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February 2018
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In praise of the humble DVD


Most computer users are now conversant about SSDs, multi-terabyte drives, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and a host of other backup mediums, however most seem to have forgotten about the simplicity and the reliability of the humble DVD.

Let’s say you have irreplaceable photos or video files of your first born, your round-the-world trip or of a loved one who has shuffled off this mortal coil. Where will you store these photos so in twenty years’ time they will still be intact?  Would you really trust iCloud or Google Drive with these? Maybe. But the reality is that cloud-based storage services are prone to hacking, sabotage and in some instances have been known to corrupt or simply lose data altogether. More worryingly, you have to ask: will these cloud storage providers even be around in twenty years’ time?

There is of course the option of storing your photos on a mechanical hard drive in the hope that in twenty years’ time when connected to your computer (probably via some USB-to-god-knows-what adaptor), it will spin into life (for those familiar with mechanical hard drives… stop sniggering) It might do that – but the risk that you will be greeted with clicking noises or no noises at all are too high.

Or, you could put your data onto an SSD (solid state drive). They have no mechanical parts and storing all your photos or videos on one of these is a much safer bet right? Not exactly because if you have an SSD drive which you stash in a drawer (cupboard, attic, etc.) for a number of years it will eventually start to lose its charge in the same way that a battery loses charge over time. This can have grave repercussions for your data as it is stored using quantum electron tunnelling which is reliant on stored positive and negative electrical charges. Error correction codes such as the Bose-Chaudhuri-Hocquenghem algorithm can be very effective in rewriting failed cells, but there comes a point where the errors become so pervasive that drive becomes unreadable. SSD manufacturers know about this phenomenon, but don’t explicitly state it in their documentation. Maybe buried deep in the small print, they might recommend that their SSD drives are to be used on host devices “periodically” or “at regular intervals”. This basically translates into “if you don’t use your SSD drive regularly, you’re going to lose your data”. Great.

There are of course disk mirroring devices (such as a DAS or NAS) which can be used to replicate your data over two or more disks (mechanical or SSD). While these do lower the risk of data loss – these devices are still subject to same failure factors as standalone disks.

This leaves us with the humble DVD. It is compact, non-magnetic, does not need to be “recharged” and is cost-effective.  For the long-term storage of photos, video footage or documents, it ticks a lot of boxes.

If your laptop or desktop computer did not come equipped with a DVD burner, an external USB DVD drive can be used. The actual recording takes place on the dye layer of the disk which is permanently altered by a highly focused laser beam. The DVD burning process can be tedious but it is time well spent if your data is in any way important to you. The main variants of DVD disk are DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW. For long-term storage, DVD-R has the best compatibility.  These are usually available in capacities of 4.7GB and 8.5GB. Many archival specialists working for state archive departments and archive departments of broadcasters swear by the Taiyo Yuden brand (a Japanese company whose blank DVD’s are also marketed under the JVC and “That’s” brand).  Verbatim also makes their UltraLife Gold Archival Grade DVD-R which are specifically designed for long-term storage are also well respected by archivists.

So, the next time you need to perform a backup of really important files which you would like to access in twenty years’ time, don’t forget about the DVD. When mechanical and SSD disks have long since failed and storage clouds have evaporated, the humble DVD will probably be the last man standing.

Drive Rescue Data Recovery is based in Dublin, Ireland. We recover data from external and internal hard drives (SSD and mechanical), servers, NAS devices and USB memory sticks. Brands we frequently work with include WD, Toshiba, Seagate and HGST disks. Our customers hail from the four corners of Ireland, including Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny.