Burning Up the Network
Our regular readers will remember that I recently installed a DVD burner into a Mac system that my wife has not-so-affectionately dubbed FrankenMac. Now, in order to justify the additional cost of buying a DVD burner rather than a replacement CD-ROM or CD-RW, I told myself that there were several projects that the new drive could be used for that just were not practical without the ability to burn DVDs. After all, we have quite a few old photos that needed to be archived and I really wanted to experiment with some video editing.
Truthfully, there is absolutely no chance that I will become the next Steven Spielberg. So, in the end, the project that really convinced me to buy that burner was much more practical. We had lots of data cluttering up our hard drives. Since we don’t need to access the data very often, a reliable archive would be a viable option. We already had some data on CD-Rs, but the growing collection of discs was proving that we needed a better alternative. Now how’s that for justification for a new drive? Besides, since FrankenMac was on our home network, maybe we could use it to archive some of the data from our Windows machine. It didn’t seem to play well with our current 4x USB CD-RW drive.
I know some of our more adventurous readers may have tried burning CDs and DVDs over a network before without much success. Others may have been told by their favorite computer guru that burning over a network cannot be done, but I can assure you that it can be done successfully. Let’s step into the mad scientist’s lab, gather all the parts and tools, and get to work.
Introduction to Network-Based Disc Burning
Since I always seem to be on a tight budget I am often looking for ways to share the same peripheral among several computers. Since our current systems pre-date the time when burners were included as stock items on computers, one of the first things I tried to share was a burner. I have successfully shared an external burner by disconnecting it from one computer and connecting it to another one, but this process is annoying and I don’t like being annoyed.
Once we set up a home network, the next logical step was to attempt to share the burner using the network. Until recently I could not get this process to work properly. Initially I attributed this to the overhead associated with software that let our Macs and PCs “talk” to each other but then I discovered that burning discs from one Mac to another did not work either. In either case the process usually came to a halt with the burning software informing me that data could not be sent fast enough. The only solution was to copy the necessary data to the machine that housed the burner and complete the burn. This was annoying and, like I said, I do not like being annoyed. Why wasn’t this brilliant idea working?
Successful burning of a disc requires that the computer continuously send data to the burner. If no data are ready to be written when the burner is ready to write, the burn will fail. Since modern computers are often capable of sending data faster than a burner can write it, drive manufacturers include memory that can be used as a data buffer to hold information until it is ready to be written.
The inclusion of a data buffer reduces the data flow problems, but there are still times when no data are directly available for writing and the drive’s data buffer is empty. This condition is known as a buffer underrun and results in nice shiny coasters rather than readable discs. Many modern drives include a variety of technologies designed to prevent buffer underrun. For our purposes, it is sufficient to know that these technologies pause the burner until there are sufficient data are available for the burn to continue. This is what makes burning over a network possible. That’s enough of a history lesson; let’s get to work.
In order to make this process work you will need a few tools. Don’t panic. You probably already have everything that you need. Check out this tool list:
You must have a working network. For our purposes you will also need to have file sharing operational. If you have never set up a network, Threemacs is good place to look for tips. I have completed this project using a hub and Ethernet cables. I have also tested this project using Macs connected directly to each other with no hub. When connecting two Macs without using a hub or router be aware that some Macs can be connected to each other via a standard Ethernet cable and others require a “crossover” cable. Crossover cables are readily available from most computer or electronics shops.
A reliable burner is a must. I have successfully completed this project using both an external CD burner and an internal DVD burner, so choose the media type that meets your needs and budget. The critical issue does not seem to be the type of media, but whether or not buffer underrun protection is available. Both the DVD burner and the CD-RW drive performed flawlessly as long as this feature was active. Turning off this option resulted in numerous coasters.
You will need reliable burning software. I used Toast Titanium 5.2, but other programs should work as well. Do yourself a favor and choose a program that seems stable on your system. If the process does go wrong then it’s nice to know that the culprit is not likely your software.
Setup and Preparation
Before we tackle the process of burning discs over a network, let’s perform a few basic tests to make sure that all the equipment is functioning properly. We are going to test the network and burner separately to assure that each one is functioning well. If either of these tests cannot be completed successfully, stop and troubleshoot the problem. A failure of either test means that a network burn would likely be unsuccessful.
For purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that you already know both machines are stable and have set up the network. We shall also assume that you know how to transfer files over your network. This process will vary slightly depending upon the operating systems being used and how you have your network configured. Throughout this discussion I shall use the term “sender” to refer to the machine sending data and “receiver” to refer to the machine that will be burning data.
Boot both computers and test the network. Although you could ping the machines involved to find out if they can see each other, it’s better to try sending a few files. That’s much more representative of what we will be doing later. Use the receiver to establish a connection with the sender. Once you have completed that step, use the receiver to move some files from the hard drive on the sending machine to the hard drive on the receiving machine. There is no need to move gigabytes of data during this test. A few megabytes should be enough to assure you that the network is functioning well.
Once the files have been transferred open a few of the copies that are on the receiving machine to see if they function correctly. Don’t delete the files just yet because we’re going to use them in the next step. You probably won’t need to perform this test every time you burn data, but it is a good idea to attempt this test if you are planning to burn data but have been having network difficulties.
