[SHOCKER] CD and DVD Discs May Fail Sooner Than You Think

Category: Backup , Hard-Drives

If your precious memories are backed up on CD, DVD or Blu-Ray discs, you might want to go looking for a medium that will protect your documents, photos and videos a bit better. Would you be surprised to learn that standard optical discs have an expected lifespan of just 3 to 5 years? Would you like to learn about a data storage solution that promises 100, or even 1000 years? Read on…

Will Your Files and Photos Last 1000 Years?

Do you have photos, videos or other important files that you'd like to preserve for 50 years, 100 years, or longer? Recently I was looking at a photo of my great-great-grandparents, which was taken in about 1870. I scanned it and saved a digital copy on my computer's hard drive, then copied it and some other family photos to a CDROM disc. But neither of those digital copies is likely to survive nearly as long as that 150-year-old original photo has.

Wouldn't it be nice to have some kind of computer-readable storage medium that would last for generations? Millenniata, developer of the M-DISC storage technology, thought that would be a good idea. (Millenniata, Inc. was founded in 2010 by two Brigham Young University professors but went bankrupt in 2016. Fortunately, the debt holders were able to re-form the company and continue to sell M-DISCs and related services.)

Here is how both standard optical discs and M-DISC work. Standard CD/DVD technology uses a laser beam to heat a layer of organic dye that is sandwiched between polycarbonate sheets. The heated point, which can be very tiny, first swells like a bubble and finally collapses into a pit in the dye layer. A pattern of pit/no-pit areas on the disc’s surface constitute binary code that can be read by the same laser that wrote it. That is, the pattern can be read as long as the laser-burnt pits last.

1000 year backup disc

It takes just 3-5 years for the organic dye to degrade naturally; that is the maximum life expectancy of CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray discs that use dye technology. M-DISC claims to vastly exceed this life expectancy by replacing degradable organic dye with an immutable mineral compound that is melted by the writing laser beam. You can burn your own M-DISCs at home, with a compatible DVD or Blu-ray drive.

All DVD drives are capable of reading the M-DISC DVD, but it takes more power to melt “stone” than it does to boil dye. Not every optical drive contains a laser powerful enough to write M-DISC discs. LG Electronics, Samsung, Hitachi, and Pioneer offer optical drives touted as M-ready. And they don’t seem to be any more expensive than regular drives. The LG Electronics Ultra Slim DVD Writer is an internal drive that sells for under $35 on Amazon. You can find dozens of other M-DISC-compatible drives here.

Minerals, Vitamins, and Baked Lasagna?

CDs last only three to five years? Surprise... you really shouldn't expect your hard drive to last much longer than that, either. See my article How Soon Will Your Hard Drive Fail? to learn more...

The mineral compound makes M-DISC discs longer-lived, but it does not make them indestructible as the many preposterous demonstrations conducted by Millienniata suggest. I don’t care if an M-DISC baked in lasagna, boiled, or frozen remains readable. How does it do after I drop it face down on a sidewalk and step on it?

M-DISC’s added value lies in its stability under archival conditions: a safe deposit box, or perhaps an attic or basement. Attics may get hot enough to degrade organic dye prematurely while minerals remain intact. But a disc made with either is still vulnerable to physical destruction if it’s carried from place to place routinely.

Government agencies might benefit from using M-DISC for document storage and data management. Likewise for medical professionals needing a long-term storage solution for X-rays and compliance requirements. Financial institutions, libraries and educational institutions needing reliable long-term storage, and law enforcement with surveillance and security footage would be good use cases as well.

At home, for important personal digital artifacts such as family photos, genealogy records, tax returns, unpublished novels, etc., at least one M-DISC may be worth having. The largest Blu-ray M-DISC capacity is about 100 GB, so more than a handful shouldn’t be necessary for most consumers, unless you have extensive collections of photos, music or videos that you want to preserve for centuries.

