Although CDs and DVDs are plastic, rest assured that they do not live forever. See what you can do both to control their condition and to increase their life.
Our digital age has great diversity in data storage. Hard disks, SSDs, USB sticks, Blu-rays and even old CD and DVD technology. At the same time, the amount of data has increased significantly, with the result that their storage is a big cost. So users usually resort to old storage solutions such as CD, DVD or Blu-ray because it is simply cheaper.
But how durable are CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray Discs? How can you extend their lifespan? And what if a record does not play?
What determines the lifespan of optical discs?
Optical discs have been on the market since the 1980s. Since then, advances have been made in the technologies and materials used on CD, DVD and Blu-ray, which means that information is much more secure than the first "synths" that released.
While estimates for optical discs predict a long lifespan, even longer than we would live, we can not be sure when they will actually collapse. With the exception of a special category of discs that the Their manufacturer guarantees for 1000 years (and which cost very much) all the rest will die from 5 to 200 years. However, by knowing what determines the lifespan of optical discs and what causes them to deteriorate, you can make your choices and significantly increase the survival time of your stored data.
To understand what limits the lifespan of optical discs, you must first consider how they are made. All optical discs have three common layers:
- Transparent coating that protects the reflective layer.
- A layer of glowing material that reflects the laser.
- Polycarbonate disk level that stores data.
If one of the above three factors is damaged, the disc will break. But the quality and type of materials also play an important role. For example, the type of material (aluminum, silver or gold) in the reflective layer determines the maximum lifespan of an optical disc.
The most important factor, however, is the way the user handles the medium. Operating an optical disc has the most significant impact on its longevity, so we'll get back to that a little further down.
How long do CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays last?
It is difficult to predict exactly how long an optical disc will last as it depends on so many different factors. However, estimates provide a lifespan of up to 200 years for recorded CD-R and Blu-Ray discs. In general, the discs written by you will age much faster than the ready-made ones on the market.
Also, unused (data-free) CD-Rs and CD-RWs have the shortest life expectancy (five to 10 years), followed by recorded DVD-RWs with a lifespan of up to 30 years. Recorded CD-RWs and DVD-Rs have an estimated lifespan of 20 to 100 years.
Do not rely on any of these tools to store your valuable data for life, as they are likely to fail sooner rather than later. Blu-ray is the most reliable, but as it is a relatively new technology we do not yet have the real results.
See a table with the maximum lifespan of optical discs:
|Optical media||Maximum lifespan|
|Empty CD-R and CD-RW||5 - 10 years|
|Written DVD-RW||30 years|
|Written CD-RW and DVD-R||20 - 100 years|
|Written CD-R and Blu-Ray||up to 200 years|
How they ruin CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray
Different types of optical discs contain different materials and layers and the reflective layer is more susceptible to damage.
Typical solid disks usually have a reflective layer of aluminum. When exposed to air, aluminum oxidizes, which usually occurs around the edges of the CD. Degradation of the reflective layer is not the only cause of disc rot. Chemical or physical alteration of the disk also causes the information to become unreadable.
Common suspected causes of disk corruption are at least one of the following:
- Oxidation or corrosion of the reflective layer.
- Physical damage to the upper surface or edges of the disc, such as scratches.
- Galvanic reaction between layers and coatings.
- Chemical reactions with infectious agents.
- UV light damage.
- Disk splitting, e.g. detachment of adhesives between the layers.
Interestingly, while most types of disc damage are caused by improper use and / or storage, there is a strange CD bronzing, which is caused by a manufacturing error. This manifests as a brown discoloration that starts at the edge of the disc and runs toward the middle.
There is some disagreement about what causes CD bronzing, but it is very likely that it is either the lacquer used to cover the discs or the silver (used instead of aluminum) that reacts with the sulfur in the cases and the accompanying leaflets. This forms the brown silver sulfate.
How to check the status of CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays
Your best option is to perform a simple visual inspection, ie to look at your disk.
Turn it towards the light and if you see the light shining through tiny holes, then the reflective layer has started to decompose.
Also check your discs for discoloration, especially at the edges. See if the different layers are still connected or have begun to de-laminate.
You may also see small scratches on the outside. Most of the time, these will not have too many negative effects in the data, but the deep scratches are not the best. Small scratches are a warning sign that the disc is not handling properly, so check that it is inserted in the case correctly or that there is something else that is affecting the physical drive.
Then try to play the disc. Be careful if it overheats and overloads the system. Stop it because it can cause more damage.
If many discs have the same problem, the player may be at fault. Especially if you have to use it for a long time, it collects dust and the laser beam does not focus properly or at all. Try playing your discs on another player.
Finally, you can try to copy the optical discs to a hard disk or scan them for data integrity using different software, e.g. the CDRoller , which can really help you recover your lost data (in many cases).
How to extend the life of CD, DVD and Blu-ray
There are many ways you can extend the life of your CD, DVD and Blu-ray collection. The simplest way is common sense !!!. That is, to treat them as valuables, not as something you can toss in a corner of your office.
Here are some tips for taking care of your best drives:
- Choose a high quality medium, from a good brand. This makes it more likely that long-lasting materials were used in the process of creating the discs.
- If you want to maximize the life of the CD, look for gold as a reflective layer (not aluminum).
- Take good care of CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays. Keep them from the outer edges or the hole in the center, do not touch the surface, avoid scratches and keep the dirt away from the disc.
- Keep them in a dry, dark and cool place: humidity, sunlight, high temperatures and pollutants can damage the various layers.
- Store them in plastic jewelry cases instead of paper ones. This avoids chemical leaks or reactions that destroy the discs over time.
- Use permanent solvent-free markers suitable for recording on CD, DVD or Blu-ray labels.
- Rewrite your rewritable discs as few times as possible.
- Choose slow recording speeds to reduce errors and increase quality.
What you can do when your disc is unreadable
A disc that can no longer be read from your player or shows errors is not necessarily a lost cause. Here are some tips what to do when CDs, DVDs or Blu-ray Discs refuse to play, but then do the following:
- Make sure you do not accidentally insert the disc upside down !.
- Carefully clean the side of the data with alcohol to remove grease from fingerprints and dust.
- Try reading the disc on a different player. The laser on your device reading this data may be defective or dirty, or a different player may be able to read the CD, DVD, or Blu-ray.
If none of these options work, it's worthwhile to find out if there are experts who can help you recover lost information anyway.
CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays have a lifespan
If you want to keep something very important, you must have backups !!.
Check all backups regularly to make sure no backups have been corrupted, whether you are saving your data on a CD, DVD, hard drive or even Blu-ray.