white book cd-rom


CD-ROM (an initialism of "Compact Disc Read-Only Memory") is a pre-pressed Compact Disc that contains data accessible to, but not writable by, a computer. While the Compact Disc format was originally designed for music storage and playback, the 1985 “Yellow Book” standard developed by Sony and Philips adapted the format to hold any form of binary data.

CD-ROMs are popularly used to distribute computer software, including games and multimedia applications, though any data can be stored (up to the capacity limit of a disc). Some CDs hold both computer data and audio with the latter capable of being played on a CD player, whilst data (such as software or digital video) is only usable on a computer (such as PC CD-ROMs). These are called Enhanced CDs.

Although many people use lowercase letters in this acronym, proper presentation is in all capital letters with a hyphen between CD and ROM. It was also suggested by some, especially soon after the technology was first released, that CD-ROM was an acronym for "Compact Disc read-only-media", or that it was a more "correct" definition. This was not the intention of the original team who developed the CD-ROM, and common acceptance of the "memory" definition is now almost universal. This is probably in no small part due to the widespread use of other "ROM" acronyms such as Flash-ROMs and EEPROMs where "memory" is usually the correct term.


CD-ROM discs are identical in appearance to audio CDs, and data are stored and retrieved in a very similar manner (only differing from audio CDs in the standards used to store the data). Discs are made from a 1.2 mm thick disc of polycarbonate plastic, with a thin layer of aluminium to make a reflective surface. The most common size of CD-ROM disc is 120 mm in diameter, though the smaller Mini CD standard with an 80 mm diameter, as well as numerous non-standard sizes and shapes (e.g. business card-sized media) are also available. Data is stored on the disc as a series of microscopic indentations. A laser is shown onto the reflective surface of the disc to read the pattern of pits and lands ("pits", with the gaps between them referred to as "lands"). Because the depth of the pits is approximately one-quarter to one-sixth of the wavelength of the laser light used to read the disc, the reflected beam's phase is shifted in relation to the incoming beam, causing destructive interference and reducing the reflected beam's intensity. This pattern of changing intensity of the reflected beam is converted into binary data.


There are several formats used for data stored on compact discs, known collectively as the Rainbow Books. These include the original Red Book standards for CD audio, White Book and Yellow Book CD-ROM. The ECMA-130 standard, which gives a thorough description of the physics and physical layer of the CD-ROM, inclusive of Cross-interleaved Reed-Solomon coding CIRC and Eight-to-Fourteen Modulation, can be downloaded from

ISO 9660 defines the standard file system of a CD-ROM, although it is due to be replaced by ISO 13490. UDF format is used on user-writeable CD-R and CD-RW discs that are intended to be extended or overwritten. The bootable CD specification, to make a CD emulate a hard disk or floppy, is called El Torito. Apparently named this because its design originated in an El Torito restaurant in Irvine, California.

CD-ROM format

A CD-ROM sector contains 2352 bytes, divided into 98 24-byte frames. The CD-ROM is, in essence, a data disk, which cannot rely on error concealment, and therefore requires a higher reliability of the retrieved data. In order to achieve improved error correction and detection, a CD-ROM has a third layer of Reed-Solomon error correction. A Mode-1 CD-ROM, which has the full three layers of error correction data, contains a net 2048 bytes of the available 2352 per sector. In a Mode-2 CD-ROM, which is mostly used for video files, there are 2336 user-available bytes per sector. The net byte rate of a Mode-1 CD-ROM, based on comparison to CDDA audio standards, is 44.1k/s×4B×2048/2352 = 153.6 kB/s. The playing time is 74 minutes, or 4440 seconds, so that the net capacity of a Mode-1 CD-ROM is 682 MB.

A 1x speed CD drive reads 75 consecutive sectors per second.