You can purchase a 15-pack of Millenniata 25GB M-DISCs for $67.50. For higher capacity discs, consider the 5-pack of Verbatim 100GB M-DISCs for $75.

M-DISCs are pricey compared to regular DVD or Blu-ray discs, but if you're looking for a backup solution that avoids the problem of the relatively short lifespan of consumer-grade hard drives and CD/DVD discs, as well as the privacy concerns of cloud storage, a couple of M-DISCs and a fireproof safe bolted to a concrete floor might be the best you can do right now. I'll bet Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner have already gotten theirs.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

 
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Most recent comments on "[SHOCKER] CD and DVD Discs May Fail Sooner Than You Think"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
04 Mar 2021

The conservation institute of the Government of Canada gives much longer lifespans for most of the CDs/DVDs.

https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/longevity-recordable-cds-dvds.html


Posted by:

bb
04 Mar 2021

No. Just no. Instead of trying to save a *single* copy of something, MAKE A BACKUP OF IT! Yes, I'm shouting. And then backup that. Every few years, transfer to new media and backup that. Store it in multiple places, multiple ways.

There is no reason any more to lose information. Digitize it and make backups.


Posted by:

Brian B
04 Mar 2021

"...neither of those digital copies is likely to survive nearly as long as that 150-year-old original photo has."

Maybe that's the answer Bob. As well as scanning and saving a digital copy, print out a copy of the photo as well and keep the original as the master copy.


Posted by:

Charley
04 Mar 2021

One of my friends has been studying the problem of recovering data in the future. In particular, will you have the hardware and software that can read and interpret your files 25 or more years from now?

Many common file types will probably be readable in the future, for example JPG pictures, MP3 music, etc. But who will have appropriate hardware/software to deal with various obsolete and no longer used file types. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_obsolescence

In addition to archiving (and copying the media periodically as it ages), it is important to convert anything you really care about to a file type that will probably be around.


Posted by:

Bill
04 Mar 2021

I have CDs dating back to the mid 1980s and they are fine. I can't say how long laserdiscs will last as I just gave my entire collection away a few month ago and they all still played just fine as well. The problem isn't so much the medium as it is the devices that can play them as they seem to be in shorter and shorter supply.


Posted by:

Tom
04 Mar 2021

I have dozens of DVDs I have burned in 2004-05 .. only one has failed. I also , have many vhs tapes from the early 80s that still play.


Posted by:

Bart
04 Mar 2021

You have sent out the warning about CD's and DVD's in the past, but it doesn't seem plausible. We have been using CD's for 40 years now, so I would expect to read about lots of problems if they were failing at 5 years. I haven't had any such problem and haven't heard about anyone who has. How does that make sense?


Posted by:

Mike
05 Mar 2021

The first photograph was the human eye that transforms images into memories. Amazing and did not need to be invented or improved on. Oh well eyeglasses, but that is simply changing lens.


Posted by:

Steve Kohn
05 Mar 2021

This is a subject heavy on my mind.

After four years, I'm close to finishing my autobiography, intended for only my family, a long collection of stupid things I hope my descendants will not repeat. The memoir will also include my music mp3 collection, my favorite (always relevant) podcasts, some favorite videos, many hyperlinks, and more, all impossible to save on paper.

My dilemma has been how to distribute the final product, in a way that'll be reasonably ruggedized and have some likelihood of being readable in 20 years (100 better).

I keep waffling back and forth between 100GB M-discs and external HDDs.

If I go with M-discs, I have to provide external USB readers, and worry the hardware will break (high-precision moving parts) or not be readable by Windows "15."

Same problems, really, with external hard drives.

My current best idea is to give up hope of my hardware being readable in 50 or 100 years. Best to just use cheap 1TB HDDs and put a big alert on page 1, maybe a readme.txt on the root drive, a request to whoever's reading to copy the contents of the drive to a modern drive immediately if not sooner.

