Saturday, September 03, 2005

Adding a DVD Drive

Those of you (reportedly in the low single figures) who have been with us since the beginning will remember that this machine came with a CD-RW drive, which seemed adequate at the time and was, actually, quite cheap (i.e., it came with the basic machine).

After the last complete backup, which took about 10 CDs, I realized that I needed something better, so I went around looking for a Linux-compatible DVD drive. Actually, I didn't have to look very long. I work in a Linux shop, so the sys-admins there know what works and what doesn't work. One of them recommended the NEC ND-3540A [This link is currently not responding, and it's to NEC-UK. NEC has one of the most annoying web site design's I've been able to find. Note to NEC sales: make it easy for us to find what you're selling.] He gave me two possible sources:

  • Monarch Computer at $55.99* and free shipping, including the Nero burning software, which wouldn't run under Linux anyway, and
  • at $39.99 (it's cheaper by a buck now) plus $3.80 UPS 3-day shipping, and no software.

I went with, and the package arrived in the promised time. Unpacking, I found no directions whatsoever, no CD, nada. The only paper in the box was the shipping invoice. Also, the drive, while wrapped securely, looked as though it was re-wrapped -- i.e., we're probably looking at a returned-and-reshipped product.

Oh, well, I can always send it back myself, so carry on, my wayward son. First order of business was to remove the old CD-RW. I could have kept the CD-RW and installed the DVD as a second drive, but I don't really do a bunch of CD-to-CD copying and I may someday want that open bay for another disk drive. So open the computer case and remove the CD-RW.

Do you really realize how much dust a computer collects? I hadn't had this machine open in a year or so, and it was rather filthy. Surprisingly, it didn't have a lot of cat hair, just miscellaneous particles. Let's not think about that. OK, clean out the computer and disconnect the cables to the CD-RW.

Then comes the problem of removing the front of the case so that I can pull out the drive. The Dell case, it turns out, has its front case latches inside the box. (The side panel has one external latch on the back of the case and is easy to remove.) This took me a few minutes to figure out, but eventually I got the front of the box open and was able to unscrew the CD-RW drive from the frame and remove it.

The back of the CD-RW and the back of the DVD had identical connections, which meant the hookup was easy. The only difference was that the CD had a different jumper setting than the DVD. This isn't too surprising, the jumper setting changes from model to model even with the same manufacturer. A search of the web (which I can't find anymore, see comments about NEC's web organization) convinced me that NEC drives were shipped with the jumper in the "Master" position, which is where I wanted it.

So plug in all the wires, set the DVD drive in the bay, tighten all screws, and close up the case. Now, how does it work?

  • Reboot went cleanly. Apparently kudzu picked up the hardware change without difficulty.
  • I put a data CD in the drive.
    $ mount /media/cdrecorder
    worked just fine, and I was able read the files from the drive.
  • Audio CDs played just fine, using xine anyway.
  • I burned a CD, using k3b. It worked normally. It was a collection of MP3s, and it plays well on my car stereo.
  • The xine distribution from comes with the libdvdcss package, so I had to try it out, using the SG-1 Season 1 DVD set. Xine worked very well. I was able to access the DVD menu, including subtitles and alternate languages, and play the movie in a window or in full-screen mode. There is even an option to do frame dumps to disk (as PNG files, for some reason). The only things that I haven't figured out how to do is reverse (you can back up by moving the sliding bar at the top of the xine controller, but you can't reverse the movie) and do frame-by-frame advance. These may be available somehow, I just haven't figured out how to use them.
  • I had less luck with mplayer, at least the version from with the gmplayer interface. It plays the disk, but only in order, I couldn't access the DVD menu. There is, I see, an "mplayer-gui" package available from livna, but there's a dependency conflict between freshrpms' mplayer and livna's mplayer, so I haven't tried that yet. Maybe a better gui would allow me to access the menu.
  • OK, finally, let's back up some data. I bought some DVD+R 16X disks from the local store. I didn't try for the dual layer feature (which is apparently only now being added to k3b), so each disk holds roughly 5GB of data. I was able to fit all of my files onto the disk, with the exception of the MP3s. That's OK, I have the original CDs for all of those, so I don't need a DVD backup. k3b offered to let me burn at 1X, 2X, or 4X. I picked 2X, and pressed the "burn" switch. I didn't time it, but I suspect it took under 30 minutes to burn 4+ GB, which isn't bad at all. I quit K3B, mounted the disk, and looked over random files, including pictures and videos. Everything looked fine.

So, apparently, everything works as advertised. I'm going to order another one of these babies with the Nero software, for the XP machine the family uses. The Windows box really needs a full backup so that I can finally get SP2 installed. I'll post the results for Windows when I get it installed.

OK, I won't say that the NEC drive fits all of your DVD needs, and, as I said, the one I got seems to have been returned at least once. It works for me, though, and it was recommended by a Linux sys-admin who hasn't had any problems with his. So while Your Mileage May Vary, it seems like a cheap way to add DVD capability to your Linux box.

Oops. I'd previously misquoted the price as $59.99. Go back whence ye came.