As with CD-Rs, the read laser does not have enough power to change the state of the material in the recording layer -- it's a lot weaker than the write laser. The erase laser falls somewhere in between: While it isn't strong enough to melt the material, it does have the necessary intensity to heat the material to the crystallization point. By holding the material at this temperature, the erase laser restores the compound to its crystalline state, effectively erasing the encoded 0. This clears the disc so new data can be encoded.
CD-RW discs do not reflect as much light as older CD formats, so they cannot be read by most older CD players and CD-ROM drives. Some newer drives and players, including all CD-RW writers, can adjust the read laser to work with different CD formats. But since CD-RWs will not work on many CD players, these are not a good choice for music CDs. For the most part, they are used as back-up storage devices for computer files.
As we've seen, the reflective and non-reflective patterns on a CD are incredibly small, and they are burned and read very quickly with a speeding laser beam. In this system, the chances of a data error are fairly high. In the next section, we'll look at some of the ways that CD burners compensate for various encoding problems.