If enough copies go to nieces and nephews down the years, one copy might survive a century.
I hope.

Any better ideas, please?


Posted by:

Steve Kohn
05 Mar 2021

By the way, what are your thoughts on the long-term viability of PDF?

I'm writing in MS Word. When finished editing, I'll save as FILENAME.PDF.

Thing PDF will still be around in a hundred years?

If not, what should I use?


Posted by:

Donald R Snow
05 Mar 2021

Bob, as I understand it, commercially-made CDs, and maybe commercially-made DVDs, are different from "home-made" ones and the commercially-made ones last a lot longer. Perhaps, if people are judging the life of CDs from their commercially-made ones, that's not a good measure of how long their home-made ones will last. Don Snow


Posted by:

DBA Steve
05 Mar 2021

Here is an passage I've been aware of for 30 years or so:

Long term data should be inscribed on granite and
stored in the Egyptian desert. This is proven technology!

Seriously, what technology that we use today will be available, or usable, in the future? How much music was on 8 track tapes? Can you play it today?


Posted by:

Steve
05 Mar 2021

Yes, I learned cuneiform script just so I can carve my auto biography onto sandstone plaques. These will be buried with my mummified body. That should do it. Now, where did I leave that chisel ?


Posted by:

ohnothimagen
05 Mar 2021

I haven't had a problem with older CD's or DVD's but have found some newer releases have had this problem; a complete set of "Everybody Loves Raymond" has about a third of the episodes no longer play or show as being on the disc.


Posted by:

Larry
05 Mar 2021

These M disks are ~ 0.15/Gb but last 100 years
but SSD's are 0.10/Gb as are large flash drives
If one just stores info on a SSD or flash drive
and does not use it daily it may have a longer
life then the ~7-10 years if use it daily
perhaps may last 20 years?


Posted by:

BaliRob
06 Mar 2021

All of the comments are based upon discs, etc., being of interest in the future. How many of the posters continually think of their forefathers on a daily basis and who will really care what or who that person was for perhaps more than a minute? I estimate that one of the poster's contributions to the future here would take up to a year to read hahaha let alone copy ad infinitum.

The point IS - it is the 'here and now' that matters especially in my part of the world where thousands are jobless and starving and cannot even comtemplate a future.

Sorry to be pesimistic.


Posted by:

Eli Marcus
06 Mar 2021

First of all, thank you for the Reiner/Brooks 200 yr old man reference - I am a big fan, and still have the first and last of those albums on good old analogue vinyl...including the LP where the 200 Year Old Man was just one skit out of a dozen...
I have been hearing these scare stories about CDRs for at least 10-15 years, and have yet to experience a serious problem with any of the normal quality CDRs or DVDR that I have burned in the last 20 or so years. I go through at least 100-200 CDRs a year with mostly music, but also backup data. The only ones that I have had problems reading were on very cheap stationary store CDRs, and they usually could be read on one of my multiple external drives...The question raised here regarding digital formats that are not supported after 5-10 years is a much more pressing concern for me - I saved many hours of audio backups in SHN format years ago, when it was the standard for lossless compression among music "traders", and today it's difficult to find converters that will read those files... I am glad that I transferred my backups from my old Omega ZIP drive (remember those?) to other media long ago... Here's hoping all this research is proven wrong over the coming years...
:-)


Posted by:

Eli Marcus
06 Mar 2021

CORRECTION - 2000 Year Old Man of course... lazy keyboard...


Posted by:

Eli Marcus
06 Mar 2021

You have also reaffirmed my resolve to keep most of my 3000 vinyl records...
:-)


Posted by:

Dana Lynch
06 Mar 2021

I have CD's and DVD's 25 years old and play as if I just burned them. I keep everything backed up on external hard drive with one being portable. I have important documents on USB drive in case I have to leave home do to Hurricane. I read they last about 10 years. At 8 years I just transfer data to knew USB drive.


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