my cd drives work!
i have no idea why it took so long to find this document. i'd already thought of flashing the bios but we hadn't tried it yet... but once i found a document basically saying that upgrading would fix my exact problem, i knew what had to be done.
the asus bios upgrade instructions were poorly written & poorly organized, but after a few rereadings i managed to figure it out. & now i can use my cd drives again!
i've been taking the opportunity to upgrade my other important software, so i think once i'm done with that i'll be better off for being forced into upgrading...