Tech Guide: Storage media lifespans

A hard disk is a great storage medium, until it dies. Then it's only useful as a door wedge.

Tech Guide: Storage media lifespans

A hard disk is a great storage medium, until it dies. Then it's only useful as a door wedge. Avoid kicking your data to death with our guide to the average lifespans of various media types.

Storage products are built for the purpose of safekeeping data: Media forms like CD recordables and hard disks are robust and durable to ensure that information stored on them remains readable, and that data integrity is preserved. But considering that no storage media is indestructible, how long will information stored remain safe before it finally succumbs to the inevitable effects of time?

To help you learn more about the longevity of various media types, here's a list of storage formats and how long they are expected to last.

Information on lifespan was obtained from media manufacturers such as Hewlett Packard, Phillips and Panasonic, as well as official technology resource pages such and These last two non-profit, professional sites run benchmarks to determine the longevity of the media.

Media Lifespan

Hard Disks
Hard disks consist of magnetic platters that spin at high speeds while reading or writing data. Due to the velocity, hard disks tend to suffer from physical degradation within a period of three years or so. 3 to 6 years

Magnetic Tape
Magnetic tape drives are the chosen backup media for enterprise storage. Their resilience, large storage capacity (1 terabyte or more) and fast writing speeds make them suitable for archiving large amounts of data quickly. 10 to 20 years

Magnetic Discs
Used for temporary storage and transport of data, discs like Iomega's Zip and Castlewood's Orb are cheap, their capacity and usability value decent. But their physical and data degradation is faster than other media since they are more adversely affected by conditions like high temperatures. 1 to 5 years

Optical Discs
CD-ROM, CD-R, DVD-ROM and DVD-R are popular optical storage media but their durability varies due to difference in their protective coating--CD-R's tend to have a shorter lifespan of ten years while the denser, more expensive DVD usually last anywhere from 70 to a 100 years due to the high quality of their dye coat. 10 to 100 years

Static Memory
Devices like thumb drives and Compact Flash cards utilize static, non-moving RAM for storing data. Their inert nature makes them expensive but protection from constant wear-and-tear affects also makes them less prone to physical degradation than movable media, giving them a longer product life. 50 to 100 years


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