Hey mickey, thanks for responding. I think you are on to something!!!
I forgot about this until I read your post, but a couple weeks ago I was looking for a good startup mgr and installed a few proggies to try out, (uninstalling all but autoruns). However, one program (forget which) did a "Windows security check" and reported that either AutoRun or AutoPlay was turned on (probably the former but can't remember) and was a security risk and did I want it turned off.
Now up to this point - including when my CD drive was working fine - whenever I attached an external drive or popped in a memory stick, the little window would open asking if I wanted to open the folders on the drive or chose a program, etc.
But for some reason when it asked me, I thought, "eh" and clicked the button to let the program disable it. And the window popup stopped (of course).
And I think that could be the problem!!
Because something seems screwy... I read the link you provided, thinking maybe I needed to ENABLE both AutoRun and AutoPlay again... expecting neither were enabled since I wasn't getting the popup window anymore. But when I went into Control Panel and opened the AutoPlay window I was surprised to see it was already enabled... and then I looked up the instructions for enabling AutoRun and it is ALSO enabled... yet I do NOT get a popup when I insert a memory stick or attach an external drive (or place a CD with data in the drive). All of these show up in file manager and I can access them, but no popup.
You hit the nail on the head... the problem is lurking here somewhere!
I tried disabling AutoPlay like you suggested, and it made no difference. Then I enabled again and it also made no difference. Meanwhile, still no popup!
Another clue is that after trying these things Nero now hangs so badly that even Task Mgr can't shut it down. (Before, TM could end it after several tries.) I had to reboot to get rid of it. So seems like something is corrupted. Like maybe conflicting registry entries regarding AutoPlay and AutoRun??
Might sfc/ scannow fix this kind of error? Meanwhile I will try to find the proper reg entries for both to try to get the popup window again (which is how the machine was before all the problems started) to see what happens...
Thanks so much for giving me a direction, and if you have more suggestions I am all ears!!