Langa Letter: Time To Check Your CDRs - InformationWeek
Hardware & Infrastructure
09:09 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: Time To Check Your CDRs

Fred Langa explains how to ensure that your recordable CDs remain archived for a decade or longer.

Failure Patterns
This letter serves as an excellent example of what many readers found. More than that, it also offers a great tip for an easy way to test old CDs you may have:

Fred: Just had an eye-opener recently. We tried to restore some files from a [Norton] Ghost image that had been burned to CD-R disks about 2 years ago. The CD-R disks were unreadable in every drive we tried them in. I searched for some way of testing old CD-R disks short of copying them to the hard drive and waiting for an error message and found that the utility included with Nero is fairly good. It is part of the "Nero Toolkit" and is called CDSpeed.exe. I also found that I can run this on a machine without installing Nero, but I suspect that wnaspi32.dll must be present somewhere for this to work. What I have found is that a lot of our old "backup" ghost images burned to no-name CD-R blanks are now virtually unreadable. The really old gold disks with the green chemical have so far been OK, and the deep blue Verbatim Datalife Plus CD's are also OK. The ones that are failing have been 2- to 3-years old and have a silver reflective layer with a light green chemical coating. You might want to alert your readers to test some of their old backups to make sure they are still good. All of these ghost images were recorded with Nero with the verify option on, so they were all fine the day they were recorded.
-- Tom Alverson

Thanks, Tom. You can get CDSpeed here, and an ASPI driver, if needed, from the Nero Support/Utilities page.

The only variable that Tom mentions is dye type, and as discussed previously, different dyes do yield different longevities--though none is known to last only two years in normal storage. Might there be other factors at play as well?

That was certainly the case in my tests: I did discover bad CDs, but not one--zero--was traceable to a specific brand or dye type. Instead, for me, the only disks that failed were those that I had covered with a glue-on paper label from a print-it-yourself CD label-maker kit. Several of these labeled CDs were, in fact, totally unreadable by every means I tried (including special data-recovery software); all the data on those CDs is just plain gone. My best guess is the glue on these do-it-yourself labels interacted with either the foil or the dye, rendering the CDs useless.

Fortunately, although I have more than 1,000 data CDs in storage, only a handful have these labels. All my other CDs were hand labeled using an ordinary permanent-ink felt-tip marker, and all of these that I tested--all of them, including the very first CD-R in my collection--remain intact and fully readable. Plus, because I make multiple backups of important files , no essential data was lost (what was missing on one CD was available on another.)

I'd used two different brands of CD label-makers in the past, and (alas) have no way of knowing whether only one or both caused the problem. But the bottom line is that while some CDs with glue-on labels had problems, none--not one--marked with a permanent ink felt-tip pen did.

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