Burning CDs on a Mac

1998 – First, you’re going to need a lot of memory. All you can afford. Pump your Mac to the maximum memory you can get. Once you get over 80 MB, you’ll be kind of redundant – most CD-writing programs only provide for a 64 MB RAM cache. Aim for at least 64 MB of free RAM.

CD-R logoI cut CDs for clients, and over time they always ask how much it would cost to cut CDs full time. Considering the clients I work for are graphics clients, we’re dealing with clients with money and hardware, but not the right attitude. When they read ads that offer a CD-R drive for well under $200, I always laugh. For a business, about $1,400 is right. Here’s the tally.

A Dedicated CD Burner

Since this machine will be offline for the entire time the data is being prepared and when the CD is being written, it is not feasible for a company to take their top line graphics machine out of service for a couple of hours just to cut a CD. That’s not profitable. So here’s the recommendation.

Purchase a Power Macintosh 6100 bare bones and monitor for $200
Add two 1 GB drives and a 4.3 GB drive $400
Purchase 64 MB of memory (2 x 32 MB) (ballpark figure) $100
Purchase a very good quality SCSI CD-R ($200 drives are crap) $300
Purchase an 8x or higher CD-ROM drive (separate, because the 6100 shipped with a slower drive) $100
Normal software complement needed (I add a good deal of SCSI helpers, Speed Doubler, etc.) $300

Total is somewhere around $1,400. For a company that cuts 20 or 30 CDs per month, it’s worth it. For a company that burns 20 to 30 CDs per year, it’s a possible waste of time.

I’ll explain the hardware. The first 1 GB drive is for your boot volume and Toast Data cache. The 4.3 GB drive is for scratch, when making and forming a CD into final form, and the second 1 GB drive is for final cut – 650 MB of data is copied clean from the 4.3 GB drive and then cut clean from this drive to CD-R – this makes sure files are contiguous and the data integrity is high. Also, since this is now a separate dedicated drive with nothing running on it – not just of a partition off of a main drive – SCSI errors are reduced.

I’ve loaded this machine with 72 MB of memory simply because I want to let Toast use the highest amount of RAM cache that can be made available to it. In this case, either 32 or 64 MB of memory (depending on the bootup RAM usage). 64 MB of memory = about 50 seconds of uninterrupted write time that the SCSI can fail, reset, and start reading from before the CD cut is ruined. Realize that, on a 4x writer, 1.2 MB/sec must be read constantly from the original drive to the writer for 17 minutes straight – no interruptions, no false reads, no interference, no PPP connections, no TCP/IP problems, no crashes, nothing.

This is hard on a Mac. Macs have background things that need attention, even when they’re not doing anything. A higher RAM cache for Toast allows more leeway, especially when the machine is networked. When a Mac is connected to a network, every 2.3 seconds there is a network check – it has higher priority than Toast, as does almost every system software call. You can count on it: Every 2.3 seconds there will be a quick pause. Every 2.3 seconds, the system will pause from .01 to 2.3 seconds while the network reinitializes – a possible 6.9 second break. There had better be 9 MB of RAM cache available, just in case this happens. Otherwise, your write is toasted (hence the name of the software).

9 MB is the bare minimum safe RAM cache for a Macintosh with a 4x writer. You must have at least 5 MB if you have a 2x writer and 3 MB if you have a 1x writer. Consider the expense both in the time involved preparing for the cut, how much hardware you might need to cut one, and how many CDs you’re planning on throwing away before you get one formatted the way you want. Expect one out of every 10 writes to go bad for one reason or another – and don’t buy cheap media unless you’re just spitting in the wind.

This topic is near and dear to me. I cut a few CDs with my Quadra 610 when I first got my CD writer, but I had 68 MB of memory on it, and it worked just fine. I found early that if Toast had less than a 16 MB memory cache, I was playing with fire. When I purchased my PowerCenter 150, I loaded it up with memory and hard drive space, knowing exactly what I’d need to cut a CD in less than an hour, instead of the days of prep work it may take to do it on a 1 GB Quadra 610 with 32 MB of memory.

