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How CD Burners Work

Erasing CDs

In the last section, we looked at the most prevalent writable CD technology, CD-R. CD-R discs hold a lot of data, work with most CD players and are fairly inexpensive. But unlike tapes, floppy disks and many other data-storage mediums, you cannot re-record on CD-R disc once you've filled it up.

CD-RW discs have taken the idea of writable CDs a step further, building in an erase function so you can record over old data you don't need anymore. These discs are based on phase-change technology. In CD-RW discs, the phase-change element is a chemical compound of silver, antimony, tellurium and indium. As with any physical material, you can change this compound's form by heating it to certain temperatures. When the compound is heated above its melting temperature (around 600 degrees Celsius), it becomes a liquid; at its crystallization temperature (around 200 degrees Celsius), it turns into a solid.

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In a CD-RW disc, the reflecting lands and non-reflecting bumps of a conventional CD are represented by phase shifts in a special compound. When the compound is in a crystalline state, it is translucent, so light can shine through to the metal layer above and reflect back to the laser assembly. When the compound is melted into an amorphous state, it becomes opaque, making the area non-reflective.