CD sector contents

  • A standard 74 min CD contains 333,000 blocks or sectors.
  • Each sector is 2352 bytes, and contains 2048 bytes of PC (MODE1) Data, 2336 bytes of PSX/VCD (MODE2) Data, or 2352 bytes of AUDIO.
  • The difference between sector size and data content are the Headers info and the Error Correction Codes, that are big for Data (high precision required), small for VCD (standard for video) and none for audio.
  • If extracting the disc in RAW format (standard for creating images) always extract 2352 bytes per sector, not 2048/2336/2352 bytes depending on data type (basically, extracting the whole sector). This fact has two main consequences:
    • Recording data CDs at very high speed (40x) can be done without losing information. However, as audio CDs do not contain a third layer of error correction codes, recording these at high speed may result in more unrecoverable errors or 'clicks' in the audio.
    • On a 74 minute CD, one can fit larger images using RAW mode, up to 333,000 × 2352 = 783,216,000 bytes (747~ MB). This is the upper limit for RAW images created on a 74 min or 650~ MB Red Book CD. The 14.8% increase is due to the discarding of error correction data
    • The sync pattern for Mode 1 CDs is 0xff00ffffffffffffffff00ff
  • Please note that an image size is always a multiple of 2352 bytes (the size of a block) when extracting in RAW mode.

Layout Type ← 2,352 bytes block →
CD Digital Audio: 2,352 bytes of Digital Audio
CD-ROM (MODE1): 12 4 2,048 bytes of user data 4 8 276
CD-ROM (MODE2): 12 4 2,336 bytes of user data
Legend (bytes)
12 sync
4 sector ID
4 error detection
8 blank/null
276 error correction


Pre-pressed CD-ROMs are mass-produced by a process of stamping where a glass master disc is created and used to make "stampers", which are in turn used to manufacture multiple copies of the final disc with the pits already present. Recordable (CD-R) and rewritable (CD-RW) discs are manufactured by a similar method, but the data are recorded on them by a laser changing the properties of a dye or phase change material in a process that is often referred to as "burning".


A standard 120 mm CD-ROM holds up to 703.1 MB (737 million bytes) of data (not counting error correction/detection data). To put this storage capacity into context, the average novel contains 100,000 words. Assume that average word length is 10 letters and that each letter occupies one byte. A novel therefore might occupy 1,000,000 bytes (1000 kB, without layout information). One CD can therefore contain around 700 novels. If each novel occupies at least one centimetre of bookshelf space, then one CD can contain the equivalent of seven metres of bookshelf. However, textual data can be compressed by more than a factor of ten, using compression algorithms, so a CD-ROM can accommodate close to 100 metres of bookshelf space.

In comparison a single layer DVD contains 4.4 GB of data, approximately 6 times the amount of a CD-ROM.

Capacities of Compact Disc types
Type Sectors Data max size Audio max size
(MB) (MB) (min)
8 cm 94,500 193.536 222.264 21
283,500 580.608 666.792 63
650 MB 333,000 681.984 783.216 74
700 MB 360,000 737.280 846.720 80
800 MB 405,000 829.440 952.560 90
900 MB 445,500 912.384 1,047.816 99
Note: Megabyte (MB) and minute (min) values are exact.

CD capacities are always given in binary units, a "700 MB" CD has a nominal capacity of about 700.000 KB. DVD capacities, on the other hand, are given in decimal units: a "4.7 GB" DVD has a nominal capacity of about 4.377 GB.

CD-ROM drives

CD-ROM discs are read using CD-ROM drives, which are now almost universal on personal computers. A CD-ROM drive may be connected to the computer via an IDE (ATA), SCSI, S-ATA, Firewire, or USB interface or a proprietary interface, such as the Panasonic CD interface. Virtually all modern CD-ROM drives can also play audio CDs as well as Video CDs and other data standards when used in conjunction with the right software.

Laser and Optics

CD-ROM drives employ a near-infrared 780 nm laser diode. The laser beam is directed onto the disc via an opto-electronic tracking module, which then detects whether the beam has been reflected or scattered.

