Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How CD Burners Work

Burning CDs: Laser Assembly
The laser assembly inside a CD burner
The laser assembly inside a CD burner

In the last section, we saw that CD burners darken microscopic areas of CD-R discs to record a digital pattern of reflective and non-reflective areas that can be read by a standard CD player. Since the data must be accurately encoded on such a small scale, the burning system must be extremely precise. Still, the basic process at work is quite simple.

The CD burner has a moving laser assembly, just like an ordinary CD player. But in addition to the standard "read laser," it has a "write laser." The write laser is more powerful than the read laser, so it interacts with the disc differently: It alters the surface instead of just bouncing light off it. Read lasers are not intense enough to darken the dye material, so simply playing a CD-R in a CD drive will not destroy any encoded information.

On the next page, you'll find out how this write laser operates.