Build a $50 DVD burner

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 11 September, 2007

Tired of your slow notebook burner?
Want to rip a lot of CDs – as I have in the last week?
Or maybe you’ve decided that, really and truly, you are going to get serious about backing up important data.

Adding an external burner – especially for notebooks – is a good option. And if you build one it is economical too. You can build a burner for $50-60 shopping online. Expect to pay a lot more at the local mall for a drive that may not be as fast or that supports FireWire in addition to USB.

Show and tell
This video is aimed at the lady across the street who – despite owning 2 computers, several cameras and a wide format inkjet to support her photography business – wasn’t too clear on the difference between disk “memory” and system “memory”.

This is for small business folks.

If you’ve installed a PCI card you’ll find this pretty boring. But a lot of folks haven’t and this video is aimed at them.

Caveat emptor
The video assumes an ATA/IDE drive, not a SATA drive. And case to match, natch. Most cases are IDE or ATA, but it appears that most of the new HD drives are SATA. They don’t mix and match.

If you want to play movies this probably won’t work. I’m not sure why, but decoding movies from DVD is more than simply being able to read or write the disk.

Without further adieu
Here’s the video:

Update: where does the audio plug go? It goes in about half an inch to the left of the big, fat ATA connector. Directly to the left of the ATA connector on my Samsung drive are a group of 6 pins with a plastic connector or jumper connecting two of the pins. Do not remove the jumper or attempt to plug the flat audio connector into the other pins. Unlike the other connectors the audio connector is not keyed. You can see the narrow horizontal slot – on the Samsung – it goes in.

I’ve never used the audio before and the questions got me wondering why anyone would. These are computer optical drives: if you don’t hook them up to a computer you have no controls. If they are hooked up to a computer the FireWire or USB cable carries the audio signals, NOT the case’s audio connector that goes to a headphone jack.

To check it out I just opened the case and tried to get an audio signal out of the case through the headphone jack. Couldn’t do it. So unless someone has a good reason for hooking up the audio cable to the headphone jack on the case I’d say it isn’t worth the bother.

Comments welcome, as always. Pretty slick opening credits, eh?

And I mention LightScribe, which is actually a pretty handy way to label a few DVDs and CDs without too much bother.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Graeme September 12, 2007 at 8:42 am

Playing with official players on Windows may not always work, thanks to the media cartels’ DRM. However, a cross platform solution like VLC should work fine to play DVDs from these kind of burners, since it just uses tools like DeCSS internally to crack the DRM and play the content.

millso September 12, 2007 at 8:57 am

couldn’t find the video here either?

Frank C. September 12, 2007 at 9:35 am

If you want to hook up the audio how do you do that? I mean if you already have a burner inside the computer case and this external burner is a 2nd burner. The burner inside the case is already hooked up to the audio connector.
Thanks, Frank.

Paul Covington September 12, 2007 at 9:57 am

Frank, the audio cable has four slots which fit snugly on the left side of the rear panel. You may have three or four wires coming out of the connector, one of the wires will be red. I plug in the connector so the red wire is to the right. In most systems this puts the right channel audio to the right speaker. Enjoy your new external player!

Elwood September 15, 2007 at 5:50 pm

In your video you said that IDE and SATA drives can’t be mixed, so does that mean if your computer is using IDE hard drives then the external case should have IDE components also or visa versa if your system has SATA drives. Say my system has SATA hard drives, wouldn’t an IDE orEIDE hard drive/ CD rom work on the system anyway if its in an external case.

Robin Harris September 16, 2007 at 11:33 am


Good questions.

I’ve never used the audio cable, so I never thought about it until people asked.

The audio cable goes to a mini-jack, so it is an analog output. The digital output goes through the FireWire or USB cable to the computer.

The burner must be connected to a computer to control it. Since I listen to digitized music through iTunes, the headphone jack doesn’t buy me anything.

I’d like to hear what people use the headphone jack for.


All I meant is that a SATA drive won’t work in a case with an IDE/ATAPI connector. If you have an IDE case, you have to have an IDE burner.


Elwood September 18, 2007 at 6:14 pm

I’ve done a search for exturnal cases with a built in power supply such as the one you said to look for, but found none under $60. What sight did you get your exturnal case from and what was the make and model number. I’d like to check it out on the web.

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