As for the 610, it can certainly cut CDs at 2x speed without issue – but you’ll have to really load the machine to do it. Get more memory and a dedicated 1 GB hard drive, and you’ll be fine.

Use Quality Discs

Can you please recommend good media? I remember hearing a while back that there is a quality difference between so-called “gold” versus “green” surfaced media. On my last purchase round, retailers and manufacturers seemed to be doing their best to obfuscate the issue. Kodak said their media was “gold;” I bought a 25-pack, and damned if they didn’t turn out to be gold-green.

I have my own experience, but you should get ahold of Andy McFadden’s CD-Recordable FAQ.

That said, I only work on gold for masters. I do AV work as well as data storage, which means I make custom audio CDs. Golds are the only CDs that work with audio CD players correctly – I’ll be more specific.

The most sensitive audio CD players are in car stereo equipment. Greenbacks usually skip like hell, as well as gold-green-backs. While I’ve seen the price of gold/green and greens fall to 47¢ per disc, you won’t catch me buying them. Since I need media to last and to also be under a considerable amount of use, I’m paying around $4 per blank. (Prices have dropped significantly since this was written.)

Greenbacks don’t last, unless you rarely use them. For daily use, where they see a lot of sun, or are read continuously, after about six months of use they’ll develop spots on them that are disintegration of the foil. Taito Yuden are the most common greens, and they make two levels that are impossible to compare without seeing them and sampling them first. Because of it, I stay away from greens.

Kodak InfoGuard CR-R discGreen-gold are meant to fool people. That’s all I can figure. Kodak makes two gold series – a green/gold foil sandwich, and the InfoGuard series. The InfoGuard series is actually a gold spray that’s sprayed on one side of the CD, thick enough that they can imprint their “pen writable” logo on the back of the gold spray. This gold spray is what is actually written to through the plastic on the CD. This is a very cheap way of creating good CDs, but there are some drawbacks and additional precautions.

If you’re using Kodak InfoGuard, you can use them forever – as long as you use a CD-Stomper and put a paper label over the InfoGuard label side. I know that Kodak is bragging about the ability to write whatever you want on the CD with a marker, but the problem is that you can scratch the gold coating off with your fingernail. Therefore, use the marker to quick mark the CD, then use a CD-Stomper and put a real paper label over the CD to protect it. If you do this, the CD will last for years. If you don’t, then handle them like they’re family jewels.

Officially, writable silvers aren’t supposed to exist, but they do – only in mass production though. The closest thing to silvers (silvers are the original CD format – a pressed format that’s prewritten media before stamping) is a cross between blue and gold.

Gold is the best for audio, blue is best (IMHO) for data. Blues cannot be read by many audio CD players, so audio is out. But what blue can survive better than any other CD-R format is direct sunlight. You can leave these little terrors out in the rain or sit them in the windowsill, and they’ll not spot at all (like the green’s do). Also, blues have an added feature – since the blue’s use a different plastic composite and the specific spectrum of blues is set differently from other colors, the blue’s tend to deal with scratches even better than gold’s do.

Those that argue that the laser doesn’t care are right, but interference/diffraction through scratches is much more limited in the type of interference that occurs, and that interference is targeted at a higher frequency than normal CD data is written in – hence, the interference is at a higher frequency than the digital packets are read at, so less interference at the readable frequency.

There may be those that remember their A-bomb physics that can help figure out what I’m trying to say here….

Scott L. Barber <serker@earthling.net>
Pres/CEO, SERKER Worldwide, Inc.
Providing Hardware/Networking/Telecomm for 13 years

Further Reading

Scott L. Barber first posted this to Quadlist, the listserv for users of 68040-based Macs. It is reprinted with his permission.

Short link: https://goo.gl/r7BcZ4