General discussion

1/27/06 How long do burned CD-Rs and CD-RWs last?

Jan 25, 2006 9:54AM PST

I recently read an article by a data storage expert who claimed that burned CD-Rs and CD-RWs can be expected to last only two to five years and not a whole lot more. I personally have commercially pressed CDs from the 1980s that still play fine, but I have begun to notice that some of my burned CD-Rs are beginning to skip, or not start (player shows "no disc"), or have a strange echo that was not on the original. This sounds serious! The expert suggests that for secure long-term storage, high -quality magnetic tape is the way to go. Are any of your readers beginning to notice this problem with their burned CDs, and are there other opinions about how to combat it? Are some burnable CDs of higher quality than others? What are the best storage methods for the discs that will make them last longest?

Submitted by: Carl N. of Cottonwood, Arizona



Factory-pressed CDs are totally different from recordable CDs. In a pressed CD, the data is literally "molded into" (actually pressed into) the media and will not disappear unless the CD is physically damaged. Recordable CDs use a dye that changes color or reflectivity when heated. There are different dye types commonly used in recordable CDs--phthalocyanine, azo, and cyanine, in particular--and they do not all have the same life expectancy and stability.

All of the studies that I have seen except one suggest that properly burned one-time media (-R media, but not -RW media; see below) has an expected life of decades to possibly even centuries. There was a study by NIST (a U.S. government agency, used to be the National Bureau of Standards) on the relative stability of different media here:

You can see some comparisons in the NIST study of the different dye types. But this study did not attempt to extrapolate the data to a life expectancy, although it did provide data about the relative stability of the different dyes and reflection layers behind them.

However, opinions still differ as to how long such media will last. The OSTA (Optical Storage Technology Association), in a report here:

suggests that optical recordable media will last 50 to 200 years. This observation is backed by quite a number of studies that I have seen done both by the media makers and others. However, some storage experts suggest numbers more in line with your question, for example the expert in this report suggests a life of only 2 to 5 years: (I have a suspicion that this is the article that you read).

The bottom line is that you are not going to get one single answer that everyone agrees on, although I personally am confident that properly recorded CD-R media can last decades if not a century or two. These 3 articles provide a good starting point for understanding some of the variables involved, which include:

-Dye type
-Physical construction of the media
-Storage conditions (temperature, humidity, light exposure, mechanical stress, chemical exposure and air quality)
-Manufacturing conditions (can vary from batch to batch in otherwise identical media of the same brand)

Now let?s mention some other things that are relevant and important:

-The quality of the burner. A borderline defective burner can ?under expose? the media to the laser beam, producing a seemingly good recording (at the time of burning) that will ?fade? over time (failing weeks, months, years or decades sooner than it should have had the laser beam intensity been correct)
-Recording speed. Fast burns (52X) are probably less stable than somewhat slower burns (say 16x to 32x), but you can burn media too slowly also. There is a very good analogy here to photographic film and exposure levels. The dyes on a given media have a certain range of acceptable ?exposures? and outside of that range, you can either under or over expose the media to the laser beam. However, mechanical jitter and certain other variables (largely a function of the quality of the drive) generally will be unconditionally worse at faster speeds.
-Your own handling and storage practices. On a CD, the data ?exists? in a dye layer on the label side of the media. This can be scratched from the back (from the label side), which will literally and directly destroy the data. The front side is clear plastic but can also be scratched. While front side damage may make the data less readable or completely unreadable, the data is still intact and undamaged on the label side, and the scratches on the front can normally be removed by polishing the plastic. On recordable DVDs, the data is on a layer ?inside? the media, but the media is a laminate of several layers and can delaminate, destroying the data. Flexing ? even VERY minor flexing ? is particularly bad at causing such damage. And, also, recordable DVDs tend to fail from the outside in, so you can increase your success rate and decrease the incidence of failures by not recording such media beyond 80% to 90% of capacity, leaving the outside edge, where the failure rate is greatest and failure occurs first, blank anyway.

-Labeling: The glues in adhesive labels, or the solvents in pen-type markers, both applied to the label side (the side containing the data) can SLOWLY penetrate the reflective backing and dye layers and destroy the data. Therefore, for archival media, the safest policy is to not label the CD or DVD itself at all. If you do label it, with either a label or a pen, you are, at best, taking a chance with your data (hint: it is safe to write on the clear inner hub (where there is no data at all) with a suitable pen that won?t rub off).

And, finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one other factor which is really huge: Eraseable ?RW? media is FAR less stable than one-time (?R?) media and should absolutely not be used for any permanent recordings of any kind whatsoever. There is no question that RW media can and does ?fade?. Although I?ve never seen failure of ?R? media that I could attribute with absolute certainty to dye instability, I routinely see ?RW? recordings that are unreadable after periods of months to a year or two when there is really no other explanation for the failure. I see this both on CD-RW and DVD+/-RW media, and I advise people in the strongest possible terms not to use ?RW? media for anything that they want to consider permanent. Since RW media is also both more expensive (a lot more expensive) and slower, from my perspective the decision to never even buy RW media at all is an easy one from my perspective.

Submitted by: Barry W. of North Canton, OH

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longevity - one last note
Jan 27, 2006 7:13AM PST

we've gone from floppies/ diskettes to cd's to dvd's and will keep moving from one media to the next, as technology improves and undergoes change.

that's the beauty of film - it has proven that it will stand the test of time. Maps, files, archival pieces, pictures anything valued can be photographed and stored until needed.


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Comment on: longevity - one last note
Jan 27, 2006 1:57PM PST

I have a lot of movies taken from about 1960 to the mid 1980s. They have been fading badly as are my old 35mm slides. My VHS Tapes are not holding up well either. I am not happy with the longevity of film and have been converting my movies to DVD in the apparently mistaken idea that they would last 50 to 100 years.

Converting from analog to digital is a good thing. Sad that I am not getting the long life I was hoping for. Thanks to these discussions, I will stop looking for cheap blanks. What are the best quality blank DVDs to use?

Richard Ruppel

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logevity of film
Jan 27, 2006 6:59PM PST

For your slides and negs, what you would need to do is store them in archival sleeves (costs just a few cents more) and they would stand the test of time to your satisfaction,

Have a great week-end -

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How long do burned CD-Rs and CD-RWs last?
Jan 27, 2006 6:10AM PST

Having read all the naysayers and champions of these media leaves it in the end to each of us to determine the risk factors of each. The argument put forward that DVD-Rs are even less stable seems to me to be unsupportable. The thickness of the lamination protects the data layer from corrosion so long as the disk is not unduly stressed which I emphasize would be the natural case for one's archival disks. What goes in and out of a DVD player...a Pixar classic for example is not the way to consider archival materials. My approach to archival materials was early on to burn to CD-Rs..never CD-RW as even in the beginning I found that latter method absurdly slow and cantankerous and not very long later..a year or two even new disks were unreadable...trash technology in my opinion. In any case, as I have read articles decrying the stability of CD-Rs I decided to back up these disks to hard drives. Funny that, I made CD-Rs to back up the hard drives! That makes clear that using different media for backup is the way to go. I should point out that I had no difficulty recovering all of my CD-Rs to the drives after ten years if storage in a cool and dark room. All were in jewel cases. Considering the cost of hard drive storage, it is no longer more expensive than good quality CD-r media and the convenience is massively on the side of hard drives. I recommend setting up a geek box with USB or FireWire interfaces so that one can simply change drives for backing up with an external connexion for convenience. Combining this arrangement with laser burned CD-Rs and/or DVD-R ( plus or minus..take your pick) you are reasonably safe so long as your archival area is off premises. Okay, hard drives are mechanical and could fail just from sitting around in storage for a true...what? There is no perfect solution? Sadly, that is the case. What we need is a Star Trek dilithium crystal memory drive. I am still waiting.

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My own experience agree with the 3-5 year lifespan
Jan 27, 2006 7:56AM PST

This one hits quite close to home.

I am one of those anal retentive people who backup everything... twice... for good reason.

Ever since CD-R becomes commercially available, I have been backing up my monthly data, drivers, even entire harddrive images regularly on them. But most of my data over 5 years old will not be able to be read completely without error. (I have over 100 CDs over the span of almost 15 years to prove this), even some media fails after as short as 1 year.

In the beginning, I use cheap, no-known-brand media, and I learn my lesson fast. Nowadays, I use Verbatim (at least) with those super-azo blue-ish media. Not that I know what "azo" does, but it comes with good brochure. ha ha ha. However, even this doesn't guarantee lifespan.