Transfer rates

The rate at which CD-ROM drives can transfer data from the disc is gauged by a speed factor relative to music CDs: 1x or 1-speed which gives a data transfer rate of 150 kilobytes per second in the most common data format. By increasing the speed at which the disc is spun, data can be transferred at greater rates. For example, a CD-ROM drive that can read at 8x speed spins the disc at up to 4000 rpm (compared to the 500 rpm maximum for 1x speed), giving a transfer rate of 1.2 megabytes per second. Above 12x speed, vibration and heat can become a problem. CD-ROM drives above this speed tackle the problem in several ways. Constant angular velocity (CAV) drives spin the disc at a constant rate, leading to faster data transfer when reading from the outer parts of the disc, but slower towards the centre. 20x was thought to be the maximum speed due to mechanical constraints until Samsung Electronics introduced the SCR-3230, a 32x CD-ROM drive which uses a ball bearing system to balance the spinning disc in the drive to reduce vibration and noise. As of 2004, the fastest transfer rate commonly available is about 52x or 10,350 rpm and 7.62 megabytes per second, though this is only when reading information from the outer parts of a disc. Future speed increases based simply upon spinning the disc faster are particularly limited by the strength of polycarbonate plastic used in CD manufacturing, though improvements can still be obtained by the use of multiple laser pickups as demonstrated by the Kenwood TrueX 72x which uses seven laser beams and a rotation speed of approximately 10x.

CD-Recordable drives are often sold with three different speed ratings, one speed for write-once operations, one for re-write operations, and one for read-only operations. The speeds are typically listed in that order; ie a 12x/10x/32x CD drive can, CPU and media permitting, write to CD-R discs at 12x speed (1.80 MB/s), write to CD-RW discs at 10x speed (1.50 MB/s), and read from CD discs at 32x speed (4.80 MB/s).

The 1x speed rating for CD-ROM (150 KB/s) is different than 1x speed rating for audio CD (172.3 KB/s) and is not to be confused with the 1x speed rating for DVDs (1.32 MB/s).

Common transfer speeds:

Data Transfer Speeds
Transfer Speed KB/s Mbit/s
1x 150 1.2288

























Copyright issues

There has been a move by the recording industry to make audio CDs (CDDAs, Red Book CDs) unplayable on computer CD-ROM drives, to prevent the copying of music. This is done by intentionally introducing errors onto the disc that the embedded circuits on most stand-alone audio players can automatically compensate for, but which may confuse CD-ROM drives. Consumer rights advocates are as of October 2001 pushing to require warning labels on compact discs that do not conform to the official Compact Disc Digital Audio standard (often called the Red Book) to inform consumers of which discs do not permit full fair use of their content.

In 2005, Sony BMG Music Entertainment was criticised when a copy protection mechanism known as Extended Copy Protection (XCP) used on some of their audio CDs automatically and surreptitiously installed copy-prevention software on computers (see 2005 Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal). Such discs are not legally allowed to be called CDs or Compact Discs because they break the Red Book standard governing CDs, and for example describes them as "copy protected discs" rather than "compact discs" or "CDs".

Software distributors, and in particular distributors of computer games, often make use of various copy protection schemes to prevent software running from any media besides the original CD-ROMs. This differs somewhat from audio CD protection in that it is usually implemented in both the media and the software itself. The CD-ROM itself may contain "weak" sectors to make copying the disc more difficult, and additional data that may be difficult or impossible to copy to a CD-R or disc image, but which the software checks for each time it is run to ensure an original disc and not an unauthorized copy is present in the computer's CD-ROM drive.

Manufacturers of CD writers (CD-R or CD-RW) are encouraged by the music industry to ensure that every drive they produce has a unique identifier, which will be encoded by the drive on every disc that it records: the RID or Recorder Identification Code. This is a counterpart to the SID—the Source Identification Code, an eight character code beginning with "IFPI" that is usually stamped on discs produced by CD recording plants.

See also


Further reading

External links

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