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The Best Brands of CD-R Discs
for Long-Term Data Storage

Email from a reader.

Advice on selecting quality CD-R discs to use when recording/storing important data and photos for long-term storage.

0. Don't use CD-RW discs! They're only designed for short-term storage, and are erasable. Don't go putting your important photos on these!

1. The dye used is probably the most important for long-term stability and lifespan.

There are three dyes used today in CD-Rs, in order of preference.

A. Phthalocyanine - inherently stable unlike cyanine dye which must be stabilized by the addition of other metals, etc. Longest lasting under testing. Expected life spans exceeding 200+ years when coupled with gold reflective layers in cold storage. (color, light green on silver reflective surface; light yellow/green on gold reflective surface)

B. Azo. Only Mitsubishi/Verbatim makes this. Up to 100 years, less stable than Phthalocyanine dye, but more so than cyanine dye. (color, a very deep blue on silver reflective surface)

C. Cyanine dye. Chemically unstable alone, and must be stabilized. Still, less stable than the other dyes in long-term simulation tests. However, the first made consumer CD-Rs used this and is part of the 'standard' all CD-RW drives must be compatible with. (color, green-blue/blue on silver)

2. You can use CDRIdentifier to read the dye information stored on the CD-Rs you buy as well, which is more reliable if you don't know which bottom colors represent which combinations.


There are three known types used today, in order of preference:

A. Gold - yep, expensive, but from the bottom, it'll look like real gold.

B. Gold + Silver - Only Mitsui MAM-A CD-Rs use this. Their tests suggest this combination lasts longer than silver-looking only discs.

C. silver. - not true silver, but silver looking. Most discs produced today use this. However, given that metals except gold corrode, corrosion of such surfaces (when the top lacquer layer has been removed/scratched) can and will occur.

4. Do not look at the top when trying to determining reflective layer type! Look at the bottom in particular, the exposed areas around the rim and inner hub. The fake 'gold' layer they put on top of some CD-Rs are not true gold at all, and only there to 'fake' the customers.

5. The longest lasting CD-Rs, based on longevity testing, use Phthalocyanine dye and Gold reflective layers. Phthalocyanine with Gold&Silver reflective layers next, followed by Phthalocyanine and Silver and Azo and Silver. Cyanine on anything (only silver today) is the worst performing disc.

6. Typically, Japanese made CD-Rs tend have better quality control, IMO. Once they move production to Taiwan/Mexico/India, forget em.

Top Quality Name-Brands, in order of preference:

A. Mitsui Gold CD-R & HHB Gold - Phthalocyanine dye + Gold.

B. HHB Gold Silver+Gold - Phthalocyanine dye + Silver & Gold. (Mitsui MAM-A makes the discs for HHB Audio- London)

C. Mitsui Silver, Ricoh Platinum - Phthalocyanine dye + Silver.

D. Mitsubishi/Verbatim - Azo + Silver.

E. Taiyo Yuden - Cyanine + Silver.

7. You can get these at www.mediasupply.com and www.tapes.com

8. All the other 'cheapies' not mentioned above are generally of poorer & more variable quality. eg. those $15 / 100pk of no-name CD-Rs at Office Max, Office Depot, Staples, www.microcenter.com. and www.compusa.com are the worst in long-term longevity. However, even the quality of cheapies today will last a few years before deteriorating (assuming no long sunlight exposure; a few hours in the sun will kill discs) and will work fine. Great for disposable burns, music, and stuff you don't care if they fade away soon. The poorest performing brand-name disc above, 6-#E, will still last 10-20 years in cold storage w/o any problems at all! Remember to keep them away from sunlight/UV, and that most likely, you'll be moving all of the data off CD-Rs onto newer storage medium (maybe DVD-R? Holographic?) in 10-20 years. Why? Not one storage medium has lived that long, and realistically, you'll want to move the data off obsolete storage media =before= they stop making the drives!! Just like nobody has 5 1/4" (or 8/12") floppy drives anymore, expect only to need at the minimum discs that'll last until you migrate the data off them in 10-20 years from now. Of course, higher quality, longer lasting discs 6-#A-#D will only help your peace-of-mind.

9. Burn at least two copies of every important piece of data. Preferably, to two different brands of discs, and preferably two difference types (eg. Picking #A always is a good #1 pick, anything from 6-#B-#E as your #2). Although simulated longevity tests suggest #A has the best lifespan, nobody has ever sat around long enough yet to see if that's true (in fact, CD-Rs have been out only about 10-15 years!). Best to make sure you use two different brands and types to keep bad-batches and combos of dyes/layers from ruining your data years from now.

10. Double-check all important discs after each burn - make sure they match the original files 100% before putting them away and assuming they're good burns. Use the CD-R program's 'verify-after-write' feature.

See also: Free Bad CD/DVD Reader


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