I can SEE that this is a burned disk.
February 13, 2013 8:05 AM   Subscribe

DVD-R data archives from an old computer are showing up as blank disks on all the new computers I've tried them with. What can I do to get my data?

A long time ago, I burned a bunch of documents and other data to three DVD-R discs and put them in a jewel case for safekeeping. I burned them using the SuperDrive from a 2003 15" Apple TiBook. I now have a 2010 Aluminum MacBook Pro, as well as access to a HP laptop and a Lenovo desktop.

The DVD drives on all of these computers indicate that these disks are blank. A quick google searching of this problem suggests multiple solutions including, on the Windows side, deleting and reinstalling DVD player drivers, and lens cleaner / compressed air / purchase of an external drive on the Mac side.

I guess my question is, before I futz with the drivers on my work computer, or buy an external drive for my Mac, does anybody have any ideas what's going on or how to troubleshoot this? Many, many thanks in advance.
posted by gauche to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should mention that the discs themselves were burned 9 and 10 years ago but show no apparent deterioration (flaking &c) or scratching.
posted by gauche at 8:06 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about you use a live CD type thing to boot one of these computers into Linux and see if Linux can read it?
posted by XMLicious at 8:09 AM on February 13, 2013

The disks may not show any visible deterioration, but may still have aged to the point of unreadability.

There are probably data recovery outfits that can get the data off of the discs. If several different machines are telling you that the discs are unreadable, then changing your drivers is probably not going to make much of a difference.
posted by DWRoelands at 8:10 AM on February 13, 2013

You've done your homework - you've tested with multiple computers, using multiple drives, using multiple operating systems.

As unfortunate as the news may be, the most likely scenario by far is that the discs have simply degraded too much; this degradation isn't visible like scratches, but CD-Rs have been known to "go bad" in as short as 2 years, and I'm not the least bit surprised that a decade is too much.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:13 AM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd try to find older Apple computers and see if they can read the discs. Also try Linux or other alternative operating systems and see if they can read them. Maybe bring them to an Apple store and see if their Genius Bar people can get to the data.
posted by mikepop at 8:16 AM on February 13, 2013

Do you have access to a machine with an actual DVD-R burner on it? Not an "every CD and DVD and BRD format known to have ever existed" drive, but a real live drive from back when you had to choose between DVD +R or -R?

I've found more than a few times that discs I can't read in my current "supports everything" machine will read just fine in a 10YO piece of crap I've repurposed three times and now have collecting dust in the basement.

/ On preview, mikepop beat me to the gist of this, but since I've already written this, perhaps I've given some extra detail that will help.
posted by pla at 8:18 AM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a Windows-only tool called ISObuster that I've had good luck with finding "lost" data on degraded and damaged discs. Often the data itself is too degraded to be useful, but if ISObuster can't see anything on your disc, it's probably gone forever.

Also nthing trying to find a drive like the one that burned the discs originally.
posted by Devoidoid at 8:22 AM on February 13, 2013

If there's not obvious scratching I'd assume that the photoreactive dye has degraded in some way. Like mikepop and pla I'd suggest trying more equipment, particularly if you can find dedicated CDR gear vs DVD gear. Laser colors have changed over the years to support higher density and a variety of formats, as I understand, and you may have better luck with a "dumber" reader.

Thankfully you'll probably be able to find old USB gear that meets this description in some nerd's (*cough*) basement in a box or on ebay for little money. I wouldn't necessarily give up without using a variety of old gear.
posted by phearlez at 8:49 AM on February 13, 2013

I would start with trying to make images of the DVDs.

From the command line ("Terminal" in OS X I guess) this can be as simple as dd if=/dev/disk2 of=/tmp/image (Here is how to determine the device)

This will let you eliminate or confirm any problems with the DVDs. (I'm assuming that you tested the DVDs after reading them - another reason for not being able to read the DVD is that the track is not "closed" properly.)

AFAIK OS X used to default to writing DVDs as HFS+, but that should be readable from your new Mac.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 9:07 AM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I should add that, on my Mac, the disk goes in, spins for a bit, and then ejects, so I'm not sure I'll be able to make an image of it.
posted by gauche at 9:25 AM on February 13, 2013

In my experience, if you can't find a drive that will even admit you've inserted a disc, there's nothing left on it. Sorry...
posted by Devoidoid at 11:23 AM on February 13, 2013

I've successfully rescued badly damaged harddrives with ddrescue on Linux, and it seems it also works for DVDs.

So, make an Ubuntu USB boot drive, install ddrescue (a simple apt-get install gddrescue), and give that a try.. It might be really slow if there are lots of errors, so you should expect to have to leave it running overnight.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 4:13 PM on February 13, 2013

I second DDrescue.

Were the discs burned in the classic way, where you compile the files in an application, and then burn the compilation in one shot? Or did you use some kind of drag and drop method? because if that was how you did it, you'll probably need to figure out what method or program was doing that and install it on the target PC. It's a different format that I don't believe is standard.
posted by gjc at 4:31 PM on February 13, 2013

Not a solution suggestion, but a possible cause:

This exact thing just happened to me a few months ago with some photo CDs I had RiteAid make for me from a disposable film-type camera. Well, exact same thing except that the CDs were brand new. I could even see on the surface the physical difference between the data and blank areas.

Turned out, after much google searching, that there is such a thing as finalizing a cd image after writing it, that makes it readable later. The trick is, some computers will be able to read it anyway, even if it's not finalized, so it makes you think it's not the CD that's the problem.

I don't know how you would fix it if that's the case, though.
posted by ctmf at 7:09 PM on February 13, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, this is saddening me. To answer some questions upthread:

Devoiddoid: the two windows machines recognize it as a disc, but claim that it is blank.

gjc: Like I say, it's been a while, but I'd bet I either burned them in Toast or using the OS X finder's drag and burn functions. I don't specifically recall which of those two, but I can't imagine using another method.

Right now it seems my best bets are: 1) finding a similar-era drive and hoping that will read it; 2) running some utilities on Ubuntu -- thinking probably on one of the PCs because they don't automatically eject the disc; 3) giving all relevant drives a good cleaning with compressed air or some kind of kit.

Thanks for your help everybody.
posted by gauche at 5:54 AM on February 14, 2013

I had the same issue a few months ago and after trying several apps, found one that worked. I use Windows, but maybe there's an Apple version. I don't remember which one worked off the top of my head, but I'll check when I get home tonight and post it to this thread.

It was a $40 piece of software, but saved me in the fact that I had several years of pictures that would have otherwise been lost. To me, the $40 was worth it.
posted by RogueTech at 9:22 AM on February 14, 2013

The software I used is called DiskInternals CD-DVD Recovery 3.6. It enabled me to recover several disks that burned fine, but weren't recoverable because I no longer had the drive used to burn them. You can get it at diskinternals.com.
posted by RogueTech at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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