Wednesday, 18 November 2015

How to retro: Playing backup CDs on old systems

Next to floppy disks, CDs are the worst medium for storing games when you're a retro gamer. CDs are susceptible to disc rot, they easily become scratched, and are generally a pain in the behind to get to work on older systems after some years. Because of that, it is of paramount importance that you back up your CD and DVD based retro games! I dump all of mine to disc images that I store on my computer (with a remote backup elsewhere, of course. Who's paranoid?). But having a backup is one thing - you need to be able to actually use that backup as well. For some of the older systems, like the ones I normally play around with, this is not a problem because they don't have any copy protection. You simply burn the images back onto a disc, pop it in, and voila you're playing your favourite game in no time.

It doesn't always work though... For example, when burning images for my SegaCD they would only very rarely work at all. The console would try and try to read the discs, but often it would simply give up - sometimes in the beginning while loading the game, and sometimes in the middle of the game whilst trying to load new content. I tried several different types of CDs, but to no avail, so I began thinking that my SegaCD had a broken laser or something. That wasn't the case though, the CDs were simply being written at too high speed in my modern PC. I tried fiddling with settings in a myriad of burning software, but soon found that modern CD/DVD writers are incapable of writing slowly, they often have a minimum speed of 8x or 12x. I therefore went on the hunt for an old CD burner and found an excellent Plextor IDE drive capable of writing in 1x speed! The only problem was that being an old drive it only connected to an IDE bus, which is nowhere to be found on modern PCs... Sigh, nothing seemed to be working out for me. But then I got the fantastic idea (simple yes, but fantastic nonetheless) that I would try to rip the controller out of an old USB drive. Most of us probably have one or two old USB harddrives laying around that we don't use anymore, and within those are an IDE-to-USB controller that fits perfectly on that old CD burner drive. So using a screwdriver and some brute force I disassembled the USB harddrive, pulled out the controller card, and attached it to my Plextor drive. I plugged it in to my Windows 7 PC and it was immediately recognized as a CD burner, and now I can finally burn CDs at 1x speed. AND THEY WORK PERFECTLY ON MY SEGA CD AND AMIGA CD32! Sorry, I just got really excited there.

I hope this little post has inspired some of you guys to try this. Playing backups are becoming more and more important, if we want to be able to enjoy our CD based retro games in the future, so remember this:
  1. always have backups of your beloved games, and 
  2. a backup is worth nothing if you can't play it ;-)
Until next time, stay retro!


  1. Hey thanks for this, will be buying a USB to IDE dongle and trying this out with my Playstation!

    1. So glad to be of help :-) I hope you're successful in your endeavours.