Exploding CDROMs

Category: Hardware

I was installing a game when the CDROM disc exploded into pieces inside the computer. Is this common, and what would cause such a thing?

exploding CD

Honey, I Exploded The CDROM!

Unfortunately this is not an urban legend... CDs do occasionally explode when spinning at high speeds. If you have a CDROM drive that operates at 48X speed or higher, then you might not want to sit directly in front of your computer when it is reading a CD. There is a slight risk, documented by CDROM manufacturers, that a flawed or unbalanced CD disc might explode when spinning at the high speeds attained by modern CDROM drives.

When a CD breaks apart, little pieces of plastic shrapnel will fly around inside the drive, possibly penetrating the drive housing and escaping into the room. If this happens, count yourself lucky if you're not injured -- a 52x CDROM can spin a disc at just over 10,000 RPM's. You can forget about the data that was on the disc, and possibly the drive too. Even if you're willing to remove the drive and clean out all the tiny shards, it's likely that the laser which reads the disc was damaged too.

Exploding CDs: Cause and Prevention

According to the data published by CD manufacturers, the likelihood of a CD shattering due to a defect in the disc media is only around one in 10,000. But there are risk factors that can make it more likely. CDs that are old, scratched or cracked are much more likely to self-destruct while in use. Discs that are unbalanced also increase the risk of data detonation. The most likely cause of this is an off-center label, so keep that in mind if you burn CDs and apply labels yourself.

CDs may develop cracks as they age, especially if they're not cared for properly. Store CDs in a jewel case when not in use, and check frequently used discs for cracks before popping them in the drive. If you do experience an exploding CD, it's also possible that the drive was at fault. Contact the retailer who sold you the drive or disc, and you may be able to recover some of your losses.

If you're curious about the damage caused by an exploding CD, check out PowerLabs High Speed CD-Rom Experiments or The Case of the Exploding CD-ROM Record. The latter also includes some interesting technical data about how and why a CD might explode, and offers some suggestions for safer CDROMs.

For information on CD shelf life and repairing damaged CDROMs, see Lifetime of a CDROM disk.

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Most recent comments on "Exploding CDROMs"

Posted by:

17 Sep 2006

Thanks for writing about exploding CDs... I run an elementary school computer lab and have had several CDs explode while students were using them... this is quite a startling experience, and destroys the disc along with the CD drive.

Since it's impossible to replace these 1996-era CDs, I've taken to collecting the shards and saving them in an empty baby food jar, as proof of ownership of the CD, and then proceed to use a burned copy of the disc. Otherwise, each time this happened, fewer and fewer students would be able to make use of this software.

Strangely, I've only had it happen with a single title-- but it has happened several times with that title!

Posted by:

Paul L
17 Sep 2006

I'm amazed at this posting, as I have seen your comments on computing and the Internet to be, up till now, perrfectly accurate and reasonable.

This is indeed a myth. The website you link to begins with a flawed premise: That a 64x drive reads at that rotational speed at the innermost track. Not true. CD ROM makers tout their speed on the maximum speeds attainable on the outer tracks.

Alarmist nonsense not befitting your wonderfully factual site, Bob. (Are exploding squirrels next?)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The article referenced does indeed make a distinction between inner and outer track speeds. I suggest you read it again. THIS IS NO MYTH. I've had several people write to me and say they've had CDs explode, too. I'll grant you this doesn't happen often, but

it DOES happen!

Posted by:

Kenny Hagstrom
19 Sep 2006

I am writing to also state that exploding cd's are real. I had a Windows 98 O/S disc explode and ruin the drive. I did notice that there was a small crack around the center hub but never paid any attention to it, not realizing the great speed the disc spins at. It exploded with a terrific noise and dust. I am very careful to burn a backup copy of any cd's I see that are starting to deteriorate.

