Have you tried booting to Windows XP CD (you should have received by Dell initially. If it's ok than you have some filter driver installed in windows that may be causing the issue. If booting from CD does not work either I'd suggest a replacement. Either call Dell or find one on ebay - I can provide link if you like.
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This problem is normal and exists with many CD/DVD drives. On some of the drives, if you put in blank discs and try to open the disc in My Computer or Windows Explorer, Windows displays no contents or a blank disc. Whereas on other drives, you get the error message that you mentioned about incorrect function.
What software are you using to burn CDs or DVDs? Are you able to burn CDs but not DVDs or you can't burn both the discs? Did you try a CDs with a different make/manufacturer? Some drives refuse on some disc makes. Try another disc and another writing speed, or try the lowest writing speed available with your software.
The reason for this is most likely Copyright protection. If this is the case, it will read DVDs as it is only a DVD-ROM, but what happens in the case of CDs, is that they recognise the drive as a Burner, and the Copyright that is embedded into the CD wont let the drive read it. This also happens with DVDs in some DVD burners.
The way to test this, is by getting a CD-RW disc that has music or files on it, put it in the drive, and see if it reads it. If it doesn't, then you may have a fault with the drive, but if it does read the CD-RW, then the only way round it that I know of, is to buy a CD-ROM drive and use both drives.
The non-technical answer would be that the lens needs to be cleaned. This is the first step for this type of problem. There are many things that can get the disk drive lens dirty like smoke, incense, dust, moisture. Open the unit and open the DVD cover. You will see the lens that reads a DVD. Get a cotton swab (the ones for cleaning out ears) and some isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and moisten the cotton swab with the alcohol (moisten not soak) and gently (I mean, do not push hard or scrub hard) rub it on the lens. Now with a dry cotton swab, do the same. Let it dry for a minute (longer if the swab had more alcohol and it might have dripped down) and close the unit. Now try to play DVDs and let us know if it worked. If this does not do the trick then it could be a firmware issue that can only be fixed if the company put a download on their support page.
The optical lens is out of alignment. This is why it will read CDs which have much larger data pits that DVDs.
The unit should be able to read and playback CDs (both production and burned) and DVDs (both production and burned). If the optics are out of alignment and exceed their tolerances, the player will not read discs.
This is caused fromt he player being dropped or jarred.
This is not an easy fix for the home user. This is something that a qualified professional needs to correct.
ITs a dvd rom drive. It will not burn blank dvds in order to burn, it has to cd-r/cd-rw/dvd-r/dvd-rw. If a drive cannot write to a blank disc, it will eject it. Rom drives read only (Read Only Memory), Combo drives- burn cd's only read dvd's, and super drives both read and write to cds and dvds.