The laser in a CD-ROM drive is a beam of light that is emitted from an infrared laser diode. The laser is aimed not directly on the CD but toward a reflecting mirror in the read head assembly. The read head moves along the spiraling track of the CD just above the surface of the disc. The light from the laser reflects off the mirror and then passes through a focusing lens that directs the light directly on a specific point on the disc. The light is reflected back from the shining metallic coating on the disc.
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The amount of light reflected depends on whether the laser is hitting a flat or a pit. The reflected light is passed through a series of collectors, mirrors, and lenses that are used to focus the reflected light and send it to a photo detector. The photo detector converts the light into an electrical signal, the strength of which is determined by the intensity of the reflected light.
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Figure 10-5 illustrates the components of the CD-ROM drive’s head assembly. Since the disc spins, most of the components used to “read” the CD are fixed in place, with only the read head assembly, which contains the mirror and read lens, actually moving. The CD-ROM is a single-sided media and data is recorded on one side.
This means that the CD-ROM drive requires only one read head and head assembly, resulting in an overall design that is relatively simple. Probably the biggest problem for the CD-ROM drive is that because it uses light, the laser must not be obstructed.
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Dust or other foreign material on the disc or on the focus lens in the read head can cause problems for a CD-ROM drive to the point of causing errors or even a drive failure.
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