Connecting a CD-ROM to a Sound Blaster 32 IDE header in DOS


Back in April I talked about connecting my Am386’s CD-ROM to the IDE header on an ESS AudioDrive ISA sound card, and using it in DOS. I wanted to see if I could repeat this with a Creative Sound Blaster 32 that also has an IDE controller. It worked!

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The ESS AudioDrive ES1868F for sound and IDE

Warnings before we start

Before attempting this yourself, check your Sound Blaster card really has IDE. Earlier Creative cards had proprietary CD-ROM headers that look like IDE, but are electrically incompatible. You could damage your drive or precious card connecting an IDE drive to a non-standard header.

Look for a silk-screened notes around the connector that says “IDE”, not “Panasonic” or “Sony” for a proprietary drive header. Better yet, search the model number of your card and confirm.

Preparing the card and drive

The Sound Blaster 32, AWE32, and AWE64 are Plug-and-Play cards. On DOS, you load them in this order:

  1. Creative’s PnP detection tool CTCM.EXE
  2. The SBIDE.SYS driver for the IDE controller
  3. MSCDEX.EXE, or equivalent CD-ROM driver

The Creative website miraculously still has the first two as of 2023. In case this goes down, do web searches for the following self-extracting archives:

Creative Downloads: SBIDE20.EXE
Creative Downloads: CTCMBBS.EXE

You can run these installers directly in DOS, but I’ve only had mixed success with them working. I use UNZIP to extract them on my FreeBSD machine or Mac first to get the files I need, and put them in C:\DRIVERS.

And finally we need MSCDEX. This comes in C:\DOS in PC DOS 7/2000, or you can get it on a Windows 9x boot disk. Alternatively, you can use SHSUCDX as a drop-in replacement that uses less memory:

SHSUCDX, by Jason Hood

Find your card’s IDE settings

The CTCMBBS.EXE archives includes CTCU.EXE, which you can use to interrogate the config of your Sound Blaster card. You can use arrow keys, but its easier if you load a mouse driver first.

  1. Run CTCU.EXE
  2. Click the Menu, and click PnP Cards
  3. Click IDE under List of Devices
  4. Click the Resources button.

Under Settings, you should see three lines such as this:

I/O Range 1e8-1ef
I/O Range 3ee-3ef
Interrupt 11

Make a note of these settings. Press ESC twice, then choose Exit from the Menu.

Configuring the drivers

In CONFIG.SYS we define LASTDRIVE so we have a spare letter to assign to the CD-ROM. We run the CTCM driver, which doesn’t need to be loaded high because it quits once its finished. Then we load the SBIDE.SYS IDE driver. Note the /P flag uses the start of the first I/O range above, then the Interrupt, then the second I/O range.


And then AUTOEXEC.BAT. Use the same drive label you defined using /D above.

:: Uncomment if using Windows 3.x

Reboot and test

If all goes well, you should see output like this:

Creative CD-ROM Device Driver Version 1.22
Copyright (C) Creative Technology Ltd,1994-97. All rights reserved.
  Transfer Mode      : Programmed I/O
  Number of drives   :
  Drive    0:  Port=  1E8  IRQ= 11 CD-ROM CRN-8241B 2.23
MSCDEX Version 2.24
Copyright (C) IBM Corp. 1986-1994. All rights reserved.
     Drive D: = Driver JIMKLOSS unit 0

Or this if you use SHSUCDX:

SHSUCDX installed.
  Drives Assigned
Drive  Driver   Unit
  D:   JIMKLOSS   0

Now you can access!


It sounds obvious, but if the drive isn’t detected, try re-seating the IDE ribbon cable on the card, or swap it out. I wasted hours troubleshooting before realising I was using a crappy cable, and those old sound card IDE connectors can be flaky AF.

CTCU.EXE is your friend for troubleshooting problems. If it doesn’t list your card at all, it might not be connecting properly to the ISA bus. Grab a can of DeoxIT or similar deoxidising solution, spray the slot, and clean the pins on the card. I know I know, you don’t expect it to be the reason, but this stuff is getting old.

If the card is detected, try using CTCU.EXE to set a different Interrupt and I/O addresses, then update CONFIG.SYS to reflect this. I’ve read that certain boards don’t like the default settings.

If nothing works, it might be worth throwing in the towel and using a dedicated IDE controller with two interfaces. I get a kick out of retrocomputing, but I’m not above solving it with a new card so I can do other things.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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