Windows NT 4.0 and Optical Media.

Writing (and to a lesser extent reading) optical media (CDs and DVDs) has always been an operation which several 'experts' have claimed NT 4.0 was incapable of performing. The reality of the situation is in fact the exact opposite. Correctly set up, NT 4.0 (both Workstation and Server) is capable of excellent results. Below are my recommendations and observations on what needs to be done to ensure a successful system.

Important Points:

  1. The CD or DVD Writer must be compatible with Windows NT 4.0. See Knowledgebase article 141379 - "Using SCSI CD-ROM Recorders with Windows NT" for further details. This article is a little dated, what is said about CD recorders applies equally to DVD recorders. Fortunately, nearly all modern hardware satisfies these requirements.
  2. Be realistic about the processor speed requirements for 'burning' optical media. A Pentium classic at 133MHz is MOST UNLIKELY to have sufficient computing 'horsepower' to be able to successfully operate a DVD writer at all. (even at 1 spin recording mode)
    Some practical benchmarks:
  3. Ensure that the bus you have the optical drive(s) connected to is properly configured. (Whilst you are at it, check the bus cabling and settings for your Hard Disk Drive(s) is also correct) An example of 'misconfiguration' would be attempting to use D.M.A. access modes with a standard 40 conductor ATAPI cable. Ensure that drive master/slave jumpers are correctly set. See here for a much more detailed rundown on ATAPI and D.M.A. access modes on NT 4.0.
  4. Use appropriate software:
    Some Software Recommendations:
  5. Be aware of your system limitations whilst it is writing to the media. Use task manager to examine your CPU utilisation whilst conducting a normal disc authoring session. Anything more than 40 to 50% CPU loading indicates you may experience problems or unreliable writing. A correctly configured system using D.M.A. access will have very low CPU utilisation. (Typically < 10%)
  6. Most authoring software gives you the ability to write optical media in either ISO9660 (commonly referred to as 'CD File System - CDFS') or in UDF. (Universal Data Format - This is the recognised defacto standard for data placed onto DVD) Be aware the NT 4.0 DOES NOT come with native support for UDF and cannot read media written in this format. Several manufacturers have 'UDF Reader' packages available for NT 4.0 which add a file system driver to allow access to UDF media. I would advise adding such software. Roxio and Software Architects make suitable programmes for NT 4.0. Unfortunately, Ahead Software (Nero) recently dropped support for NT 4.0 from their stand alone InCD UDF Reader product. You now have to install the full InCD Version 4 product to gain UDF reading capability.
  7. A DVD written using the CD File System (CDFS) may not be able to be correctly read or dealt with until NT 4.0 is advanced to at least Service Pack 5. The CDFS driver was patched by this Service Pack to allow for optical media larger than 700MB. On today's systems, this really isn't an issue. All NT 4.0 systems should be revised to Service Pack 6a and have all the necessary Security Rollups and hotfixes applied as a matter of course. (Unless you have a very good reason for not pursuing this) See here for a detailed explanation of the current status of NT 4.0 revisions.

My Own Observations and Experiences:

Writing Media

I have been using the GoldenHawk CDRWin package since July 2000, utilising a variety of SCSI and ATAPI CD and DVD writers. (Bonus: GoldenHawk supply a suitable licensed ASPI with their software if you don't have ASPI installed on the machine)

NEVER ONCE have I created a 'drink coaster'. (Well, with the exception of those occasions where I did something dumb and caused it to happen - like pressing the cancel button in the middle of recording! In some instances, using re-writable media, I did so on purpose to see how the system reacted to such events!)

For 'packet writing' I use Ahead (Nero) InCD. The Ahead (Nero) InCD Version 4 UDF file system driver is used to read UDF media. (This is added to the system automatically when the InCD full product is installed) It appears to function flawlessly, and does not conflict with GoldenHawk CDRWin.

WARNING - Package Compatibility: You may encounter a certain amount of 'incompatibility' problems between various brand UDF packet writing programmes. Ordinarily, a media written by ANY programme is readable by any other programme, but due to file system inconsistencies between products it may not be possible to perform any functions that require writing to the media (file delete, add, rename etc...) using a product other than the one used to create the UDF media originally. I have seen situations where the mere act of putting a re-writable media into a system using a different packet writing programme has resulted in the media being accessed by the UDF programme, assessed as corrupt and being 'altered' to correct this supposed corruption, resulting in a truly 'scrambled' media that can't be read anywhere ! To avoid this situation, I usually advise that your 'packet-written' media be placed in a 'read-only' drive (ie: DO NOT put a UDF CD in a CD/DVD Writer, DO NOT put a UDF DVD in a DVD Writer) on any system other than one configured identically to the machine used to first create the disc.

WARNING - Media Quality: Packet writing software assumes that a UDF formatted media is in good order and correctly formatted. If the media is dirty, of questionable quality, or the formatting incorrect, the writing process may fail. Depending upon precisely at what point during writing that a failure occurs, some packet writing programmes can be quite ungracious in dealing with the situation, and may not only lose the file being dealt with at the time, but may also corrupt the overall file structure on the media rendering it totally unreadable. Always ensure that a UDF formatted media being used for packet-writing is in good order and clean. If you do encounter such events, ISOBuster may be able to assist in recovering undamaged files from the media.

Reading Media

If you only need to read a UDF media (not write to it) then you only need a UDF Reader file system driver. Several companies produce such products. (See my suggested sources above) I have tested the Adaptec (now Roxio) solution. It functions well, but has a few limitations that I have discovered:


All of the above information primarily deals with using optical media for computer data storage. Although creating other forms of media (eg: CD Digital Audio and DVD Video discs) is possible, that is not my primary focus. My experiences to date suggest that all forms of data stored on CD can be easily created, with an understanding of the data formats and the use of appropriate tools.

DVD forms, particularly commercial video (movies etc.), are more problematic because of copy control measures put in place by the disc manufacturers. DVD Video playback on NT 4.0 is difficult to achieve at best. Some persons have reported success in this area, but in my opinion, it is not worth the effort, especially in light of the low costs involved in purchasing a separate stand alone consumer DVD player for such activities. NT 4.0 is capable of excellent results when playing back lower bandwidth video sources, such as those commonly encountered on the internet. See here for a discussion of what is required. These lower bandwidth video forms (eg: XVid) can of course be stored on a CD or DVD media perfectly.

This page is very much a 'work in progress'. If you know of useful software or tweaks dealing with CD/DVD writing and reading, please contact the author via the email link on the index of this site.

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Last Update April 7, 2010 at 8:44 PMAEST.