13 thoughts on “The dirty little secret of optical media

  1. Relying on any single method, whether DVD-R’s or USB hard drives or even flash memory (no moving parts!), is just asking for trouble. Eventually things fail. I’ve had all three fail on me. The flash hardware didn’t fail — it was a driver issue corrupting data — but what does it matter, the data was gone.

    A proper backup solution must provide defense in depth. Hard drive failure? Use RAID on a desktop, or do regular backups to USB hard drive. Could your home burn down and destroy both your backups and your primary? Distribute your data between your home and office PC using Live Sync. What about an earthquake that affects your whole region? Outsource to geodistributed online storage, like Amazon S3. If all three backups fail, you probably have bigger things to worry about than your digital data.

    The main problem with online backup is limited upload bandwidth. Oh well, nobody’s going to look at those home videos in a hundred years anyway. Too bad nobody offers “load your data by mailing in a hard drive” service. The postal service is pretty good at delivering lots of bandwidth with lots of latency. They do it every day for zillions of Netflix DVDs.

  2. The dirty little secret is that people should be paying attention to the brand of CD and DVD they buy.

    For archival purposes use Taiyo Yuden or Verbatim CDs and DVDs.

  3. Hey Ed

    I dont agree with the author of that article, even the most quality or expensive media can have its days, at times you can blame the burner, Most burners of media can go off to holidays at times.

    Secondly, all types of back ups are prone to failure, having worked for over 10 years in the field of Computers and repairs, i can tell you, there is no back up that is safe for storing personal files like photos and documents etc.

    Even a new external hard drives used mainly for back up purposes can fail within days or months, internal hard drives too are prone to failure, most users wont even detect once they just plain crash.

    One might assume the online back up is a safe bet, well, think again, most companies have gone out of business and that surely will make sure your online data back up is deleted and destroyed. Whats worse, online back up companies might ask for more money, again you dont know who reads your back ups online, the same can be said for online emails. So save money for a lawyer.

    My suggestion would be to do back up on several media, like on DVD and have another copy to back up on a hard drive, just to be safe, you can encrypt your files and store them online from prying eyes.

    In the past i had the same issue, my back ups would not read on my burner, however the culprit was my burner which gave up after 4 months on a rarely used PC.

    From time to time, you can use tools that can detect errors on your media back ups.
    I would be happy if the author did a broader view on all forms of back up solutions.

  4. Working in a computer store a few years back, I learned of the Taiyo Yuden media fetish. I say fetish ’cause the whole function of a brand is to associate a quality product with a given name. Having multiple suppliers feeding into one brand name defeats that purpose.

    My co-worker was the resident expert on “the best media to buy”. Oddly enough (not really), he was also expert on all methods for copying protected DVDs. Customers sought him out for his expertise. On his day off, I’d have to inform them I didn’t have the sacred knowledge they seemed to require.

    I used to think it’d be awesome working in a computer store, but the reality was kind of a drag. IP thieves were often the most unreasonably demanding customers. One guy would wait in the customer returns line and then return individual failed DVDs he wished to exchange for new ones. (Of course, he could bring back the entire cake box for credit if that’s what he had wanted.)

    Anyway, I haven’t had CDs go bad that I know of. Like Brian says, most of my problems were with my system not being able to dump data reliably to the burner, or similar—back when CPUs were anemic.

    It’s been a long time since I had a failed burn, but then I rarely burn CDs or DVDs these days.

  5. David Pogue was probably paid by Apple to spread fear so people will use digital media such as Apple TV… He is after all one of the biggest Apple fud-spreaders out there…

    Maybe not but I’m very skeptical of this guy!

  6. Personally, I discovered through trial and error that:
    – you need to burn a few disks at top speeds (at least 36x for CD, 16X for DVD) with a burner and test said disks in several other drives (both old and new) before you can be sure of said burner’s quality. A burner that fails this test is of dubious quality. Usually, a dozen disks should be conclusive: no failures, it’s a good drive. A single failure could be an accident (a buffer underrun the drive couldn’t compensate for whatever reason). More than one, the drive isn’t good; it could be a firmware error, update and test again.
    – branded media is quite often of good quality, but actually looking at the media itself (look for discolorations or excessive reflective layer transparency) may give you an accurate idea about the media’s quality: a very opaque and perfectly smooth color on all CDs/DVDs in a box strongly hint at good media quality.
    – burning sensitive data at lower speeds has it “stay” longer: if you want to save that data for a long time, don’t go past 12X (CD) or 2.4X (DVD) burning speed; lower than that (under 8X/2X) makes for a very long burn, but for very sensitive data you may want to consider it.
    – test your media after burning: if the drive can re-read it perfectly (read: you shouldn’t hear the drive spin down at all, all reads should be done full speed), then it’s good. A slowdown, test the disk again. Another slowdown, bin it and re-burn.

    By using the above method (and storing the disks in dark, dry, dust-less areas), I managed to read, perfectly, and at full-speed, several no-brand CD that I burnt during the summer of 1999 at 6X speed with a Yamaha 6416s. The same, I can still read at full speed and with no error many Traxdata and Verbatim media burnt with that same drive and some others in the meantime. Those that don’t read perfectly (spin down on read) get copied over to DVDs.

    Remember, media makers of the time guaranteed their media for 5 to 10 years shelf life in careful conditions; we’re reaching the higher limit now.

    On the other hand, that hard disk drive that had sat untouched in a closet with some sensitive data on it gave me a SMART finger last time I tried to access it.

    In short: no backup solution is perfect (if you really want close to failure-proof, get that tape reader out of storage), redundant careful backup and periodic backup checks are the key.

  7. I guess there is no real solution, but try to save data on hard drives with at least 2 backups HDs. With HD getting cheaper all the time, maybe hard drive backups are the solution. And then there’s flash drives, but the capacities aren’t quite up there.

    I have some data on CDs and DVDs. So far, most of them haven’t failed. Perhaps I’m lucky. But I’m dissatisfied because my data have to be spread over many discs. That’s when I realized that whenever I changed computers, I can save the hard drives for backup. This saves me the step of wiping out the hard drive. I merely delete the Windows directory, buy a HD enclosure, and start backing up and transferring data. I easily accumulated 3 HDs from old computers.

  8. It seems to me that there is an untapped market for consumer grade backup solutions… possibly some sort of tape backup using something along the lines of MiniDV tapes. (11 GB)

  9. Guys

    I agree with all your solution and hope that it helps open other peoples eyes, over data loss.

    I heard, i think it was Pioneer, who developed a 100GB disc for data storage, that would be useful, but what is a turn off for most consumers and the research i have done for my customers, is that, they are not willing to pay more to archive their back up.

    I wont be surprised within 5 years if we see a 100GB storage Discs in shops or even sooner, Blue-Ray storage devices are coming down sharply on prices.

    Even a dual-layer disc, once burned at high speed, its cant be read at times.

    What doesnt make sense to me at all, is that, a single Blue-Ray disc, can cost the same as the DVD data storage of 50 discs.

    As for flash drives, some are cheaper like the 16GB drives, what scares me most is that at times they wont even function, i do lots of flash drive data related recovery problems, where it simply fails to read.

    You can also blame this on a human factor, failing flash drives occur due at times while they are still reading on a PC and also without stopping them from Windows before removal, these are among the biggest problem in their failures.

  10. I tend not to use DVD’s as backups for anything. I use two things: an external hard drive and my website storage. Online backups aren’t so bad when you do it consistently… The benefits are worth it IMO.

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