After the badly written program is done I'll burn a CD with boring data and make sure that is readable by all, but I guess the laptop drive just didn't play well with others. So I think it's not broken.
This doesn't explain the exceptionally slow startup with the start bad being in la la land for a very long time nor that it take s along time to auto start the cd creator when you put a new CDR in, but that might just be XP. I don't know since I haven't used it before and don't know just how much stupidity to expect. Since I'll mostly be using this machine either under linux or for games, it's not terribly important (it's prompt to start things from the desk top, just not from the start menu.)
Bottom line, I don't think that my laptop is actually broken. Now to find CDRs that my laptop can write and my older computers can read.