Burned CDs Burn Users
PC World confirms who many of us have already learned through personal experience: self-burned CDs don’t last very long.
Opinions vary on how to preserve data on digital storage media, such as optical CDs and DVDs. Kurt Gerecke, a physicist and storage expert at IBM Deutschland, has his own view: If you want to avoid having to burn new CDs every few years, use magnetic tapes to store all your pictures, videos and songs for a lifetime. “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,” Gerecke says. “There are a few things you can do to extend the life of a burned CD, like keeping the disc in a cool, dark space, but not a whole lot more.”
The problem is material degradation. Optical discs commonly used for burning, such as CD-R and CD-RW, have a recording surface consisting of a layer of dye that can be modified by heat to store data. The degradation process can result in the data “shifting” on the surface and thus becoming unreadable to the laser beam. “Many of the cheap burnable CDs available at discount stores have a life span of around two years,” Gerecke says. “Some of the better-quality discs offer a longer life span, of a maximum of five years.”
Distinguishing high-quality burnable CDs from low-quality discs is difficult, he says, because few vendors use life span as a selling point.
To overcome the preservation limitations of burnable CDs, Gerecke suggests using magnetic tapes, which, he claims, can have a life span of 30 years to 100 years, depending on their quality. “Even if magnetic tapes are also subject to degradation, they’re still the superior storage media,” he says.
While burnable CDs were a godsend when the arrived on the market, since they were preferable in almost every way to 3.5 inch floppies and ZIP drives, I’ve long since stopped using them. I’ve been burned far too many times when I relied on them as my only copy of material. Instead of tape backup, I mostly rely on email or the Web to archive important files. With gigantic amounts of space available for free at G-Mail and YahooMail, there’s not much reason to back files up on CD anymore.