CD's: The Extra-Fragile Media
The Issue of Compact Disks
To the average consumer, CD's, or compact disks, probably seem like a good idea. After all, they hold much more data than the older floppy disks, or any previous storage media, for that matter. CD's even look neat, and are easy to store together. However, to an efficient-minded programmer such as myself, they are an abomination to computer science. I'm not saying they aren't useful as long-term storage devices. They work great for that purpose. What I'm saying is, that is ALL they are useful for and nothing else. DVD's also fall into this same category; they are awesome for long-term storage of large amounts of data, such as backup and system restore information. Other than that, I can't stand to look at them. I will now proceed to explain why, and what alternatives there are.
The first reason I can't stand CD's is how fragile they are. If you think back to the days of floppy disks, audio cassettes, VCR tapes, and most other antiquated storage media, you'll recall that most of them could be thrown across a room and still work fine, even after years of use. Records would eventually wear away, of course, but the rest of them could last for a lifetime. This is not so with compact disks. CD's are just too easily scratched, and one good scratch is enough to blot out any hope of recovering data from the disk.
How can disks get scratched, you ask? What if I'm a perfectionist and keep all my disks in mint condition? They should never get scratched then, right? Wrong. CD's can get scratched mainly when they are used often in the normal way, by older (and sometimes newer) drives. The disk drive is usually the cause of major scratches, unless you never use your disks at all (which is the case in long-term storage, as I mentioned earlier that they are quite useful for). These scratches facilitate the need to buy a new disk, or go without whatever was contained on it.
In fact I recall once I had gotten a brand new DVD and was horrified when the movie stopped playing right in the middle. I battled with my ancient DVD-ROM drive for over an hour trying to get it to play, but to no avail. I did manage to watch the rest of the movie sometime later, but that was certainly one annoying intermission. Luckily, the DVD wasn't scratched, but that drive certainly has the potential. I've seen it scratch many a good DVD's in its time, and I hope to personally put it to rest in the near future when I get a new drive. When someone names a drive a "CD-burner" I don't exactly get a warm, fuzzy feeling all over, do you? Now we also "rip" music from CD's; in fact there's a tab in Windows Media Player that says "rip music." Next we'll be tearing, impaling, and shredding, whatever those terms will mean.
By the way, I'm going to add a little-known fact in here, but just because it's relevant (sort of). You've probably heard of Nero CD-burning software, but if you haven't, don't beat yourself up. Well, what's funny about that name is that a few centuries ago, there was a guy named Nero who liked to burn things. Well, he liked to burn....people. Alive. No, really. If you don't believe me, it's in the Fox's Book of Martyrs. It starts right in on Nero in chapter one, it's pretty gruesome what he did to some people. I won't go into any gory details, but I think it's just a little bit ironic that they named "CD-burning software" after him. There's your historical fact for the day, anyway.
Another huge problem with CD's is the loading times. Being a video gamer, I know how disappointing it is to be in the middle of playing a game only to see the screen freeze, and hear the drive start humming for twenty seconds before the game can continue. Newer drives are a bit faster, of course, but it still is quite annoying to have a delay of any length, in virtually any game.
The third main reason I can't stand CD's is the maximum drive speed. Generally the market in computers sticks with components and hardware that can be continually shrunk, improved, upgraded, and made better or faster. This is not the case with CD drive speeds. The maximum speed is 52x for reading or writing. Why? The main reason seems to be that at any greater speeds, the disks will shatter, which isn't all that great for customer satisfaction ratings, no matter how fast it was spinning beforehand. There might be some customers who would get a kick out of a "CD-shatter drive" in addition to their "CD-burner drive" but I am not one of them.
What are the alternatives, then? I aim to tell you of two possibilities that I believe can and will become the new generation of storage media. Again, CD's will still remain a great long-term storage media, but for playing games from or constant loading of data, they just don't cut it.
The first alternative is something called CD images, which is a CD stored as a single file on your hard drive. A hard drive is a much more stable and re-useable medium than the compact disk, and has a much faster loading time than the CD. They are also much quieter and can store much more data, and do not require a lot of time to begin spinning, so using images for gaming allows one to avoid in-game delays. How is this possible?
A free program called Daemon Tools is the answer. Look it up on google, you'll be directed to a handful of sites where you can download it. This amazing piece of software can do a virtual load of a CD image (called mounting the image), as if you had inserted the CD into an invisible CD drive. You can then play games as if the image was an actual CD. I might add that it is completely legal to burn an image of any disk you own onto your hard drive and play a game from it. The developers might not like that, but once you buy the game disk and your hard drive, it's up to you as a consumer what you do with them both. As long as they both remain in your possession and ONLY your possession, you haven't done anything wrong.
Once I found out about Daemon Tools, I used Nero Express (hehe) to burn images of all my game CD's and have never used them since. Unfortunately, some of my games refused to run from the virtual CD, and I am still forced into using the silly old disk. However, using Daemon Tools when possible has drastically improved the performance of all the games I play, as well as preserving my CD's to be completely scratch free and excellent backup copies of the games. I also back up my important documents on CD, and I usually never have to use the same CD more than three times for backup, because by the third time it's already full.
The second possibility is that a newer, more efficient, and more reliable storage media might be developed. I'm picturing a much smaller drive that has a spherical drive bay, and uses marble-like disks that store the data way inside, so that it can't be affected by scratches on the surface. Of course, this is only my own imagination; it may end up being more like the touch-screen, wireless transfer systems shown in the movie Paycheck, or the intuitive, glove-controlled computer system in Minority Report, which uses panes of glass for data storage and transfer.
There are two options you'll normally have when you want to burn a CD. You can either burn a COPY of the CD, or you can burn an IMAGE of it onto your hard drive. You might not have been aware of the second option because you didn't know what it was, but now you do. I didn't know what it was before I discovered Daemon Tools, but when I did, my computer was never the same again. In writing this hub, I hope that you, too, can celebrate freedom from CD's using Daemon Tools or a similar program. After all, a new, better media could be just around the corner...
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