Data storage technology continues to advance with every passing year, but some of the latest offerings may not be as good of a choice as they first seem. With that in mind, today’s SuperUser Q&A post discusses the pros and cons of M-Discs to help a curious reader make the best choice for storing his data.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader munish wants to know if M-Discs are more reliable than other forms of storage:

I came across M-Discs that boast a lifespan of 1,000 years and resistance to harsh environmental conditions. Is this based on some new technology or is it just the same technology as the other discs with approximately five year life spans for data protection? There is a 100 GB version of this I saw on Amazon.

Are M-Discs more reliable than other forms of storage?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor Dmitry Grigoryev has the answer for us:

A theoretical lifespan of 1,000 years is actually not that big of a deal. Factory produced CD-ROMs which were replicated from a master disc are expected to last for 100 years or more, but of course you cannot put your data on these. Next come gold-plated CD-R and DVD-R discs which are supposed to last for about 100 to 200 years according to the manufacturers’ claims. Those claims are based on accelerated aging tests, just like with M-Discs, so for me, they sound just as valid.

I still have my CD-Rs that I recorded on 20 years ago, so the lifespan of regular CD-R discs is not five years like you said, unless perhaps you go for the cheapest ones. But if you have really found that discs which should last 100 years only last five years in your environment, I would reasonably expect that a 1,000 year lifespan disc should last about 50 years.

The real problem your descendants are likely to encounter in 100 years (let alone 1,000 years) is to find the equipment needed to read the old discs you have left behind. Typical CD and DVD drives are designed to last for five to ten years of normal usage and have perhaps 15 to 30 years of shelf life. It is hard to predict how many more years CDs and DVDs will remain in use, but they will disappear eventually, and then your descendents will have a hard time reading those discs no matter how much you have paid for them.

Personally, I keep my data on a couple of hard drives and copy it over to newer ones every ten years or so. Sure, I would need 200 hard drives over the course of 1,000 years, but I will never encounter trouble reading my backups on modern computers and the capacity will keep growing over time, accommodating new data. If I decided to use M-Discs instead, I would have to buy new discs for new data ($30 for 50 GB on Amazon) every year, so it would be more expensive and my old M-Discs would still age.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Image Credit: Freejpg (Flickr)

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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