I agree with the media failing from the outside in. My no-name CD starts to have weird "water-stain-like" look around the edges.

Nowadays, I am starting to experiment with DVD-R. With horrible result (reminiscent with the time I started with CD-R) with only 30-40% successful burn-rate. But how long will this media last, anybody know?

So, if anybody can give me a suggestion what brand is consistently good, what technology dye-wise or even CD-Writer-wise to look for, let me know.

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CDFreaks forum
Jan 27, 2006 9:30AM PST

the CDFreaks forum, i would say, has probably the most data and knowledgeable users on this topic (

The lifespan of a disk can be approximated by seeing the numbers of errors a cd drive detects--typically there are many of these errors on any normal media, but generally all of them are compensated for by the cd drive automtaically. In fact, in a test by a user who managed to get a perfect cd burn (which is actually pretty rare), one or two errors started showing after scanning for errors a short while later(around a few hours, if i remember). So I wouldn't expect anywhere near 100 years as the lifetime for a burned cd.

3-5 years seems typical for regular cds (verbatim, maxell, other branded blank cds). These companies rebrand cds from a number of manufacturers, some which make crappy cds and some which make better blank cds. The general consensus at cdfreaks seems to be that Taiyo Yuden is the best manufacturer of blank cds. (btw, the perfect cd burn from above used a taiyo yuden + benq dvd burner) Luckily there's a few online retailers which will sell these direct from the manufacturer rather than sell rebranded versions. I would guess the lifetime of these cds would be 5-8 years before they become degraded enough to be unreadable. I have this feeling those research papers may have measured when the dyes would be completely unreadable, not partially unreadable (i.e. all data on disc is gone, not just one or two files)

That super-azo dye is just marketing--it's just one of the standard dyes that can be used to make blank cds. I've heard verbatim usually sells blank cds made by relatively high-quality manufacturers, so they're pretty good.

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Labeling 'pens'
Jan 27, 2006 8:24AM PST

Yes, I ruined a CD-R with a ball-point pen causing me to have to re-burn it. (This is how I make regular backups of files I need to keep if/when I have computer problems.) The incident with the b-p pen taught me to find a felt-tip marker ...which in turn led me to the discovery that there are pens SPECIFICALLY designed for writing on CD-Rs, et al.

I now have a set of "Fellows Neato CD Markers" that came in a variety of colors.

That said, I have backups that are over 7 years old and still read flawlessly. They are kept in individual CD Cases that protect them. That ONE incident described above is the ONLY problem I have ever had in keeping my backup CDs in tip top condition and ready to use if necessary.Grin

My music CDs and DVDs are all store bought in order to get the quality and are never out of their original cases unless being used. I do have a couple of my most favorite music CDs that I LEAVE in my stereo so there is less chance of them getting scratched in loading and unloading. Wink

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CD-R What about CD+R
Jan 27, 2006 10:17AM PST

you mention CD-R. Are we to assume everything said would apply equally to CD+R?

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Data CDRs and MusicCDRs
Jan 27, 2006 10:20AM PST

What about comparing data CDRs to Music CDRs? Can I burn the music CDRs on my computer and is there an advantage to using them instead of the data CDRs? I've always recorded onto data CDRs and had no problem playing them in my CD players.

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Cd Burnners
Jan 27, 2006 2:16PM PST

Are we just talking about computer burnner? How about the stand only bunners That use digital audabel CD's

Fred Phildelphia

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What about the Longevity of DVD's?
Jan 27, 2006 3:07PM PST

If it depends on the laser and dyes, is this applicable to DVD-R say in a camcorder as well?

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50-200 years?
Jan 27, 2006 6:09PM PST

It seems impossible to project that life expectancy with a product that has been widely used less than 20 years. I, too have commercial cd's of 15 years or so that play fine, but a number of older and newer ones have begun rotting. In fact I have had problems with a disc within a year of purchase. I hope burns last a while since I am creating DVD's to store home movies of my kids.

