Pamela from Illinois asks:
My Dell computer, running Windows XP, cannot read CDs. When I put one in, I get the hourglass and nothing else. What could be wrong?
The first question; was it a commercial CD or a copied disc? Sometimes copies of CDs are not finalized correctly, and they won’t play in anything other than the machine in which they were burned.
The second question; is it a CD or an unmarked DVD? Not all computers have the capability to play DVDs. Most of the newer models can play almost any type of disc, but older Dells aren’t able to play certain discs. Make sure it’s a CD you are putting in the computer.
If you put in the CD and the hourglass shows up, try clicking on the hourglass symbol. This will often cause an error message to pop up and let you know what is going on. Sometimes the message will tell you to insert a disc. This message usually appears when a blank disc is inserted in a computer that isn’t equipped with a disc burner. While most computers can play CDs, not all are able to burn them. Due to this lack of disc-burning capability, these computers will not acknowledge a blank disc.
However, if you know for sure that your computer is able to play CDs, the cause may be your media player settings. Try the following steps:
Step 1 – Click on the Start button at the bottom left of your screen
Step 2 – Click on Set Program Access and Defaults
Step 3 – It will bring up a new window titled, Add or Remove Programs
Step 4 – Choose a configuration. The easiest would be to switch to the Microsoft Windows configuration, since this would switch your media player over to Windows Media Player. The Custom configuration gives you choices as well, but the default selection is Use my current media player. If you don’t actually have one installed, your CD probably won’t work. It might be beneficial to change the default player to Windows Media Player if you wish to keep your custom configuration, instead of switching to the Windows configuration.
Step 5 – Save your changes. The box will automatically close on its own.
Updating, installing, or uninstalling a new version of Windows can also cause a CD drive to become unrecognizable by the computer or simply go missing. If a new operating system has been installed on your computer, make sure the old Windows operating system was successfully removed and that the new one properly installed. You could always try uninstalling Windows and reinstalling it as well. Another option is to go to the Microsoft Fix  page and attempt to have the problem automatically fixed.
You could also run a diagnostic test  provided by Microsoft. This test scans your computer, finds the problem and, with any luck, fixes the problem. If it is unable to correct the issue of not being able to read CDs for you, then it will suggest other resources. One downfall to this test is that you’ll need to install or enable Windows MSXML 6.0 and/or Windows Powershell if they aren’t already on your computer and running.
Hopefully, one of the steps mentioned above will enable your computer to start reading CDs. However, if your drive is still unable to read discs, then you may need to replace your CD drive.
If replacing the drive is necessary, and, if you have any doubts about your ability to properly install a new drive, then please take your computer to a technician who is able to do this properly – especially if it is still under warranty. It might be a bit costly, but you will know for sure that it was done correctly.
~H. A. Bryan