November 19, 2004

The Gold Masters

I was replying to a post on Slashdot today (you know, doing my best to up the average IQ on the site) and it got me to thinking about our gold mastering process back at MGS.

The vast majority of our testing was done off of network shares/installs. However, once we hit Content Complete (which was supposed to be about twelve weeks before RTM, but usually ended up being four to six weeks), we'd switch to testing off of CD's. We'd burn one set of CD's at the fastest possible speed, then use our CD duplicating tower to crank out enough copies for all testers. Usually, it would take about 90 minutes to get enough copies out to everyone.

However, once we got to RC0, everything changed. (RC0 is the test for the release process. It's a dress rehearsal, essentially.)

We'd start by burning our gold master candidates to CD. We had one approved burner in the department for burning the masters. Once each CD was burned, we'd pass it to another machine to compare the bits burned to the CD to the bits approved for mastering. Once the bits compared correctly, we would pass the CD over to another person to get a CRC checksum for the entire CD.

We averaged four CD's per release, so you can imagine how much time this took. Once a second copy of each CD was done, we'd run that second copy over to the burn tower for duplication. This ended up taking about four hours, but the process was in place to stop us from compounding any errors.

Once we got to RC0, the network shares for install were locked down so that only a select few could read from them. Everyone else had to test off of CD's.

Anyway, the lessons to learn about mastering CD's?
  1. Burn on reliable media.
  2. Burn multiple copies and submit multiple copies.
  3. Use a tool like Microsoft's CRC tool (available to MSDN subscribers) and provide a copy of the tool to your mastering house as a double-check.
  4. Always verify that the bits burned to the CD are the same as the bits you wanted burned.
  5. Never expect to get it right your first time.
Hope this helps someone...

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