Optical Media Life Expectancy

Last updated 14th Novembery 2019

Summary

A quick summary of my recommendations for long-term archival storage of important data:

1. Do not use standard DVD-R (with purple dye). Lifespan is significantly worse than all other disc types.

2. The Lowest-cost option is CD-R, which performs much better than DVD-R.

3. A better low-cost option is BD-R (recordable blu-ray), which appears* to perform much better than CD-R.

3. A high-cost option is MDISC* (either DVD-R or BD-R).

4. For all discs, long-term storage must be in darkness. Any exposure to daylight whatsoever will significantly reduce lifespan; my research suggests this is the primary factor of disc degradation in a typical office/home environment.

*The BD-R and MDISC tests are still ongoing, but preliminary results indicate that lifespan is very good and much better than CD-R. Further results will be posted here when they are available, which should indicate whether MDISC is better than BD-R and by how much.  However, there is a caveat with MDISC discs, some drives/players will not read them.

Latest update: recently completed a test of a Verbatim Gold Archival DVD-R disc; the disc has the same purple dye layer as standard DVD-R discs, and it has the same short life expectancy - see below.

Main Article

In 2010 I started some stress tests of optical media - CDR and DVDR. The results both surprised and disappointed me. For important stuff I had always been careful to use "well known" brands that I thought I could trust.  It turns out that my trust was misplaced.  Some very well known brands made discs that failed after only 3 weeks, and another brand that I had not previously trusted made a disc that was still readable after 18 months (the test was stopped before the disc failed).

My first test started during 2010, lasted for almost 2 years, but only tested 3 discs chosen at random.  I then started another larger and more thorough test starting mid May 2012, which has also ended.

During the summer of 2018, I started a 3rd test, using a new batch of discs with a wider range of technologies, including BD-R discs and MDISC discs. This test is still ongoing, and the results will be posted here when ready. These tests are more thorough in that they use a much wider range of discs formats (CD-R, DVD-R, BD-R) and dye layer technologies (CD-R cyan dye, CD-R silver dye, DVD-R purple dye, DVD-R mdisc dye, BD-R HTL dye, BD-R LTH dye).

The test consists of simply placing the discs label side down, on an interior south facing window ledge, so that on a cloudless day, they will be exposed to approximately 6 hours of direct sunlight, and on cloudy days no direct sunlight. In the early stages of the test I aim to test read the discs every 2-3 weeks, then once every 2-3 months, to asses the lifespan of each one.

I will obviously have no idea exactly how many hours of direct sunlight the discs have been exposed to, and although the test is perhaps a bit arbitrary, I believe it to be valid because one of the most important stress factors in everyday use will be exposure to daylight. Some testers leave discs outside exposed to outdoor weather, but this is not how discs are normally stored, so I do not think such a test is particularly useful. However, for a disc that has failed after only 24 days, this means that the number hours of direct sunlight that has caused the failure could possibly be as little as 12days x 6hours = 72 hours.

When examining the discs that have failed, there appears to be two factors causing the failure:  (1) fading of the dye, and (b) "bubbling" of the reflective layer which causes it to separate from the plastic layer.  The "bubbling" effect I assume is caused by the heat of the sunlight.  The bubbling effect has only appeared on a small numbers of discs - the majority have only been affected by dye fade.


Results from my 2010, 2012 and 2018-2019 tests are available, and I have posted the results below.  In the table, "Date" refers to the approximate purchase date, "Colour" is the dye/reflective layer colours and intended to help identify the dye type and reflective layer type, the "Label description" is colour and identifying names or text on the label side. I have omitted the dye colour for DVDR because they are all the same - purple.  If an entry has lifespan left blank, then the disc is currently readable and the test ongoing.

For the 2018-2019 test, all the discs were kept in total darkness before the test was started.  For the 2010 and 2012 tests the discs were not kept in total darkness prior to the tests. This probably explains why many of the same/similar disc types failed much sooner on the earlier tests, but the lesson here is that storage in darkness is essential, otherwise the lifespan of discs is signifcantly reduced.

Regarding the very short lifespan of DVD-R: the good news is that I have a collection of well over 1000 discs, dating back to around 2000, and have come across very few failures so far (although I have not attempted an exhaustive check of them all). So the lifespan of DVD-R is at least 15 years, providing the discs are kept in darkness.

When I refer to DVD-R or recordable DVD, I am including DVD+R discs. They use the same purple dye, and the I've not found any difference in lifespan.

I have not yet tested any RW discs.  Testing RW discs is not a priority for me, because they are well-known for having poor reliability, and should never be used for long-term storage.

Latest update: just started a test of a Verbatim Gold Archival DVD-R disc, and results will be posted here when they are available.  However, don't hold your breath, as the disc has the same purple dye layer as standard DVD-R discs, and I therefore anticipate that it will have the same short life expectancy.

