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M-Disc optical media reviewed: Your data, good for a thousand years

Jon L. Jacobi | July 3, 2015
You're done with optical discs as a means of data and media delivery, or soon will be. But when done right, as it has been with Millenniata's M-Disc, optical has a particular advantage--longevity.

mdisc

You're done with optical discs as a means of data and media delivery, or soon will be. But when done right, as it has been with Millenniata's M-Disc, optical has a particular advantage--longevity. Hard disk mechanisms fail, and the data stored on them can be erased by magnetic fields. Tape stretches and is also magnetically vulnerable. NAND won't last forever, because cells leak and eventually fail. That leaves M-Disc looking pretty good in the media preservation, aka archiving role.

Optical is dead. Long live optical.

In the enterprise, optical has enjoyed continued success. Companies such as Sony and Panasonic have continued development both because of its longevity and the minimal environmental support it requires. You think your hard drive generates a lot of heat? Try operating thousands of them. AC bills can be rather high.

The advent of relatively unstable, dye-based CD/DVD recordable and rewritable, as well as the lack of quality standards governing them, caused many users to forget that pressed optical discs are very long-lived. CDs from the 80's and 90's should still play fine, assuming you haven't scratched them up. Same deal with DVD and Blu-ray moves, which are manufactured similarly. And, even though few are aware of it, write-once BD-R HTL (High to Low, i.e., reflectivity, as in bright to dark) is rated to last 100 to 150 years. Why? Because the data layer is a non-volatile substance, as opposed to the light-sensitive organic dye used in CD/DVD-Rx and less expensive BD-R LTH (Low To High, dark to bright).

M-Disc also uses a non-volatile data layer, but an even better, rock-like one which is said to last ten times longer than BD-R HTL. If you can't trust media that's rated for 1,000 years, you're pickier than I am. One note: Don't freak out when you see an M-Disc DVD+R. It's nearly transparent, but there is a data layer present.

DoD tested

As to that thousand-year claim, the U.S. Navy will back that up. It tested M-Disc DVD+Rs along with archival quality DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW, subjecting them three times to a 185-degree, 85-percent humidity, full-spectrum light environment for 26.25 hours. Every DVD failed--except the M-Discs, which suffered no noticeable degradation. The Department of Defense hasn't tested the new M-Disc BD-R, but as the technology is largely the same, the results should be as well. (We'd guess that BD-R HTL would survive as well.)

The only failure point for the material used in the M-Disc data layer is oxidation, which, according to Millenniata materials scientists, shouldn't be an issue for about ten millennia. Yikes. The comparative delicacy of the polycarbonate outer layer of the disc is why the media lasts "only" a thousand years.

 

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