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Don't Get Burned

A Look At The Longevity Of Recordable CD/DVD Media

(February 13, 2006)

One of the most overlooked aspects of recordable media is the longevity or storage life. When most consumers or businesses duplicate data onto CD-R or DVDR media do they really understand how long those discs will be able to play? I think not.

The industry is at the point where price has become king and uneducated consumers are gobbling up the best deals they can get their hands on, but as I stated in a previous article, not all media is created equally. There is ALWAYS a price to pay for inexpensiveness. Would you expect an inexpensive car to be of the best quality and hold up great over time? No, you would not, but consumers have a hard time distinguishing good quality media from bad, and manufacturers have the same problem in differentiating them. To many, a CD is a CD and a DVD is a DVD, and if it works and it’s cheap they see no issues. Not yet anyway.

The problem with CD R and DVD R media is that the material the discs are made of degrades. Recordable media used for copying data have a recording surface that consists of a layer of dye that can be modified by heat to store the data. Over time the degradation process results in the data shifting on the surface resulting in the data becoming no longer readable by the laser. With cheap media where poor quality material and dye are used the process happens at a much faster rate.

Recently there was an article written by John Blau of IDG News Service, titled Do Burned CDs have a short life span? In that article there were several quotes by a gentleman by the name of Kurt Gereke, a physicist and storage expert at IBM Deutschland. He stated “Unlike pressed original CDs, burned CDs have a relatively short life span of between two to five years, depending on the quality of the CD.” He also went on to say “Many of the cheap burnable CDs available at discount stores have a life span of around two years.” He also said “distinguishing high quality burnable CDs from low quality discs is difficult because few vendors use life span as a selling point.” Well there you have it folks, two to five years is all you’ll get on low quality media currently being sold in boat loads on the market. Well maybe 2 to 5 years is all you need, or is it?

The applications for recording and duplicating CDs or DVDs are endless and I’m sure there are a lot of uses that do not require long periods of reliable storage. Having said that there are still as many uses that DO require longevity in storage life. There are a lot of consumers out there who store family photographs, video, important documents etc…. Wouldn’t they want to keep those things recorded for more than a couple of years? I know I would.

Not only are consumers buying this low grade junk but so too are businesses. In the never ending quest to cut expenses many businesses are buying low grade media to save money. What these unsuspecting purchasers don’t know is that the media they are buying could be worthless in a couple of years. Imagine backing up crucial company data onto CD thinking it will last for ever only to try and access it a couple of years down the road with out success.

A solution to this problem is simple. If storage life is an important factor in your CD or DVD copying needs than make sure you purchase quality Grade A media from a trusted manufacturer. Currently there are several manufacturers who offer a line of Grade A optical media that has exceptional storage life. For example Mitsui boasts it’s MAM-A CDRs have a storage life of 100 years. That’s a far cry from the two to five years you can expect from the cheap discs. Remember there is a big reason why cheap discs are cheap. Don’t get burned!