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For Archiving: CDs or DVDs? And Which Brand?

At the end of each year, we like to archive all our projects onto CDs or DVDs. We're concerned about the longevity of the media we're using. Should we be using CDs or DVDs? And which brands last the longest?

Let me take this in several steps:


Currently, the best archival brands I know of are from Verbatim, Mobile Fidelity, Maxell, TDK, Mitsui, and Taiyo Yuden.

Verbatim's DataLifePlus and Mobile Fidelity's UltraDisc media are particularly worthy of trust: they both have a 100-year life expectancy, which has been confirmed by accelerated aging tests. Both have an extra-hard coating to make them resistant to scratches and UV light damage.

We trust Verbatim because its parent company is Mitsubishi, which invented the dye used in optical media. (But be careful of brands: Verbatim also has a lower-priced "DataLife" brand that isn't as bulletproof.)

Mobile Fidelity actually coats the reflective layer of the disc with 24 karat gold to ensure excellent reflectivity, no corrosion, and dramatically improved resistance to light and heat. They also apply a super-hard coating to reduce scratches. Unfortunately, they cost about ten times as much as Verbatim's DataLifePlus.

A note about cheap store-branded discs: for anything other than very temporary use, such as transporting files one time, you'll want to avoid the store-branded discs: many "brands" are simply discs bought from the lowest-bidding manufacturer, then "branded" with the name of the store you buy them from.

Media: CD vs DVD?

Now for the choice of media: CD or DVD. DVDs are better for several reasons: storage capacity, convenience, speed and price. A single-layer DVD can hold almost seven times the data you can fit onto a CD. This has several benefits:

  • You can fit a greater number of files onto a DVD.
  • You can fit single files that are larger than 650 MB (the capacity of most CDs),which makes it easier to store large video files.
  • You need to "feed" your disc burner 1/7 the number of times.
  • You need to store 1/7 the number of discs.

Besides the advantage of not having to set up and feed as many discs, DVDs also burn faster, per MB, than CDs do. The fastest CD burners operate at 48x-52x speed. The fastest DVD burners operate at 16x speed. While it would seem that 52x is faster than 16x, it's not.

When writing the same amount of data at the same "x" factor, a DVD writer is 9 times faster than a CD writer. What this means is that a 16x DVD writer takes just 4 min to write 4.4 GB, while a 52x CD writer takes 10 minutes to write the same amount of data ó plus the time it takes to load and remove 7 CDs.

And while price shouldn't be the deciding factor in an archiving system, it certainly makes a difference here. An archival quality DVD costs about 50 percent more than an archival quality CD, yet holds 7x the amount of data. You can do the math. (In packs of 100, expect to pay between 30 cents and 50 cents per CD or DVD, except for the Mobile Fidelity UltraDisc CD or DVD, which cost $4 each.)

Dual Layer vs. Single Layer

A dual-layer DVD disc holds twice as much as a single layer DVD, but it costs about 12 times as much (currently about $5). Again, you can do the math. Items to note: not all DVD burners can write to dual-layer DVDs, but all DVD readers can read them. And the format ("dual-layer DVD-R" vs "double-layer DVD+R") doesn't seem to matter.


Ah, but what about whether future disc drives will be able to read DVDs? After all, there are zillions of CD readers, but fewer DVD readers. That's a point. But I don't think it's worth worrying about. The optical drive in every Mac, and in every higher-level PC in the past several years is able to read DVDs -- single layer and dual layer. You won't find a shortage of DVD readers any time in the next 20 years.


And what about labels? Answer: don't use them. Putting anything sticky on an optical disc is asking for a disaster. Instead, either print directly on them with an disc-capable inkjet printer, or use an approved marker. The "Sharpie" brand was reformulated years ago to be safely used on optical discs, but you may want to play it safe and buy a pack of markers that are labeled as safe for optical discs.

More Info

For LOTS more helpful information about optical discs, check out Some of their information is dated, as optical technology evolves fairly quickly. Ifin doubt, believe what I said above. :-)

The Bottom Line

So, go forth and multiply. Just be sure to use Verbatim DataLifePlus DVD-Rs, no sticky labels, and an appropriate marker.

This question was answered by Jay Nelson, Publisher & Editor, Design Tools Monthly. We love DTM's tips and advice and think you will, too. For a free sample PRINTED issue, contact Design Tools Monthly at 303-543-8400, e-mail, or go to their website:

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