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[ The PC Guide | Troubleshooting and Repair Guide | The Troubleshooting Expert | Troubleshooting Specific Components | Troubleshooting CD-ROM Drives | Errors ]

I have a CD that is scratched and isn't working properly

Explanation: You have a CD that is scratched. The disk is not working properly, meaning that it is either giving you read errors when you try to use it, or it is not being detected at all by the drive. The drive itself has been ruled out as the cause of the problem because other disks work without any trouble.

Diagnosis: The design of compact disk media is such that the actual data layer, where the information on the disk is stored, is located not on the bottom of the disk, but physically right under where the label is on the top. The laser shines through the thickness of the plastic to see the data. This is described in more detail here, and the significance of this is that the bottom surface of the disk can tolerate some amount of abuse without the disk being ruined, since the data is not actually there. Otherwise a single scratch would destroy the disk completely. Some scratches can cause errors however, not because they are removing the data from the disk, but because they diffuse or diffract the laser so it cannot read properly.


  • If the disk is an important one, you can repair it. There are kits on the market that are used to essentially buff the scratch off the surface of the disk. I have not used these kits before but see no reason why they should not work properly.
  • An easier solution is often to contact the manufacturer of the software or data on the disk and ask for a replacement. Usually the company will be willing to exchange a defective disk for a good one for only a nominal charge.
  • Taking proper care of your disks will help cut down on the number of disks damaged in this manner.

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