Here are the tools I personally use and most frequently recommend for use with or troubleshooting your CD/DVD drive. All of these tools are free except where noted:

DVD Identifier Can be used to determine the manufacturer of any blank DVD media. Also useful to diagnose the inability of a computer to recognize blank DVDs. If DVD Identifier can read the code, this indicates the drive is functioning properly.

Nero Infotool  Another tool for reading blank media and diagnosing drive problems

DVD Media Guide Explains which DVD media to buy and which to avoid

CD-R Quality Recommendations for CD-R media

 What Osprey recommends:

  • DVD Media, Verbatim DVD+R 16X, Verbatim DVD+RW 4X, Maxell (made in Japan)
  • CD Media, HP CD-R, Staples CD-R, Taiyo Yuden CD-R, Maxell CD-RW, 12X
  • Media I avoid; Memorex, Imation, slow CD-RW (1-4X)

 

ImgBurn CD/DVD burning software
Nero Burning ROM  Somewhat complicated and expensive CD/DVD burning and authoring suite. Free 30-day trial version available! I am currently using Version 7.
Predator’s site Excellent resource with TONS of ideas for diagnosing and solving problems (courtesy of my buddy, Jeff)
VLC Media Player Free DVD movie player. Can play many audio and video media types (but not Blu-Ray). Installing this program can solve issues with missing codecs.
 
Other useful DVD tools can be found at http://www.videohelp.com/ (including some that will not be discussed here due to forum rules)
EAC (Exact Audio Copy, the best CD ripper) The best MP3s are those you rip yourself!
EAC Tutorial The how-to for EAC
Foobar2000 Small, fast CD and MP3 player and organizer
Audacity Audio recorder and editor
iTunes forum Where I get my answers to all of your iTunes questions. Although I don’t use iTunes, I have to provide free technical support for my daughter.
Dell 32-bit diagnostics If you are unable to run the diagnostics from your hard drive, this version can be used to create a bootable floppy, CD or flash drive to run the Dell diagnostics.
Foxit PDF Reader A very fast PDF reader, with none of the Adobe clutter and problems
Process Explorer A must-have tool for viewing the many background programs and processes that are slowing your computer
 I will continue to add to this list whenever for any software or other utilities that I recommend frequently. Please feel free to send me a private message with any suggestions.