Posted by:

19 Sep 2006

Exploding CDs -- I have had a CD self destruct in a clients office. the noise was so loud I thought a steel shelf had fallen down. I no longer use self adhesive labels to mark my CDs. If I cant find my permanent marker I leave the thing unmarked. -- Pearson. Cape Town. SA

Posted by:

Paul Mc
25 Oct 2006

Thanks for the info, this just happened to my computer minutes ago. It was a loud explosion, but the shards did not escape the casing luckily. I've fished most of them out, but we're just going to buy a new drive. - White Rock, BC, Canada

Posted by:

13 Nov 2006

My Windows XP Home Edition cd just exploded in my brand new 16X dual layer DVD burner. Largest piece of the disk was no bigger than a dime. I'm returning the drive. I'm hoping Microsoft will replace my disk. If not, I'll be an new Linux user.

Posted by:

27 Nov 2006

I experienced this first hand TWO TIMES. After the said incident, i experienced same problems in both combo drives of mine.

The combo drive can still be detected by the bios and the operating system, but it can't read my cd.

Afetr doing some initial troubleshooting, i discovered that both devices would only attempt to spin the cd thrice at max and stops. It's a shame that i still can't find answer on how to revive both drives, i already asked for technical support but the only thing they offer is replacement which could cost you more than buying a new one. Anyone outhere knows or have an idea on how to revive my combo drives?? please help me.. :) TNX!

Posted by:

12 Dec 2006

Definately not an urban legend, I just went out and replaced a CD-Rom Drive for a client. The pics are the aftermath of the CD and the Drive. I suggest people dont buy slot load CD-Drives due to risk of an emergency trip to the hospital.

See http://anothergoonsite.be/index.php?dir=pics/cd-explode/

Posted by:

Carlos Legarda
14 Feb 2007

Always make backups of original CDs/DVDs and use the backups that way the originals are always intact. Use markers instead of labels because labels have a tendency of wrinkling and peeling off thereby causing and imbalance in the spin. Use Lightscribe media if markers don't cut it.

Posted by:

26 Feb 2007

I Looked Up this web site as my Call of duty Cd has just exploded in my DVD -rom. I nearly had heart attack. it sounded like a gun shot and it took my 20 minutes to locate what had happened. CD/DVD Disc explosions Really Do Happen.

Posted by:

17 Jul 2007

I had a rental disc explode in my dvd-rom drive while watching it only months ago! So perhaps if threatened, a squirrel just may explode too! It's always easy to refute when it hasn't happened to you, but trust me, it DOES happen! Oh and the store refused to help out saying it was my drive!

Posted by:

Mrs. M
07 Jan 2008

Hi I am an elementary technology school teacher. Last January I had a CD explode in a computer of one of my students. Yes, it was very loud and scared most of the students. This January not only did a CD exploded but shards of the CD flew out of the Comuter one of them hit a student.

I have been trying to find out why this is happening and how to prevent it from happening again. I do not want a student to get hurt.

Posted by:

Gordon Gladstone
21 May 2009

I had this happen to my brand new iMAC several years ago, right after I bought it. I went to install a graphics program from a CD and the disc came apart in the drive. From an iMAC to a doorstop in one second. I had to take it to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store to even get the drive door open. They fixed it, but it took three hours. Apparently (and I don't pretend to understand this) when it happened it created more than a physical problem, as the genius folk installed a program called BATCHMOD and made extensive use of it in the repair.....

Posted by:

10 Jul 2009

My daughter was playing a sims disc last night when it just exploded in the drive, quite a loud bang, took me about 3 hours to strip pc down and get all the parts of disc out.

Posted by:

Elizabeth Reynolds
26 Sep 2009

Wish I known to back up all my discs and use the backups, saving the originals - I'm lost without my Microsoft works suite 2000 Home Publishing disc no 5 since it exploded this month. It was my most used disc - could this be a clue as to why?

My Acer drive was at shoulder height and sounded just like a gunshot. Luckily, the disc was on a tray which was closed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I would hope that if you called Microsoft, they would replace the disk for free. You'll most likely need a new CDROM drive, too. Also, if you're using that disk so much, why not load it on the hard drive?

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