Penny Pinching Gone Too Far
In case you're looking at this and wondering what I'm going on about, I'll save you some pondering. Modern optical drives no longer have the ability to act as CD players. Where it used to be possible and commonplace for any optical drive to play an audio CD directly, this is no longer the case. Transfer of digital audio data over the bus (as opposed to the more "correct" method of using SPDIF output directly from the drive) is commonplace today. A few optical drives had audio connector artifacts, though these have now vanished as well. I still don't particularly care for this approach, but at least it works now. It didn't when this rant was written. Oh, and back then, we also knew these drives as CD or DVD-ROM drives, not "optical drives".
The rest of this article remains as written, for historical interest.
I opened the case just the other day to add a TV tuner card, and I
noticed something missing. The CD audio cables! I realize that CD audio
can be run over the bus, and there are certainly reasons to do this,
but is the extra cent or so that CD audio cable must cost the drive
maker just not worth it compared to routing the audio over the already
busy data and PCI bus so it can get to the soundcard?
Most people would never notice, but on my new computer I will be running VMware, which doesn't get along with CD audio over the IDE bus. That "feature" must be turned off, or CD-ROM access under a virtual machine doesn't usually function properly.
So I figured (in error) that surely these little cables that populate the box of almost every CD-ROM drive sold these days would be easy to pick up at Best Buy, Circuit City or nearly any other major computer retailer. Wrong. The "techs" at Best Buy told me that the cables (while usually provided) are simply thrown out whenever they install a new drive. The Circuit City in my area doesn't have a service department and they didn't stock the cables either. I went to some office supply stores, where I didn't find the cables either. Finally I found an actual computer builder who DOES (!) carry these little cables. I got a few types and headed home at long last.
I went with one
analog cable and one SPDIF cable. (SPDIF, by the way, could be used to
provide the "totally digital" audio to the soundcard that travels over
the bus in most systems--and EVERY CD-ROM drive I've ever seen has an
SPDIF connector on it!) With this I found one of the Dell-provided
drives has a nonfunctioning SPDIF output. The other drive's SPDIF
output works just fine. I find this odd, considering that both are made
Now I have properly connected CD-ROM drives, something Dell should have done at the factory. The total cost to me was the gas and cables. I'd guess it came to about $13. To equip the machine properly might have cost Dell a few extra seconds and almost no money since every drive I've ever seen comes with at least the analog audio cable.
Oddly enough, I owned a cheap eMachine until fairly recently and it DID come with the proper analog audio cables from the CD and DVD ROM drives to the onboard sound "card".
Dell can do better than this...and so can any other computer maker or shop who installs CD/DVD-ROM drives without the accompanying audio cables. Digital Audio is a wonderful thing. Digital Audio over the data bus is a cheap hack.
Copyright 2007-2014 by William R. Walsh. All Rights Reserved. Page created July 9th, 2007. Updated February 9th, 2014.