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Ram and +R / RW
Jan 27, 2006 11:36PM PST

How does Ram and +R/RW compare to -R/RW for longevity

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Jan 28, 2006 3:38AM PST

If RWs are used for the right purpose, this is not an issue. I use CD-RWs just like floppies to carry around files from place to place when a flash drive is not appropriate (Win98 machines that require drivers for flash drives, etc; older PCs without USB drives, etc.) or the PC I need the files from does not have a floppy drive. The files on these CDs are meant to be temporary AND erasable which I do each time I use my RW. I have a couple of RWs that are 2-3 years old that have been written to and erased countless times and they still work fine. Agreed, however, to NEVER put permanent data on these disks!

Doug Litten
Kingsport, TN

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How long will CD's last?
Jan 28, 2006 9:36PM PST

I have old VCR video tapes taken by the family and I would like to burn them on more permanent media.
What is the best way to do this and what kind of burner and discs will provide very long term quality
and not degrade?

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What uses phthalocyanine as dye, silver and gold alloy ref.
Jan 29, 2006 9:42AM PST

One of these reports I read says the best performer used PHTHALOCYANINE as a dye, and GOLD-SILVER ALLOY as a reflective layer. But I didn't see any brands of media listed there. What specific brands and models of media use the above dye and alloy in the disks?

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Why I'm asking about pythalocyanine and silver-gold alloy
Jan 29, 2006 9:52AM PST

And I also don't see the use of Phthalocyanine or silver-gold alloy use advertised as a selling point for the cd or dvd media (even though longetivity means alot to me, even if the cost is more). So I don't even know what brands to look at.

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web page has interesting data
Jan 29, 2006 10:54AM PST

There is an cool ''white paper'' on the Memorex web page with a ton of information on CD and DVD media. Here's the link:

The paper has helpful drawings of the layers of the media and ends with a discussion of the longetivity of each type and how to extend the life.

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White Page download
Mar 10, 2006 3:58AM PST

Very technical and most complete.

Good news, if you treat your gold cds most carefully they will last 30 years. If you don't, they won't. At least that is up to 10 times longer than the original article. Of course you must have a quality burner etc, etc...

Thanks for the memorex web citation.


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What about dvd-r and dvd-rws?
Jan 29, 2006 2:58PM PST

I have copied many of my treasured vhs and 8mm video tapes to dvds. How long can I count on them lasting? I assume the same -r and -rw differences apply.

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Its odvious how long CD/Rs last + the diff. in stamped c/ds
Jan 29, 2006 3:00PM PST

I have a TON of CD/r's & DVD/r's that I have burned over the years and its been my experience that as long as I buy the MORE EXPENSIVE blank media, AND TAKE GREAT CARE IN NOT SCRATCHING THE COATING ON THE TOP OF THE DISK, WHICH IS WHERE THE DATA IS CONTAINED, THEN YOU CAN EXPECT YOUR MEDIA TO LAST A VERY LONG TIME!!!!!! IF THERE IS EVEN SO MUCH AS A PIN HOLE OF LIGHT COMING THROUGH,ANY PART OF THE COATING THEN THERES NO DOUBT THAT 9 TIMES OUT OF 10 THE WHOLE DISK IS A GONER! Although there is software that can recover the undamaged portioned of the media!! that is if your drive doesn't get stuck on stupid trying to get past the missing data.

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Recovery Software
Jan 30, 2006 10:11AM PST

In your posting you stated that there is software that can recover the undamaged portioned of the media.
Can you tell me which software this is?

Will this prevent your driver from getting "getting stuck" at the damaged portion/s of the damaged CD/DVD?

Thanks for your help.

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Software to recever data from burnt CD's
Sep 26, 2006 3:51PM PDT

Could you point me to the software which can recover data from faded CD's? I just discovered that 2 of my 3-4 year old CD's are reporting CRC errors when data (.jpg files) is read form the disk.


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Printing Labels on CD's
Jan 29, 2006 10:15PM PST


I'm been seeing ink jet printers that have specially designed trays for CD's to allow printing directly on the CD surface.

This seemed like a great idea until I read some the comments on how the dye that stores information on CD's can deteriorate due to any solvents being applied to the surface.

What do you think about this technology and would you recommend it?


Elliot Selick.

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I'd like to know about ink jet vs thermal labels
Jan 30, 2006 9:42AM PST

Any research out there about cd duplicator/label machines that print ink jet or thermal pressed labels on cd's? Which one is better quality?

I talked to one sales guy selling a duplicating machine with autoload ink jet labeler,he says, ink jet more clearer, more colorful than thermal.

