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CD Drives

The CD drive. Mainstay of digital storage and music reproduction technology. Perfect sound forever and all that. Cheap, convenient and capacious enough to be used for backups. And they all share the same crap design features.

CD drives are so simple, there is very little to go wrong with them - but they do have a weak spot. The lens. However clean the atmosphere, dust accumulates on the surface of the lens and it only takes a tiny amount to prevent it working properly - an amount so small that the lens still looks perfectly clean to the naked eye. So, the most common operation that has to be performed on a CD drive is to clean the lens.

Forget so-called lens cleaner CDs. To clean the lens properly, it is necessary to gain physical access to it and wet clean it with isopropanol. This is where we meet with crap design.

So, you take the thing out of the computer. There are four screws holding the lid on. You undo the screws and take the lid off. If the thing was properly designed, you would now have access to the lens. But in reality it was designed by a fuckwit.

The lid is not the top of the case, but the bottom. Having taken it off, all you can see is the circuit board. You now have to get this out. After peering and prying at it for ages, you finally realise that what holds it in is a pair of cunningly concealed clips at diagonally opposite corners. To release it you need the manipulative capabilities of an octopus. One hand holding a screwdriver to lever the clip back. One hand holding a screwdriver to lever the other clip back. Two hands to lift the board/works out of the case vertically because it gets stuck if it is at even a slight angle. Two more hands to hold the case down so it doesn't come up when you try to lift the works out. That makes six. Add a couple more to help hold the screwdrivers in place so they don't spring out part way through and make you have to start all over again, and you're now fully octopoid.

At this point you realise that it's not just the clips, as the gubbins still won't come out. Eventually it transpires that, unlikely as it may seem, it's the front panel that is holding it back. It won't slide out vertically with the rest of the stuff. It has to be pulled off frontwards.

Now it would be perfectly possible for the front of the tray to be a plug that slides into a felt-rimmed hole when the tray is closed to act as a dust barrier. But since we are dealing with fuckwit design, it has a flange on it. Which stops the front cover being removed. So: to get stuff out of the bottom, you have to take the front off, which means you need the tray open. But since the drive is not connected to a power supply, the tray won't open. Fortunately there is an "emergency release hole". The next half an hour is spent searching for something which is both sufficiently thin to go through the hole, sufficiently long to reach the release mechanism inside, and sufficiently rigid to operate the mechanism without collapsing. Fruitlessly. In desperation you plug it back in and power up the whole computer for 2 seconds so you can get the tray to come out. Either that or attack the hole with a drill until you can use a screwdriver in it.

And that's not just one model of drive. All the bloody things are like that.

Audio CD players are just as bad, only they are not so standardised. Each in its own way is just as much of a needless pain in the arse to clean the lens on, but they are inventively different in ways to be cuntish. They all, nevertheless, share the common theme that an operation which could be performed by undoing two screws and lifting the top off in reality involves taking off all the panels in an interlocking sequence until the thing looks like a bomb's hit it.

And the worst is yet to come... the optical assemblies of CD drives are not sealed. Yes, I said not sealed. So, just as dust accumulates on the outer lens surface, it also accumulates at a slower rate on the internal surfaces. You have to clean the outer lens at increasingly frequent intervals in order to keep the total level of dirt down to a point which allows it to work. After a while the internal dust becomes the dominating factor and the thing is irretrievably fucked. A simple flexible seal round the optical assembly (something like a bit of cling film with a hole through it with the lens cemented in) would keep the dust out and allow it to keep going indefinitely, but oh no, the fucking greedy wankers want to force you to buy a new one. And you can't buy a sealed one instead because there aren't any.

They're great when they work, but unnecessarily painful when they don't, and they fail for reasons that shouldn't happen.

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