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Optical Media Longevity Stress Tests

Last updated 16th September 2012

About 2 years ago 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 and this is still ongoing. 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. On the second test I aim to test read the discs once per month, to asses the lifespan of each one. Obviously I will 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.  Another thing I should point out, is that so far this summer in the UK has been one of the worst on record for rain, and therefore the number of sunny days has been far fewer than usual for this time of year.  So, 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.  Below is a photo of the test arrangement; the reason for the card covering half of each disc, is to see to what extent visible fading of the dye layer correlates with failure.



Results from my tests have started to become 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, and where I have put (+) next to the lifespan the test was ended before the disc failed. 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.  I should point out that all the discs were kept in relative (but not total) darkness and were readable before the test was started.  Some discs that I considered testing had already failed, and in retrospect, I should have recorded these, but instead I trashed them and now unfortunately, its too late.  Regarding the shorter lifespans of DVDR: the good news is that I have a collection of well over 500 discs, dating back to around 1998, and have come across almost very few failures so far (although I have not attempted an exhaustive check of them all). Those failures have been due to:
(a) the burner/drive that was starting to fail (and I did not notice at the time), and
(b) the use of poor quality inexpensive discs.
I have not yet tested any Blu-ray discs, although I might do a test of a Verbatim BD-R disc soon.  I have not yet tested RW discs, and although I considering doing some tests, 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.

My preliminary observations are:
1. To minimise the effects of daylight, discs must be kept in near or total darkness.
2. There is extreme variability in the lifespan of discs... especially CDR.
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. The lifespan of DVDR appears to be significantly less than the best CDR.
6. Discs made during the 1990s or early 2000s appear to be better than more recent discs.
7. Providing discs are kept at normal room temperatures, in relative darkness (i.e. away from windows), then the actual lifespan of medium to high-cost discs appears to be at least 10 years.

8. If you need best possible lifespan, and CDR has sufficient capacity for your requirements, then the only disc I can recommend is "Verbatim AZO Datalife Plus" (or similar name).  Note that my tests of Verbatim CDRs have all been with discs that are at least several years old, and that I have not tested recent batches.

9. If you need higher capacity than CDR, then I do not make a recommendation for DVDR, because they all seem to have similar lifespans of approximately 2-4 months (when exposed to direct sunlight).  I have seen two brands of DVDR that claimed to be of "archival" quality; one of these was Vertabim.  Both were rather expensive (approx £2 or $2 per disc), so I have not tested them.

Optical Media Stress Test Results


Verbatim CDR


Colour: Cyan/Silver
Date: 2007?
Lifespan: at least 18 months(+) disc did not fail [test currently being repeated to verify result]
Label description: "Super Azo Crystal Datalife Plus" shiny silver lettering on shiny silver
Comment: This test result is astonishing, considering how short the lifespan is of most discs when exposed to long-term direct sunlight.

Verbatim DVDR-


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 [test being repeated to verify result]
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 DVDR-


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 possible 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

Sony CDR
Colour: silver
Date: 2011?
Lifespan: -
Label description: Shiny silver lettering on matt silver

Kodak CDR
Colour: Silver
Date: 2005?
Lifespan: -
Label description: "Koak CD-R Ultima. Infoguard protection system".  Black lettering on silver.

Sony CDR
Colour: Green/Gold
Date: 1999?
Lifespan: 4 months
Label description: "CDQ-74A For professional use" blue text on matt gold

Verbatim CDR
Colour: Dark Blue/Silver
Date: 2001?
Lifespan: -
Label description: "Datalife Plus" white lettering on matt silver

Verbatim CDR
Colour: Silver
Date: 2009?
Lifespan: -
Label description: Shiny silver lettering on white

Philips CDR
Colour: Silver
Date: 2004?
Lifespan: -
Label description: "CD-Recordable all speeds". Pink lettering on silver.

Maxell DVDR-
Date: 2012
Lifespan: 9 weeks
Label description: "Maxell DVDR data/video" silver lettering on gold

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

I will post more results as they become available.