While digging in my computer cabinet, I found a CD labeled, "Surprise B-day -1999." My mouth dropped open as it does whenever I find something wonderful about which I've completely forgotten. This CD contained all the source files for one of my personal projects that became a video of a friend's surprise birthday party. The project took me weeks to complete and was loaded with animated captions, music, fancy scene transitions and interviews.
Not having seen this footage for a long time, I raced to my computer and inserted my long lost CD for a
After the CD drive finished its humming and light blinking, a message popped up on my monitor that said, "Please insert disk into drive D."
"The disk must be crooked," I assumed, so I reinserted it.
"Please insert disk into drive D." the message repeated.
"Hmm. Maybe it's dusty," I guessed. I removed the disk and blew on its already-clean underside.
"Please insert disk into drive D," the computer nagged. I resisted the urge to smack the CD drive for its refusal to cooperate. Instead, I ran downstairs to my laptop. Considering the work I put into this project, I hoped my computer's CD drive was bad, not the CD itself.
After some promising, CD-drive humming, my laptop said: "Please insert disk in to drive D." Now two computers claimed that my disk was not really a disk -even though it looked perfect to me!
Thus was my cruel introduction to CD degradation.
Most retail CDs containing music and software are "pressed." This means the data is physically stamped into the CD on a softened plastic that has been aluminized to reflect the CD drive's laser beam.
In contrast, recordable CDs used on home computers have a heat-reactive layer of dye to which data is "burned." The written data on the dye layer is more susceptible to damage. Over time, the dye degrades, shifting the data, making it unreadable. I've found that two to five years is an expected recordable-CD lifespan, depending on the quality of the CD.
If you save important data to recordable CD, here are some tips for maximizing the life of your recordable CDs:
- Keep CDs in a cool, dark, dry place.
- Avoid writing directly onto the CD with indelible ink.
- Avoid adhesive labels
- Keep the CDs in their case.
Writing on CD's with CD-safe pens and applying labels may not immediately harm recordable-CD data but is only recommended for short term use of the CD. The safest plan is to back up your data to more than one type of media, such as tape, external hard drive or Internet storage.