CD-R not recognized by Windows or NTI CD Maker

Laptop: Acer TravelMate 240
OS specs: Windows XP Home Edition, Service Pack 2
CD-R/DVD drive specs: QSI CDRW/DVD SBW-242

The issue:
The drive can read all CDs / previously burned CD-Rs / & DVDs except for ‘blank’ CD-R.
When any blank CD-R is inserted, the drive just goes on and on making straining sounds and doesn’t read/recognize it.

History of the problem:
I have been using Nero since 4 years now to backup data onto CD-Rs on my laptop. I uninstalled NTI CD/DVD Maker (factory supplied with laptop) using the add/remove utility last fortnight. Afterwards Nero showed an error message that the “drive is empty”. Windows showed an error as well – “Please insert a disk into drive”.

In my attempt to troubleshoot the problem, I did the following, however the error persisted until the last step:

  • confirmed that the disc is spinning in the tray

  • ensured the driver is working properly (via device manager)

  • ensured that drive letter assignment is set to a letter other than C

  • cold started the computer

  • wiped the lens with a swab & alcohol

  • switched the CD-R discs with a higher quality make

  • uninstalled and re-installed Nero

  • downloaded and installed a free burner software “CDBurnerXP” (error shown upon running it – ‘No media in drive’)

  • deleted registry entries for UpperFilters and LowerFilters using the ‘Guided Help’ fix provided here

  • I had also reset the DMA (as I noticed that it was in PIO mode) using the script provided here

  • Then I installed certain System ASPI Layer drivers recommended here

  • Next I re-installed NTI CD Maker from the OEM CD. and I could write on blank discs again

Strangely though now, within a week I’m back to the same old situation. My drive doesn’t recognize any CD-R. Even NTI displays an error – ‘Drive not ready’

Could you please share your thoughts? (and also help me find a firmware update)