My final observations regarding disc lifespan are:
1. To minimise the effects of daylight, discs must be kept in near or total darkness.
2. The lifespan of DVDR appears to be significantly less than other types.
3. There are no brands or manufacturers whose entire output can be "trusted".
4. Higher cost price is not a guarantee of long lifespan.
5. CD-R discs that are recently made, are high-quality, and have a silver dye, seem to have longer life expectancy than discs made 10 or more years ago.

7. Standard DVD-R discs (with purple dye) that are kept at normal room temperatures, in darkness (i.e. in a box with a lid), appear to have a lifespan of at least 15 years. However, the relatively poor performance of these discs in my tests means that they should be avoided whenever possible in favour other types (CD-R and BD-R) when used for archival purposes.

8. If you need best possible lifespan, then I recommend MDISC technology discs. This technology is available as DVD-R and BD-R discs.  Tests are still ongoing, but suggest they offer the best longevity.
Definitive results will be posted here when available.  However, there is a caveat with these discs, some drives/players will not read them.

9. A cheaper alternative to MDISC technology are standard DB-R discs. These are available in two different types, HTL and LTH. My latest tests are still ongoing, but suggest that both type offer excellent longevity. Definitive results will be posted here when available.

10. If you need  to use CD-R, then the discs I recommend are Verbatim.  I previously recommended Verbatim "AZO Datalife" (or similar name) which has a cyan dye layer, but the most recent tests show that they are slightly inferior to "standard" Verbatim silver dye CD-Rs in sunlight tests. However, the "AZO Datalife" do have a much tougher label side which is much more resistant to physical damage.

11. If you already have an archive of optical discs that have not been stored in darkness, I recommend you copy them all to new discs immediately and store them in a box with a lid.

The test arrangement is shown here:

Results of Optical Media Stress Test 2018-2019

The results of the 2018-2019 stress test are nearly complete. There are 3 discs left in the test, but I suspect they might last many more months or possibly even years. So i have decided to report the results I've had so far, including the 3 discs that are still readable, because I think it is useful information for people interested in archival data storage. The effective start date of the test was the beginning of 28th July 2018; the discs were placed in position at 6pm the evening before. This means that the 3 discs remaining have survived direct sunlight for more than a year.

Verbatim BD-R HTL

Dye Colour: mid grey
Date: 2017-2018
Lifespan: greater than 14 months - test still ongoing.
Label description: Dark blue lettering on white background, omits the word "LTH".
Comment: test is still ongoing.

Verbatim BD-R LTH

Dye Colour: grey-gold
Date: 2017-2018
Lifespan: greater than 14 months - test still ongoing.
Label description: Dark blue lettering on white background, includes the words "LTH Type".
Comment: test is still ongoing.

Verbatim DVD-R MDISC

Dye Colour: mid grey
Date: 2017-2018
Lifespan: greater than 14 months - test still ongoing.
Label description: light grey, no lettering.
Comment: test is still ongoing.


Verbatim Gold Archival DVD-R

Dye Colour: purple
Date: 2019
Lifespan: 39 days.
Label description: shiny gold lettering on matt gold background.
Comment: the weather has been particularly bad during this test, so the amount of direct sunlight the disc was exposed to has probably been relatively low (so its performance might only equal 20 days during summertime). So this is an expensive disc that performs no better than standard DVD-R.

Sony CD-R

Dye Colour: silver
Date: 2000's
Lifespan: greater than 14 months.
Label description: shiny silver lettering on matt silver background.
Comment: test is still ongoing. However, as this disc was purchased a long time ago, it is probably no longer available.

Verbatim CD-R "Vinyl"

Dye Colour: silver
Date: 2018
Lifespan: 13 months. Failed 2019-9-27
Label description: Verbatim coloured label that looks like a 7 inch vinyl record.
Comment:

Verbatim CD-R

Dye Colour: silver
Date: 2010's
Lifespan: 13 months. Failed 2019-9-27
Label description: shiny silver lettering on white background.
Comment:

TDK CDR80

Dye Colour: silver
Date: 2000's
Lifespan: 13 months. Failed 2019-9-27
Label description: shiny silver lettering and "saturn rings", on cyan background.
Comment:

Verbatim CD-R "Datalife Plus"

Dye Colour: cyan
Date: 2000's
Lifespan: 11 months. Failed 2019-7-7
Label description: shiny silver lettering on shiny silver background.
Comment:

Verbatim CD-R "Datalife"

Dye Colour: cyan
Date: 2015-2017
Lifespan: 11 months. Failed 2019-7-7
Label description: shiny silver lettering on shiny silver background.
Comment:

Verbatim CD-R "Vinyl"

Dye Colour: cyan
Date: 2018
Lifespan: 8 months. Failed 2019-4-11
Label description: Verbatim coloured label that looks like a 7 inch vinyl record.
Comment:

Verbatim DVD-R "Inferior"

Dye Colour: purple
Date: 2017-2018
Lifespan: 35 days. Failed 2018-08-31.
Label description: "Verbatim" shiny silver lettering on matt silver.
Comment: this is a batch of Verbatim DVD-R that (from visual inspection) appeared to have lower quality manufacturing than is usual from Verbatim, although there was no information available about this.

