because it isn't really connected. CD-ROM drives require a separate cable that attaches the drive to your sound card, which has a special input connector for the purpose. Unfortunately, sound cards and CD-ROM drives vary wildly in their implementation of this connector, so if you don't have the right cable already, be sure to specify your drive and card model when purchasing one. Once connected, you can adjust sound volume through the CD slider in the Volume Control applet. If you need a quick fix, you can plug a stereo mini-jack cable into the front of the drive and run it around the back of your PC into the Line-In connector.
You've been typing in all the artist and track names in the Windows CD player for all your music CDs. Now what must you do when you switch computers? Fortunately, nothing at all-provided you grab the file CDPLAYER.INI from the Windows directory. It contains all the info from your well-spent hours of meticulous procrastination.
Even if your CD-ROM drive is working fine, keep tabs on the manufacturer to see if new drivers are ever released. You can usually obtain new drivers from the Web, or check an online service or BBS. If you don't have a modem, you can always call the manufacturer and request an update.
This Side Up
If you're tempted to topple your tower system or prop a desktop machine upright, make sure your CD-ROM drive can operate in the vertical position. Most caddy-based drives can, and some tray-loading drives can as well with the help of the small fold-out tabs located on the tray around the disc depression. Check your manual for the final word.
Keep It Clean
If your CDs become dirty or smudged they may continue to work, but the CD-ROM drive's data-transfer rate will quietly drop down to unacceptable. Avoid this problem by simply making sure your CD surfaces are free of dust or smudges. Always try to handle discs by either the edges or the center hole.
LASTDRIVE for Last Generation
Another legacy tip for DOS and Windows 3.x users: If you're having confusion with drive letters, make sure the LASTDRIVE= statement in CONFIG.SYS is set high enough to accommodate all of your logical drives. Unless you're using a Novell network, setting it to Z should fix any problems.
Jammed CD Doesn't Mean Drive Is Toasted
On rare occasions, misaligned CDs can become stuck or jammed in a CD-ROM drive. If you should be so unfortunate, don't rush out and buy a new system. Look for the small manual-eject hole located on the front of the drive. Pushing a straightened paper clip into the hole will force out the seditious CD.
Know Before You Go
CD-ROM drives have become much easier to install, thanks to Windows 95. But problems can still arise from resource conflicts or drives that are unrecognized. The best way to get around these situations is to avoid them entirely by analyzing your system before installation. Find out what resources are in use through the System Control Panel by bringing up the Device Manager and double-clicking on the Computer icon. If attaching an IDE CD-ROM drive, make sure the interface you'll be using is already recognized by the system. If you can anticipate what resources the drive will need, you may be able to shift things ahead of time to accommodate it.
Embrace and Extend
If you haven't downloaded Microsoft's PowerToys because you thought it had nothing to offer you, think again-the set of shell extensions includes two CD-ROM specific applets. QuickCD resides in the system tray and offers one-click access to audio CD functions. AutoPlay Extender is for those who wish that AutoPlay had been invented years ago-it will pop up whenever data CDs with no AutoPlay functionality are inserted into the drive. It will then ask you to designate an application to run for that particular CD, and it will remember the next time that CD is put back in the drive.