Will Your Files Last a Thousand Years?
Would you 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
The Acer Aspire V5-561P is a “run of the mill” $550, 15-inch ultra-slim notebook, according to Cnet’s review, except for one extraordinary feature: its DVD writer can store data on discs that will still be readable 1,000 years from now. However, Acer doesn’t deem this feature important enough to mention on the V5-561P’s product information pages. So should you get excited about it?
The developer of this long-lived data storage technology, Milleniata LLC, sure thinks so. On a Web site that’s long on gee-whiz and short on technical details, the virtues of M-DISC optical discs and read/write drives are extolled from every angle. 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.
It takes 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.
It takes more power to melt “stone” than it does to boil dye, apparently. Not every optical drive contains a laser powerful enough to write M-DISC discs. Currently, only LG Electronics has a family of optical drives touted as M-ready. They don’t seem to be any more expensive than regular drives; a random pick, the internal LG model GH24NS90, goes for $40 at Best Buy.
Minerals, Vitamins, and Baked Lasagna
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 remains readable. How does it do after I drop it face down on a sidewalk and step on it?
M-DISC’s added value (the discs sell for about $2 each versus pennies for a regular optical disc) 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 25 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.
There isn’t a lot of manufacturer enthusiasm for M-DISC; actually, there’s none to speak of. That leads me to suspect there isn’t a lot of consumer demand for optical media that lasts more than 3-5 years. After all, we live in an age of flash drives and cloud storage, and most people wish their selfies would disappear long before they do. Here's the irony: for most digital data generated by consumers, destruction is a more pressing problem than preservation is.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 May 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Will Your Files Last a Thousand Years? (Posted: 19 May 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved