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CD-ROM Digital Data (CD-ROM, ISO 9660, "High Sierra")
The standard that describes how digital data are to be recorded on compact disk media went through several different iterations before the format was finalized. The first step was the creation of the original data format standard, called the "yellow book", by Philips and Sony in 1983. This specification was based on the original "red book" format that was the basis for CD digital audio disks.
The "yellow book" specification was unfortunately general enough that it was feared that many different companies would implement proprietary data storage formats using this spec, resulting in many different incompatible data CDs. To try to prevent this, representatives of major manufacturers met at the High Sierra Hotel and Casino in Lake Tahoe, NV, in 1985, to come together on a common standard for data CDs. This format was nicknamed High Sierra Format. It was later modified slightly and adopted as ISO standard 9660.
Today, the terms "yellow book", High Sierra and ISO 9660 are used somewhat interchangeably to refer to standard data CDs, although the most common name is simply: "CD-ROM". This isn't technically precise, but the important thing is that virtually all data CDs that are in use today are standardized and will work in all standard CD-ROM drives, which was the main objective of all of this, of course. I will call this format simply "data CD" for the rest of this section, for simplicity.
Under the data CD standard, there are two modes defined:
The rest of this section is concerned with "plain vanilla" CD-ROM data disks, which are mode 1 under the ISO 9660 standard. Each block contains 2,048 bytes of real data. As with the audio format, there are 75 blocks per "second" of the disk, so on a standard 74 minute compact disk, this yields a total capacity of 681,984,000 bytes, which is the same as the commonly-heard 650 MB (actually 650.39 binary MB). Since the disk is designed to allow the reading of 75 blocks per second, this is the basis for the standard single-speed transfer rate of 75 * 2,048 = 150 KB per second. Of course, faster CD-ROM drives transfer at much higher rates.
Much the way a hard disk or floppy disk has a file allocation table and root directory to identify the place to look in order to find the various directories and files on the disk, a data CD needs this "starting point" as well. At the start of the CD, a table of contents lists what is on the disk and where to find it. Newer CD formats that are said to be "multi-session" can have more than one set of data on the disk, recorded at different times, and therefore use multiple tables of contents, one per session. The table of contents is also sometimes called the index of the disk.