Will Your Files and Photos Last 1000 Years?

Category: Backup

You might be surprised to learn that standard CD and DVD discs have an expected lifespan of just 3 to 5 years. If your precious memories are backed up on optical discs, you might want to go looking for a medium that will protect your documents and photos a bit longer. How about a solution that promises 1000 years? Read on...

Long-Term File Storage

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 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? Milleniata, developer of the M-DISC storage technology, sure thinks so. Here is how M-DISC works:

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. Milleniata 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. The external Pioneer BDR-XD05B Slim Blu-ray Burner with 1 M-Disc goes for $149. 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 Long Do Hard Drives Last? 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 Millienata 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.

Still, for important personal or commercial digital artifacts such as family photos, 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 1000 years. Businesses and other institutional users may need more M-DISCs.

A 3-pack of 4.7GB M-DISCs costs $9.15 at the M-Disc Store, but the 25GB and 100GB discs are currently out of stock.
You can also purchase M-DISC compatible drives and discs in other quantities or capacities there. You can purchase a 25-pack of 50GB M-DISCs for $232.50, but if you don't want that big of a committment, Amazon has the 15-pack of 25GB M-DISCs for $67.50.

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 "Will Your Files and Photos Last 1000 Years?"

Posted by:

21 Jun 2019

I see the word "longer" but no actual comparisons or estimates, under what conditions?

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
21 Jun 2019

Back to paper!

Posted by:

21 Jun 2019

Bob says 1000 years longer. That certainly is more than a lifetime warranty. Not sure exactly how one verifies 1000 year claim.

Posted by:

21 Jun 2019

My daughter stores hers in the cloud after her phone died and she lost heaps. Is that a simple solution?

Posted by:

21 Jun 2019

Kenneth , only acid free paper lasts! And (most) modern color photos fade.

Posted by:

22 Jun 2019

"Kenneth , only acid free paper lasts! And (most) modern color photos fade. "

the standard answer to that is to do colour separations on black and white silver Photographic film, on a polyester base.

the three colour records can at some future date be scanned separately - and if there is film still made at that time, even printed on colour film. (I sure hope film survives long term)

these folks { https://www.piql.com/cinevator/ } even claim to have a film based solution for digital data.

Posted by:

22 Jun 2019

I keep hearing these time limits on DVD and CDs. I have yet to have a failure on one - just blessed? But I do backup online and a separate drive.

Thanks for the interesting info.

Posted by:

22 Jun 2019

But who in the distant future will have a M-Disc DVD reader? Answer: No one.

Posted by:

Steve Morehead
22 Jun 2019

Who ya gonna sue if they only last 990 years? ;-)

Posted by:

22 Jun 2019

I heard that the CDs made by Taiyo Yuden in Japan, who invented them, are supposed to last one hundred years, and they are sometimes available at quite good prices. Whether are as good since Panasonic bought the company I don't know. I have some, and they are different, reflecting back a deep blue colour. Other companies have special photographic long life disks, but I have never seen 1,000 years offered before! In my own experience I haven't yet noticed the ordinary ones failing from age, although I have some which are 15 years old.

Posted by:

22 Jun 2019

Thank you for another great topic.
I am part of the baby-boomer crowd and recently started living the "Floating 10-year Plan" life style. It used to be that I would only purchase long-term reliable hardware (mostly those that had lifetime warranties) to last me the rest of my lifetime. That was until about 5 years ago; where I realized that my life expectancy (and my purchases) need to only hold me over until my imminent demise.

Posted by:

22 Jun 2019

Just as JJ suggests who is going to have the technology to read these discs? Rather than worry about the life of the chosen media one needs to have a plan to transfer to new media as time progresses. I remember the original 512kb floppy but wouldn’t like to have any sitting around containing important data.

Posted by:

John Koeller
22 Jun 2019

Not impressed. Dead links on their website. No way to communicate with questions (beyond the FAQ). If this represents their technical competency, then I'll be movin' on.

Posted by:

Brian B
22 Jun 2019

M-Disc is writable once only, so make sure you don't close the burn if you have more data to add later, like additional photos or documents. 1GB of photos on a 100GB Disc would be a bit of a waste of money.

Posted by:

23 Jun 2019

I still trust CD-R's. I use Taiyo Yuden blank CD's exclusively. Haven't had disc read issues yet. Sounds like another gimmick to get you to spend more money out of fear.

Posted by:

Greg C
23 Jun 2019

I bought a M-Disc compatible DVD burner several years ago, but have never installed it. When buying it, I asked the clerk for M-disks and he looked at me like I was from Mars. I showed him the M-disc logo on the drive box and he then asked the "techies" That was a no-go too.

Historically, I have used Kodak Gold CD blanks, these have long since disappeared, but mine remain writable after almost 15 years. The dollar store sells "Kodak discs", but these are a sad joke.
Of course all my Kodaks remain readable. For that matter, almost all of my disks remain readable, perhaps because I wrote them at VERY slow speeds. Some disks from friends were never readable due to errors, likely from high speed writes.
I use to be interested in Taiyo Yuden blanks, but I was always concerned about fakes, as this brand was both highly rated and commanded a very premium price. I am glad to know that
many enjoy using Taiyo Yudens successfully.

Posted by:

23 Jun 2019

CDs were commercially available somewhere's around 1982. Have never had a music CD go bad yet (and that's nearly 40 years). Whassup with the 3-5 year life expectancy you mentioned? P.S. ThanX for good and valid info all of these years.

Posted by:

Desmond West
28 Jun 2019

@ John Koeller
"Not impressed. Dead links on their website. No way to communicate with questions (beyond the FAQ). If this represents their technical competency, then I'll be movin' on."
Comments like this make me mad. Well John, I hope you do move on!!!

I have been with Bob since the days (early days) when Bob took us on the "Internet Tour Bus", and it was said then, "Why Surf When You Can Ride The Bus?" - (http://internettourbus.com/) Indeed why would you when you look at the information gleaned whilst on the bus. Sites like this one and the old "Langalist" were and for Bob now, a means by which myself & countless 1000's of others can see articles, well written, and informative, about, in most cases, things I would never dream of knowing, but for the chance presented here. My knowledge as such has grown beyond measure & in my case is priceless.

So Mr. Koeller, comments like yours do not find a place here.
I find the comments usually have some extra information over & above that which has been supplied by Bob.
This is the first time, that I recall, that I have seen a comment like yours.

Thanks again Bob, for the efforts you go to, to give us these newsletters.

Desmond West

Posted by:

01 Jul 2019

I have been backing my data up to M-Disc for some time now. They are more expensive, take longer to burn, and get hot. However, I happen to know that these disks have been extensively tested and proven to be durable. To me, that is worthwhile. I have noticed that even the brand name burnable CDs and DVDs have become a joke. They produce far too many coasters. I just need to buy a few M-Discs every month and put data on them. Eventually, all of my permanent files will be stored this way.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2019

3 to 5 years life on a DVD? I have recital DVD's I recorded in SD that date back from the conception of DVD's that still look great. I also have VHS tapes from over 2 decades ago that sill look great too. Granted they aren't 4k or higher quality but they still look as good as the day they were recorded. Nice to know optical disc's are still being used.

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