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DVD's and Hard Drives: Longevity of Magnetic and Laser Recorded Media

Oct 9, 2007
First, we'll cut to the chase: Your DVD's will not last 100 years, contrary to popular belief. Disc life expectancy is the period of time in which information recorded can be retrieved without loss. A recent study by IBM suggests that DVD's last far less than we think.

So, how does it all work? How is data disc recovery related? Why is the life expectancy of DVD's not as long as we may have thought? Recordable optical disc media contains an organic dye layer. This layer can be altered to absorb a laser beam or to allow the beam to pass through to a reflective layer.

The dye is of course, organic, so it naturally breaks down over time. Humidity, high temperatures and even exposure to light can escalate this process. The fact is that most people don't have their DVD's in a climate controlled environment.

In recent studies, dye type was seen as a big factor in overall stability of the CD-R and DVD-R media. CD-R samples that contained phthalocyanine performed better than other dye types. The most stable were the ones that used this substance with a gold-silver alloy reflective layer.

Dye type information is harder to determine for DVD recordable media, which uses a form of stabilized cyanine dye for its recording layer.

There were no conclusive results seen in this regard for DVD's. In terms of light exposure, studies have shown that a disc may fail in just a few weeks when exposed to direct sunlight. Mix it with heat, and it becomes even more of a factor. In addition,
"jitter" is a key indicator of media quality in both CD and DVD recordable media.

The good thing to know is that the government is currently working with the private sector to come out with a high standard of quality discs that will last a very long time. It's uncertain when these discs will come to market, but they will be labeled as such, so that those looking to fulfill archival needs will have a plain and simple choice. Hopefully, data disc recovery may be a thing of the past for CD and DVD users.

Another problem that comes up is when CD's and DVD's are produced using older equipment or processes that are out of tolerance. This happened when many Taiwanese media manufacturers moved production to China, relocated their older equipment there and hired staff for on the job training.

This has resulted in a flood of low cost, no name media coming on the market that is of very low quality. This is the reason it pays to buy name brand media especially if it is used for valuable data and personal memories. Check the disc you made to make sure it works and then make a second copy. If you have a fire proof safe put a copy in there.

Hard Drive Life

Hard Disk Drives also don't last as long as most people think. When people buy a computer they naturally assume their data is safe and not vulnerable to catastrophic failure. This may be one reason only 12% of the population backs their data up on a regular basis. Most people simply do not understand that hard drives are very sophisticated hardware/software devices that are extremely sensitive and prone to failure.

Hard Disk Drive manufacturers have a 3 to 5 year warranty. This is the accepted life span and is even questionable in some model drives. Why so short? Technological precision that's prone to error and degradation, and mechanical components is the answer. Also Hard Disk Drives continue to increase in capacity while fewer parts are used.

For a good rule of thumb to use, look at the warranty period for the hard drive. This may be a drive's true useful life. Manufacturer's pay close attention to this because they would face many claims from consumers if they didn't.

If you are within the three to five year timeframe, you may want to just replace your drive anyway. You don't want to deal with unnecessary and expensive data disc recovery. Of course, you may want to get a new hard drive every three to five years anyway purely for performance and capacity reasons. What else can be said except don't take technology for granted. Backup your data or you could face a very serious data loss situation.
About the Author
ITS - Data Recovery has been providing professional data recovery, data repair, computer forensics and evidence recovery services and software since 1980. Located in Los Angeles and serving clients around the world. For inquiries, contact http://www.datarecoveryspecialist.com/ or (818) 727-1500
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