Now that the network is operational it’s time to test the burner. Take the files that you just transferred to the receiver’s hard drive and burn them to a disc. Notice that in this step the network is not involved at all. This is simply a burn to see if the receiving computer is communicating properly with the burner and its software. If your burner supports buffer underrun prevention, this is the time to turn it on. Users of Toast can find out this information by launching Toast with the burner connected and pressing Option-R. Toast users can activate buffer underrun prevention by checking the appropriate box on the same screen where you choose “Write Disc”.
I chose to perform this test using a CD-R because I didn’t want to waste a good DVD. Some software also gives you the option of performing a simulated burn. Having created quite a few coasters over the years in an effort to make this process work, it didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. Having completed this test successfully, I chose to attempt burning a CD over the network first rather than wasting a DVD. That choice is up to you. In either case let’s move on to the project.
Feel the Burn
If you have gotten this far, not only are you ready for the burn, but you have a pretty good idea how to complete the project. Just for kicks and grins let’s walk through this together step-by-step.
Boot both computers. If either of them is a portable, you might want to make sure that it is connected to an electrical outlet rather than running on battery power.
Make sure that your computer will be awake long enough to complete the burn. It’s fine if the display dims during the recording process, but we don’t want the rest of the system to go to sleep. Make any adjustments necessary to prevent that from happening.
While sitting at the receiving computer, launch your disc burning software. While you are here make sure to set up the type of disc that you want to burn. You can insert blank media now, but I usually wait until the last minute for that. This keeps me from accidentally hitting the record button before I am ready.
Use the receiving computer to make a connection with the sender. Once you have done this, find the volume with the data and mount it on the desktop of the receiving computer.
Open the hard drive that you just mounted on the desktop and move the files to be archived into your burning program just as you would for any other burn. In Toast I can either drag files into the window or use the + symbol at the bottom of the window.
As you drag files from the sending computer to your burning software, be sure not to exceed the capacity of the media you are going to use. Also remember that the display may take quite some time to update and there may be quite a bit of network traffic as the burning program performs the same setup that would be performed otherwise.
Now that you have the burn set up, we are almost ready to start burning. Be sure to give the disc a descriptive name and make any changes that you need to make. Once that’s done it’s time to turn on buffer underrun prevention and start the burn. In Toast, you can simply choose Record. Buffer underrun prevention can be turned on at on the next screen just before choosing “Write Disc”. If the buffer underrun prevention box is checked the option is already enabled.
Now all that’s left to do is sit back and wait for the burn to complete. In the setup phase, Toast can take quite some time to calculate the number of files on a disc and how much space is available; there isn’t such a lag during the actual burn. On my systems, the actual burning occurred almost as quickly over the network as a normal burn does. By the way, before you delete those valuable data, test some of the archived files to be sure that they work.
The procedure that I have described thus far should work with most burning software. Users of Toast 6 have the option of using a new feature called ToastAnywhere to share a burner with other Toast 6 users over a network or the Internet. I recently purchased Toast 6 but have not had an opportunity to install the software on both machines to test this claim.
The Toast 6 Help system has a straightforward description of how to activate and use Toast Anywhere. Under most circumstances there will be no need to modify any network settings. The following overview is based upon the Toast 6 Help file.
1. Launch Toast 6 and choose Preferences from the Toast Titanium Menu.
2. When the dialog appears click, the Sharing tab and choose Start. At this point you can also set a password if you don’t want to allow unlimited access to your burner. You have now completed all the steps necessary to share your burner.
Now that you have shared your burner, what does the user have to do to use it? Launch Toast 6 on the system that wants to use the burner and set up the disc as you would for any other burn. Now complete the following steps:
1. Before clicking Record, choose the green Recorder Options button at the bottom of the main window. Shared recorders on the same network should appear by name. If you are connecting to a burner being shared over the Internet, you must choose Other Shared Recorder and enter the IP address in the dialog that follows.
2. It’s now safe to click the Record button. The user whose machine is connected to the shared burner will be prompted to insert a disc. The burn can now proceed normally.
Although I have not used the ToastAnywhere feature, at this point there are some things to keep in mind when using it to burn to a shared burner. First, the ToastAnywhere feature requires that both the “sender” and “receiver” have Toast 6 installed. This limits the feature to Macs which have at least Jaguar. Second, it does not appear that ToastAnywhere is a viable option for sharing a burner with Windows users.
With this process, I was able to burn from a PC running Windows XP to the DVD burner in FrankenMac. FrankenMac has a 500 MHz G4 processor card installed. The file sharing was accomplished via Samba, and everything worked well. I have not tested Mac-to-PC burning at this point under OS 9 because I am currently having some problems with my OS 9 installation. I have also burned files between to Macs using this process. The sending system was a 233 MHz Wall Street PowerBook, and the receiving system was a 467 MHz iBook SE. In all test cases, there was no other network traffic while the burn was being completed. As time permits, I’ll refine this process and keep you posted on the results.
Also in This Series
- Give Alert Sounds a Little Personality · March 2012
- Create Your Own iPhone Ringtones · February 2012
- Create Your Own Homemade Audio Book · December 2011
- Upgrade to Lion Painlessly · August 2011
- Make the Most of TextEdit · July 2011
- Using the Free Disk Utility on Your Mac · May 2011
- Making Use of QuickTime X · March 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · February 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · January 2011
- Complete Archive