How long do burned CD-Rs last?
January 20, 2006 8:32 AM   Subscribe

What, in your experience, is the lifespan of a burned CD-R? What about DVD+R?

I've Googled the subject and got conflicting answers. Manufacturers suggest that CD-Rs, once burned, can last 50 years or more. However, there are a few experts that claim lifespans as short as 2-5 years, depending on the media quality.

As a practical matter, I have about 250 CDs which archive graphic design projects I've done over the years. The earliest ones were burned 1998-1999, continuing through early 2005. My CD drive can still read the earliest CDs, but I've started to back them up to DVD+R just in case.

Am I wasting my time?
posted by MegoSteve to Computers & Internet (21 answers total)
I am also interested in solid data (well, or useful personal anecdotes) about this. The recent buzz about a "storage expert" claiming that home-burned CDs only last 2-5 years is somewhat short on solid evidence.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:37 AM on January 20, 2006

I just listened to the very first CD-R that I ever burned ("The Matrix" soundtrack) in the car on the way to work this morning. It is almost 7 years old, and it still sounds great.
posted by Plutor at 8:39 AM on January 20, 2006

I have a large number of CDs I burned (both data and audio) in the late 1990s. None of them have exhibited any degradation issues. I'm not sure why we always hear so much bad mojo about them decaying rapidly...
posted by daveleck at 8:44 AM on January 20, 2006

What I've heard is that CDs are better than DVD for storage. Apparently, because DVDs pack so much more information, they are more susceptible to damage, etc. I don't know if that's true but it sounds like it could be.
posted by 6550 at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2006

the scientific answer is that no one knows. it depends on storage conditions, usage conditions, frequency of usage, and the life cycle of the materials. there are long-life rated ("gold") cds for archival purposes that claim a 100-year life cycle, but no one in the data storage business believes them. the standard CD-Rs you buy in spindles might last just as long, but i think the expectation for them is 10 years, and that's with no use. any cd that is played and handled frequently could die at any time. it takes one bad bit.
posted by spitbull at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2006

ps -- backing up to DVD is not much better. so much more data has to fit in the same space. dvds are notoriously fragile, certainly if they are ever used. if you are serious about backing up that data, use tape or redundant hard drives.
posted by spitbull at 8:47 AM on January 20, 2006

or what 6550 said.
posted by spitbull at 8:50 AM on January 20, 2006

I recently reburned a whole bunch (~20) of mp3/data and CDDA cyanine and pthalocyanine CDRs from 1994/1995 to DVD. Not a single read error. I keep them in binders, our of light, at room temperature.
posted by meehawl at 8:56 AM on January 20, 2006

I have audio CDs over 5 years old that work fine. Data, however, not so much. Even some perfectly-kept CDs had a couple read errors in them. However, other CDs seemed to be fine. I'm sure the quality of the CD/DVD-R will greatly affect it.

From my professional standpoint, if you are serious about backing up your data, go magnetic tape and actual hard drives. HDs cost less than $1/GB!
posted by adzm at 8:56 AM on January 20, 2006

I also recently read about the "experts" claims of 2-5 years as well and got concerned because I have photos, old files, etc. backed up to CD-R. So I went back and looked at a few random CD-Rs from 5-6 years ago and found no problems. Mine are also stored in a binder, out of light, at room temperature just like meehawl.

For what it's worth, I tend to buy the higher quality CD-Rs, not the no-name generic spindles with 100+ blanks...
posted by jerryg99 at 9:06 AM on January 20, 2006

I know the two year time-frame is bunk, unless he's talking about really new CDs. I have many CD-Rs and CD-RWs older than that that I can read fine. (It is possible, though, that older CD-Rs are better. In the beginning, no cheap knock-offs were available, and burners burned very slowly, and thus somewhat more reliably).

I've read a paper on the topic (an actual, honest-to-goodness scientific paper, not the "folk wisdom" that many people peddle). The conclusion was: who knows. They degrade. It's not clear at what rate. Some thought you had decades, others, less than a decade.

(simulating aging is a challenging problem, which is why we are uncertain. Aside form setting aside burned CDs, and testing them every year, each method that simulates aging the CD is open to criticism, and necessarily artificial).

Magnetic tape is supposedly the most archival, but it's not especially cheap for the gear. And you're still faced with the obsolescence problem.
posted by teece at 9:11 AM on January 20, 2006

Related question
posted by exogenous at 9:11 AM on January 20, 2006

here are a couple good links about this subject:

NIST care and handling [PDF]

NIST stability study [PDF]

the guys on the forum are obsessed with this topic. i think at the very minimum if you want to keep your archived DVDs safe you should:

1) test the quality of your burns using CDSpeed 2000
2) keep the DVDs/CDs away from light
3) keep the DVDs/CDs away from humidity

humidity seems to be the real killer.
posted by joeblough at 9:14 AM on January 20, 2006

oh yeah, i posted the same stuff in that other thread. duh.
posted by joeblough at 9:15 AM on January 20, 2006

with proper care, cdrs are quite reliable ... however, i don't think it's a waste of time to make a duplicate set of backups every once in awhile ... it can't hurt
posted by pyramid termite at 9:27 AM on January 20, 2006

And speaking of humidity, here are some scans of CD Rot. Some members of the Geotrichum fungus family can digest the organic substrate within CDRs.
posted by meehawl at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2006

anecdotal experience:

cds i've kept on spindles, or burned with cheap media ("Great Quality", anyone?) have usually died within two to three years. CDs that I've kept in binders have generally fared better, and I was actually surprised when I went to go copy all my photos to HD (and from there, I'll put them somewhere online) that discs as far back as 1999 read without errors.

I was also very surprised by what I looked like in 99. holy shit what was i thinking. stupid rave culture.
posted by fishfucker at 10:02 AM on January 20, 2006

They're hard to find, but buy discs that are made in Japan. In particular, Taiyo Yuden, who is the name behind a number of different brands of CD-R and DVD+-R discs. These are the highest quality discs you'll find. Even then, I would not trust a burnable disc (with dye that decays over time) with any truly important data. Keep redundant copies if you must do this.
posted by knave at 1:18 PM on January 20, 2006

more germaine to the actual question: i've got some DVDs that were burned back in 1999 on apple branded 1x and 2x media with pioneer superdrives that were not specially cared for (though kept in jewel cases) and they scan back beautifully with cdspeed 2000. they could have been burned yesterday; very low PI/PO errors.
posted by joeblough at 2:52 PM on January 20, 2006

my personal rules for dvd backups:
1. known good burner, taiyo yuden media only, recommended burning speed (slower is not better)
2. burn every disc twice and store them apart from each other
3. run a crc on every burn (nero's verify function)
4. burn quality checks every few weeks to see how the burner "ages" (k-probe, nero is ok too)
5. re-burn everything yearly (only takes 1 lazy weekend every 2 or 3 months)
posted by suni at 4:16 PM on January 20, 2006

CNET just offered a comprehensive analysis of this question.
posted by WestCoaster at 4:24 PM on January 31, 2006

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