Lifetime of recordable CD and DVD discs
So you want to know how long does a recordable CD or DVD last?
First, a short history lesson.
In the early nineties as the initial CD-R disc was presented to the public, some makers alleged the media possessed a data lifetime of over forty years! In the late nineties when the first DVDR discs came out on the scene manufacturers declared a data life of at least a hundred years. Throughout that time and still now the experts will "observe" that the media is liable to CD or DVD decomposition that will deplete your information - audio, video or data - in as short as two years after it's written.
Since CD and DVD media is so commonly utilized to file away almost everything nowadays it does cause some concern regarding the lifetime of this media. Particularly if these discs are the only place you have your cherished, irreplaceable family memories - photographs and movies - as well as essential family, personal and company information/documents.
So where is the truth about how long they can last? Read on.
Many people who burn a disc without acquiring a coaster think they possess quality media. Alas that just tells you the disc will be compatible (able to be played) in the large majority of CD or DVD players. More importantly all better quality CD and DVD burners include technology called overburn/underburn protection making coaster production a matter of the past. The basic construction of the two technologies enable you to burn your data in a really accurate, very assured way.
There is just two foolproof methods of establishing the data life of the discs you use:
1.Burn several CD or DVDRs, then wait roughly 25-50 years and see if they still contain the accurate data
2. Utilise a CD/DVD analyzer that is specially designed to find very precise info about your media and your data after accelerated aging in test chambers where the discs are subjugated to excessive temperature and humidity testing
The first is unrealistic. Even so, some of the first discs produced and written to in Japan still have intact data. The second provides only hypothetical limits and does not take into consideration how you use, treat and store the media. Nevertheless, assuming proper caring, even things such as temperature and humidity can impact the data lifespan of quality media.
Between the CD-R discs developed in the early 80s to today's double layer DVD+R discs and throughout the brief optical industry there has been substantial advancement in write performance, capacity, quality and obviously cost.
Following the test procedures of the International Standards Organization (ISO) quality media producers have been able to document data lifetimes ranging from 50-200 years. Just bear in mind there are sweeping differences between low budget media operations and quality media firms. Also differences in manufacturing techniques, materials and processes/procedures may dramatically effect the data life of the media you use.
Or as car manufacturers state, "your mileage may vary."
The term "CD and DVD rot" is a good deal more attention getting than "delamination and oxidation." But the fact is that unlike earlier "LaserDisc rot", CD/DVD rot does not impact this media which uses other dye technologies to store data.
Delamination and oxidization typically take place at the outer edge of the disc and is often the consequence of the adhesive not being properly applied and cured during the production process. This generally happens when price-oriented manufacturers use equipment that is two or three generations old and the least expensive materials possible.
When it does occur that the laser is incapable of reading the data on the reflected layer. It's typically caused by:
- Oxidization as air comes in contact with the reflective layer
- Galvanic reaction between the layers and coatings
- Chemical reaction induced by impurities in the disc's adhesive or aluminum coating
The Reality -
If you have bought quality media from a quality manufacturer, you're still not assured of 50-100 years of data life!
You are the biggest risk to the data longevity of your personal, family and business data that is kept on CD and DVD. Direct exposure to sunlight and intense heat can do spectacular harm. Fast changes in temperature and humidity can strain the materials. Gravity can warp and strain the discs. Fingerprints and smudges can do a lot of harm,even more than scratches sometimes.
Simply by abiding by a couple of Do's and Don'ts you can ensure your treasured family and friend pics, movies, family records and business data get the maximum data lifetime.