Verbatim DVD-R "Standard"

Dye Colour: purple
Date: 2017-2018
Lifespan: 35 days. Failed 2018-08-31.
Label description: "Verbatim" shiny silver lettering on matt silver.
Comment: this batch of Verbatim DVD-R appeared to have the usual manufacturing quality.

Maxell DVD-R

Colour: light purple.
Date: 2010's
Lifespan: 13 days. Failed 2018-08-10.
Label description: matt gold with shiny lettering.
Comment: identical to the other Maxell DVD-R except for the slight difference in dye colour.

Maxell DVD-R

Colour: darker purple.
Date: 2010's
Lifespan: 55 days. Failed 2018-09-21.
Label description: matt gold with shiny lettering.
Comment: identical to the other Maxell DVD-R except for the slight difference in dye colour.

Results of Optical Media Stress Test 2010 & 2012

The results of this previous stress test were significantly worse than my latest 2018-19 test. This is almost certainly due to the fact that the discs used in the earlier test were not stored in optimal conditions prior to the test. Before these results, I had no idea how damaging sunlight was to optical discs, and most were kept on open shelves in transparent plastic sleeves. Although they had little or no direct sunlight, they would have been exposed to normal room daylight for a period of 5-10 years.  I believe these results show how damaging daylight is, and how important it is to store discs in darkness when used for archival purposes.

Verbatim CDR

Colour: Cyan/Silver
Date: 2007?
Lifespan: at least 18 months(+) test stopped before disc failed.
Label description: "Super Azo Crystal Datalife Plus" shiny silver lettering on shiny silver
Comment: This test result is astonishingly good, considering how short the lifespan is of most discs when exposed to long-term direct sunlight.

Verbatim DVD-R


Date: 2008?
Lifespan: 8 weeks
Label description: "Verbatim" shiny silver lettering on matt silver

Sony DVDR-
Date: 2011
Lifespan: 6 weeks
Label description: "Sony DVD Accucore" shiny silver lettering on white.  Looks exactly like the DVD+R below.

Sony DVDR+


Date: 2011
Lifespan: 6 weeks
Label description: "Sony DVD Accucore" shiny silver lettering on white

TDK CDR


Colour: Cyan/Silver
Date: 2003?
Lifespan: 19 days = approx 3 weeks
Label description: "TDK CD-R74 Reflex Ultra" blue lettering on white

TDK CDR
Colour: Silver
Date: 2005?
Lifespan: 24 days = approx 3 weeks
Label description: "TDK CD-R74 Reflex Ultra" blue lettering on white.  Looks exactly like the one above.

TDK DVDR-


Date: 2004?
Lifespan: 11 weeks
Label description: "TDK DVD-R 1-8x DATA/VIDEO".  White lettering on light grey/blue.

Philips CDR


Colour: Cyan/Silver
Date: 2003?
Lifespan: 11 weeks
Label description: "CD-Recordable all speeds". Pink lettering on silver.

Memorex CDR


Colour: Dark Cyan/Silver
Date: 2000?
Lifespan: 11 weeks
Label dewscription: "CD recordable 74 min 650 MB" blue text on matt silver

TDK DVD-R


Date: 2008?
Lifespan: 8 weeks
Label description: "TDK DVD-R 1-16x DATA/VIDEO" silver on dark cyan

Fujifilm CDR


Colour: Green/Silver
Date: 2003?
Lifespan: 19 days = approx 3 weeks
Label description: Shiny silver lettering on matt silver.

Infinity DVDR
-


Date: 2004?
Lifespan: test1=24 days, test2=4 months  [this test was repeated]
Label description: "Ininity DVD" plain white
Comment: following the suspiciously short lifespan of the first test, I did a repeat test.  I will leave the reader to decide the significance of the two results... however it is likely is that the disc used in the first test was kept under less than ideal conditions prior to the test, and hence had some degradation before the test was started.

TDK CDR


Colour: Silver
Date: 2008?
Lifespan: 5 months
Label description: "TDK CD-R80 UP TO 52x SPEED" light cyan with silver stripes like saturns rings

TDK CDR


Colour: Dark Cyan/Silver
Date: 2003?
Lifespan: 3 months
Label description: "TDK CD-R74 Reflex Ultra" blue lettering on white

Unbranded CDR
Colour: Green/Gold
Date: 1999?
Lifespan: 3 months
Label description: none - very shiny gold, appears to have no protective laquer or paint

The 2010-12 test has completed.