We have all run into this problem at one time or another. We love a game, yet we don’t treat the CD very well. Perhaps we are in a hurry to switch to another game, or perhaps we are tired of digging into the jewel case to switch disks yet again. So we set the CD where it does not belong, like on our desk or on top of the PC or monitor. Hey, we will go back and get it later.
But sometimes we don’t. And sometimes something falls on it, or it gets slid across the fake wood desktop or even drops to the floor. Even if the CD does not break, it still develops scratches. And although the protocol of most CDs means that scratches have to be fairly large before data is inaccessible, we do at times reach that level of failure.
So what are your options? Some companies offer to replace damaged CDs, but you will have to pay a fairly large price and you often can’t do this after the warranty period has expired. So you have a game that you can’t use, or that fails during critical moments when it is trying to load new enemies, levels or graphics.
At tradeshows I have seen a myriad of solutions that are supposed to fix this problem. From the multi-thousand dollar robotic units to simple goos and creams, lots of folks claim they can fix scratched CDs.
The GameDoctor devices are a bit of a happy medium. More reliable than applying a finishing cream by yourself, and far less expensive than your own CD-fixing robot, these devices are perfect for the corner of every gamers office.
There are several models of Doctors available including SkipDoctor MD, DVDDoctor, GameDoctor and DataDoctor. I’m not really sure why there are so many models since they are all basically, exactly the same. We tested the GameDoctor and the SkipDoctor MD. The only difference is that the SkipDoctor MD has an electric motor.
Here is how they fix CDs. You open the bottom of the unit and place the scratched CD inside. You also have to open the front of the unit. On the non-motorized version, the front panel is kind of a pain to open. Once the CD is placed inside, you squirt a solution onto the disk. You have to make sure the disk stays wet during the entire process. If you don’t you could end up doing more damage than good. The solution is the fixer element. It basically goes into the scratched area and then dries. When finished, it looks just like the plastic covering the CD, so the scratch essentially disappears.
In testing, we were very impressed with the results. A key to this was the uniform pressure that the Doctors exerted over the disk. When you turn the handle on the GameDoctor, the inside wheel spins. This pushes the plastic arms over the CD, spreading the fixer on evenly. There is a fairly low gear ratio in the handle, about one and a half turns of the handle for each full turn of the wheel, so the solution slowly rubs into the scratches. When you are done that part of the process, you flip a switch that reverses the wheel direction and then turn it again.
Unfortunately, with our non-motorized version the switch did not seem to work properly. We could only reverse the wheel once out of about every 10 tries. Still, it was able to fix most CDs without having to run them through in reverse, but it was quite annoying that the feature did not work properly. We had no problems with the electric unit.
And as for results, we were impressed. A badly scratched copy of the old Star Wars Dark Forces (the original) was placed into the electric Doctor. The disk was damaged by a dog I was told who tried to eat it. (Don’t ask about the dog because I didn’t, but the test machine in the lab could not install the program from the CD.) After a turn inside the Doctor, the disk looked like new, and worked just fine.
The hand-cranking Doctor was tested with several music CDs including a Blondie’s Greatest Hits Album that had dropped out of a moving car and skidded down the asphalt for several feet. (Again, don’t ask. I’ve no idea why our staff treats CDs so badly. They might as well use them as coasters.)
Even without the ability to reverse the crank, the Doctor was able to fix the CD, though it took two complete revolutions and plenty of the spray. You can get the non-motorized version for $29 direct from digital Innovations and the motorized one for $49. You can get new accessories including a new bottle of spray for $10. The spray bottles in our tests lasted between 50 and 100 CD fixes, depending on how bad the scratches were.
Taken as a whole, the Doctors are a good value. If you can fix just one $50 game, then you have paid for your device. It earns 4 1/2 GiN Gems, with a half point taken off for the technical problems we had with the non-motorized unit. If you have a lot of CDs, this is tool that will come in handy whether you like it or not.