- Handle discs by the outermost edge or the center hole
- Use a non solvent-based felt-tip permanent marker to write on the label side of the disc
- Prevent dirt or some other foreign substance from getting in contact with the disc
- Stack away discs upright (book style) in original jewel cases that are intended for CDs and DVDs
- Return discs to their jewel cases right away after use
- Store discs in their spindle or jewel case to minimize the effects of environmental variations
- Take off the shrink wrapping only when you're about to burn data on the disc
- Store in a cool, dry, dark environment in which the air is clean -- relative humidity should be between 20% - 50% (RH) and temperature should be between 4°C - 20°C
- Get rid of dirt, foreign material, fingerprints, smudges, and liquids by wiping with a clean cotton cloth in a direct line from the middle of the disc towards the external edge
- Use deionized (better), distilled or soft tap water to clean your discs. For bigger problems apply diluted dish detergent or rubbing alcohol. Rinse off and dry thoroughly with a lint-free cloth or photo lens tissue
- Inspect the disc surface prior to recording
- Touch the surface of the disc
- Bend the disc
- Store discs horizontally for a prolonged time (years)
- Open a recordable optical disc package if you're not yet ready to record
- Submit discs to high temperature or high humidity
- Submit discs to extreme fast temperature or humidity alterations
- Expose recordable discs to lengthy periods of sunlight or another source of UV light
- Write or mark in the data region of the disc (area where the laser "reads")
- Clean in a circular motion around the disc
There's numerous cheap CDR and DVDR media that has minimal quality. For a few applications like games, quality isn't crucial. For unreplaceable, essential data like family photographs, special events, holidays and family/friends memories quality is important. If you're backing up mission critical files on your home or business computer, quality counts. Then it's all-important to choose a brand of media that will store your data safely, securely and usable for years to come.
Quality and cheap costs just don't appear to mix!
Once you've bought your media,the next step to long-term data reliability is to handle and store the media with the respect your data deserves
Understanding Your Discs
It isn't essential that you understand the construction of CDR or DVDR media to create a quality disc that can be used years from now anymore than you need to understand the internal combustion engine to drive a car. Merely understanding the difference between quality and inferior media may help you avoid irrecoverable family photos or videos later on.
Most folks consider DVDR discs little more than super-sized CDR and although they're similar, they're also quite different.
Writable CD and DVD discs start with a bit of polycarbonate substrate onto which really accurate grooves are molded. A dye layer is then accurately applied to the substrate, then a reflective layer and one or more protective layers. Some of the media leaders have originated the policy of putting on two very resistant layers for extra data protection when the discs are used, handled and in storage.
Due to of the faster read/write performance users have come to expect, the major manufacturers have formed new stamper technology for optimal groove (storage area) shape and ultra-precise molding technology. The molding is important, as disc flatness is highly important when the media must be spun at extremely fast speeds - 52x for CDR and 8x for DVDR (soon to be 16x).
The quality of your media is directly related with the time the media will last without losing the data. As you are able to see there are a few of areas where manufacturers can knock off a few cents in the total cost of the media and areas where production can go awry to dramatically reduce the data life of your stashed away data.
There are contradictory claims and consumer opinions about which media is most favorable for data retention of 30, 50, 100 years - green, gold, blue dye or gold/silver reflective layer. Firms like MKM and Verbatim have evolved significantly better, more sensitive and more stabilized dyes and reflective materials that just about rule out data loss during high-speed read/write actions and raise long-term reliability.
But if you dont mind playing slightly extra, there is some manufacturers claiming their gold discs can last 100 to 300 years!(Only time will tell!)
Mark on February 21, 2017:
Wait 25-50 years and see if they are still good? Really?? Hm...I might be dead, or DVDs will be unheard of. Seriously? Who wrote this.
diskfaktory on August 07, 2014:
high quality cd duplication and replication
mikebiker on September 14, 2013:
Cool article. Very informative, thanx a lot!
Jack on October 21, 2011:
wonderful article! Very informative and exactly what I was looking for. Thanks!
Ramakant Yadav on January 28, 2011:
Since it is 2011 now, there should be enough data about the 10 years timeframe. CDs were extremely popular in 2000.
brendan on September 07, 2010:
Informed and concisely written, very helpful, thank you.
CD worrier on July 27, 2010:
The wait to 25-50 years test option is ridiculous... That manufacturer might not even be around after that long period of time.
Josef Holzer on October 28, 2009:
Great Article I have learn a lot from this. Thank you for writing it for us to read!