Toast 7 Disc Spanning is Essentially Useless

Well, I should say, "Toast 7 disc spanning is essentially useless to me." Or maybe I should just say, "Toast 7 disc spanning is a big letdown." Why? Because the error handling is piss poor.

Case in point: I recently had the need to burn 60 GB of data to DVD for archival purposes. Within this 60 GB data store there were numerous seriously nested folders — we're talkin' folders upon folders upon folders — so creating 4.2 GB chunks for burning to DVD was going to be a real pain. Maybe a day's worth of work. So I hurriedly ran out and bought my copy (or, actually, got my boss to buy my copy) of Toast 7 as its new disc spanning feature promised to make short work of the lengthy process. I handed the data off to a couple assistants and told them to use the new Toast, and pointed out how easy it would be. They were duly impressed until, on disc 8 of a 15 disc set, the burn failed. The error message cited an inability to read/write data from a particular file on the hard drive. There was little information as to why this was happening. We assumed it was probably a one-time error, or perhaps a permissions problem. So we corrected permissions and tried again, starting from scratch. This was an archive, after all, and we wanted to make sure that we got it right.

This second attempt failed as well. We tried saving the Toast file at the point of failure to see if we could pick up where we left off at a later point in time, but no. Once quit, Toast had no recollection of where it was in the burn.

Next we tried looking at the catalog created by Toast to see if we could figure out what had actually gotten burned and what hadn't, and then start a new burn at the point where the original had failed. It was a difficult process as there were thousands of files, again, in deeply nested folders, and Toast had scattered this data across the set. But it seemed to work reasonably well, until we got to that magic bad file again.

Once again, the burn failed. Same file, same error. After playing around, we discovered that Toast will, on such a failure, attempt to continue with the burn. This is good: if one of your DVDs is bad, you can recover. Just give Toast a new DVD and be on your way. But in our case it was the data on the hard drive that was bad, and from this there was no recovery. I even tried deleting the suspect files and proceeding with the burn, but Toast always insisted that the file was unreadable and kept asking for disc after disc. I had no choice but to cancel the burn and give up, three coasters later, mind you.

I've left out a lot of the little things we tried to get this data burned to DVD with Toast 7, for brevity's sake and because I've forgotten a great deal of them. It's a long and boring tale anyway. But we took numerous stabs at this multi-disc burn, actually. All tolled, it took us three days and we never got a complete disc set of our data. And, in addition to the time spent retrying and troubleshooting the burn, we wasted an ungodly number of DVDs.

As I see it, there are really two points of failure here:

  1. While Toast seems capable of continuing a burn in the case of a bad CD or DVD, it is incapable of doing so when the original data is bad in some way. It seems to me like it would help a lot if Toast either scanned the data for errors before a multi-disc burn, or if it offered the user a way to skip problem files during the burn. Actually, both would be nice, but that's probably hoping too much.
  2. Toast has no memory of where in the multi-disc burn it left off, so if, for some reason, you need to quit the program before all the discs in a set have burned, you'll pretty much have to re-burn the entire set. You can't save that state. This seems particularly short-sighted when you consider the fact that Toast already has a catalog of the data it's burning and what discs that data will be on. Why can't it just allow you to save the multi-disc Toast file between discs and let you pick up where you left off?

For me, the whole appeal of disc spanning is that it allows you to burn a great deal of data (like 50 or 60 GB) without having to slice it up yourself. But Toast 7's inability to handle errors gracefully makes disc spanning across a large number of discs a frightening — and, if there are problems, as in our case, far less practical — prospect than simply breaking the data into DVD-sized chunks yourself and burning the old-fashioned way. It's too bad. I was really jazzed about disc spanning. But until the error handling kinks get worked out, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass.

Thanks anyway.

UPDATE: According to Roxio, re-burn is a feature of v. 7.0.2 and up: "Disc spanning now prompts to re-burn if a failure or error occurs while burning a single disc," though this is apparently only true if the error happens on the CD or DVD, not if the error is due to bad source data on the hard drive. This issue is also touched on in this very thorough MacInTouch review.