Am sure if I talked with a rep that sells a thermal label machine, he would say his model is the best, so who to believe?

Any thoughts?

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Baggage Scanners at Airports also affect CD-R, CD-RW
Jan 31, 2006 9:21PM PST

I have noticed a negative change in my CD-RW disks after airport baggage scans. Since I live in the Middle East, I guess their baggage scanners have to be cranked up pretty high. This summer, after going through the Amman, Jordan Air Terminal, I found that many of my CD-RW's that I had written the week before, got error messages when I tried to load them after the trip. This was pretty tragic, because I spent a lot of time gently moving all that info onto my desktop (all that could be retrieved, that is), and then rewriting it onto a CD-R. Learned my lesson about CD-RW at that time. Since I do travel frequently now, I don't even carry the CD-RW's if I can avoid it.
Dr. Deborah J Greenhill

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how long cd-rs last
Feb 5, 2006 4:20PM PST

You mentioned labeling on cd's and dvd's, what about printable disc,s, how long do they last? Since they are already layed with some type of substance.

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Life expectancy of burned CDs
Feb 12, 2006 11:47AM PST

I have quite a few CDs burned on the first available comercially burners, and they work as just burned.
I buy generally the lowest priced CDs (100 for 19.95).
I also have one audio cassette (30 mins.) from 1973 that is my family's favorite, is played an average of once a month, and sounds great. I have changed the casing 3 times because of damages. Unfortunately, Sears doesn't sell this kind any more.
I store my audio cassettes, video tapes and CDs away from light, humidity, heat and cold and write all concerning info on the storage case instead of the CD. On the CD I write a number on the clear center part and on the CD case.
I have had more problems with pressed CDs (specially scratches) then with burned CDs.

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storage methods... Cold storage?
Feb 15, 2006 8:17AM PST

I know that the chemicals in compact disks deteriate with time. I was wondering what would happen if I stored disks in a cold environment, i.e. a freezer. I had no idea what this would do, if it would damage the disk or prolong its lifespan. Does anyone know? I know this works with things like film, but I didn't know about cds.

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My experiences...
Oct 9, 2012 11:21AM PDT

My experiences with CD-R (4.35GB capacity) is that they are very reliable. I take good care of them and never touch the disc surface. I have over 100 of these and none of them have scratches or fingerprints on them. They are either stored in a typical CD rack, but are usually moved to a box where they are stored horizontally (the box sits on it's side. They are put in vertically, but end up horizontally because the box fits where it is when it's sideways.) I have pulled out CD-R's that were stored in the 90's with data on them that played and loaded up fine. I usually copy the data to my CD and view the videos there to lessen the load on the CD drive. I have never, once, had a CD-R fail to read aside from a defective CD or two out of, literally, over 100 of them that I have. No matter how old they are, they always stay intact. I always take good care of CD's, whether they are data CD/DVD-R's, video game discs or music CD's burned or otherwise. I've never had any issues with CD-R's with a 4.35 GB capacity or the 650MB/700MB ones I have, though very few of those since I usually store large amounts of data at a time.

The CD-RW ones are crap and are usually completely unreadable after a year or two or less. I don't know what it is about them, but don't use them. They are completely unreliable while CD-R's I have that were burned probably around 15 years ago have preserved the data on them as if they were just burned. I never leave CD's laying around, they always go right back into their case after usage and I never touch the "writing" side of discs, always the sides or (usually) a finger through the middle hole and one finger on the side. I find CD-R's to be extremely reliable especially if you take good care of them. I seldom use them and they aren't exposed to light. Storing them horizontally doesn't seem to matter as opposed to vertically. I've never even heard of such a difference until just looking this stuff up now out of curiousity.

My brand of choice is TDK CD-R discs with a 4.35 GB capacity. Hell, I have VHS tapes over 20 years old that still play perfectly (well, for a VHS anyway.) I think the biggest factor as far as life span with stuff like this is how you care for and handle them. Always store CD's in their cases and never leave them laying around just as you always store VHS tapes in a protective sleeve. Room temperature in a house seems to be just fine. Take care of your things and they will take care of you.

I know this is an old thread, but I just thought I'd share my thoughts. This technology has surely gotten better since the last post in this thread almost seven years ago.

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