Torture testing the 1,000 year DVD

Torture testing the 1,000 year DVD

Summary: Earlier this year company called Millenniata came out with a DVD that claimed a 1000 year life. Could that really be true?

TOPICS: Storage, Hardware

When I say torture-tested, I'm not kidding. Here's a picture of a DVD that didn't survive:

Photo 10-29-2013-17.02.40
Another one bytes the dust!


The M-disc uses a mineral medium between two standard plastic DVD layers. When written, a portion of the mineral material melts and forms a permanent readable pit. Other writable DVDs use an organic fluid dye layer which degrades over time.

Using an M-disc logoed Blu-ray burner - today all LG drives support writing M-disc media - the disc is writable just like any other writable DVD. Next year drives from Samsung, Lite-on and others are expected to also support M-discs.

But I've heard promises like this before and wanted to test it myself. Millenniata sent me an LG USB Blu-ray burner and some M-discs to try out.

Test philosophy
Standards-based accelerated life testing is like any other testing regimen. Products can be engineered to meet the test.

For example, the use of the elevated temperatures in disk drive accelerated life testing gave us hard drives that are much less sensitive to temperature than people assumed. But it didn't mean the drives were necessarily long-lived - they just tested better.

In my testing I took a much more brutal approach. I did things well outside any normal testing regimen. Why? Because any consumer is likely to do things that standards don't foresee - like sticking DVDs in a hot attic for 20 years.

Test bed
I collected about 4 GB of data: JPEGs; .mov and .mkv movies; PDFs and MP3s. I chose these because it would be easy to verify whether they were complete and accurate.

Then I took all the written DVD-Rs and put them outside. Half of each DVD was protected from direct sun and the other half exposed to the weather which included snow, rain and weeks of blistering Arizona sunshine.

Arizona - where I live - is not only a state, it is an environmental test chamber. Many Arizona place names relate to death: Dead Horse Ranch; Skull Valley; and Tombstone, famous for the gunfight at the OK Corral, to name a few. I live in the mountains of northern Arizona where it is usually 15F cooler than Phoenix, but this is still a tough desert environment.

After several weeks of this totally beyond-any-known-spec treatment I brought the DVDs inside and ran them through a dishwasher - without the hot drying cycle - to get the crud off. Then I tried to read them.

The cheap no-name store brand pictured above totally gave up the ghost. Large chunks of the reflective coating disappeared and, of course, the disc was unreadable.

A Memorex DVD-R survived with coatings intact. When placed in my Apple SuperDrive it displayed the file info. But none were readable.

But the M-discs not only survived, but all the files were readable on the SuperDrive, the original Blu-ray burner they were written on AND the .mkv movie file was readable on a Blu-ray player.

Amazing! Here's what one M-disc looked like:

Photo 10-29-2013-17.02.22
One of several M-discs after weeks outside


The Storage Bits take
The M-disc team has done digital civilization a real service by building a reliable digital archive medium that is cheap - M-discs are available online for just over $2 each in bulk - tough, and widely usable with current technology. Color me impressed!

Regular readers know that I often despair over the transitory nature of today's storage infrastructure. The fundamental problem is that the universe hates your data and, until now, we've had few strategies for overcoming that.

I've been scanning hundreds of family photos and am putting together archive discs of those and other documents for my family. Until the M-disc I wouldn't have bothered because there was no trustworthy media to put them on. Now I believe there is.

Is the M-disc technology perfect? No. Only about a dozen LG burners are certified to write M-discs, although other burners may be able to. Another catch: M-discs may not be readable by every DVD player. I didn't find it to be a problem with my Apple Superdrive or LG Blu-ray player, but Millenniata engineers noted that it could happen. But given the ubiquity of DVD and Blu-ray readers I don't think that is much of a problem: if one doesn't work, try another.

But these are nits. If you have data you care about keeping for decades, the M-disc is the only game in town.

Comments welcome. I have no business relationship with Millenniata now or planned and no money has changed hands, much to my accountant's distress. How would you use a reliable archive medium?

Update: I added info on future drive vendor support from Millenniata and corrected some dictation-induced errors.

Topics: Storage, Hardware

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  • Entropy has attacked this blog post!

    The photograph of the 'bad' DVD is upside down.
    • Fixed!


      R Harris
  • Great !

    .... but will there be device to read this disk 1,000 years from now ? ...... or even 20 years from now ?
    da philster
    • Store the drive with the media.

      If you are archiving really important information, you should store the reader, drivers and software with the media itself in a couple of environmentally controlled locations. For a really long term, you should also store the equipment needed to extract info from the reader. After all, even hardware device interfaces change over time. Remember when we used RS232 ports for connecting most external devices? What about parallel printer ports? Yeah, definitely hang onto the equipment.

      You should also probably transfer the data to new media whenever the commonly used media changes drastically. For past examples, look at when personal computers moved from cassettes to floppies to tape drives to optical for archive media. At each juncture, you needed to move the data from the old media to the more current media.
      • Foolish

        It's foolish of you to suggest to store the readers too, it's a complete waste of space and money. if you M-disc can be read by a few Blu-Ray readers, then I don't see the need to storing the reader too. Readers won't disappear over night, people will have tons of time to transfer their data to far superior storage. My dear man, it's like suggesting in the 80's to keep your 5 1/4" drives, when people now walk around with tiny 64GB flash drives that can store like tens of thousands of 5 1/4" floppies. By the time Blu-ray drives are disappearing our tiny storage devices will store Tera- or Petabyte.
    • Outlet ?

      Might not be compatible power source either,,,,
  • Other Types of Discs?

    I seem to recall reading a few years ago about a type of CD or DVD that was longer-lasting than the typical disc, although maybe not as long as these discs described here. Does anyone recall anything about them? I think they could be written to and read by regular burners and players.
    • COST

      Too Much,,,,
  • Outstanding

    I've a collection of CAD drawings going back 30 years and I've transferred the files from old to new media more times than I can count from fear of losing them.
  • Thanks for testing

    I have plenty of perfectly good media (I think) from previous contenders for the 1000 year crown but no drives (or drivers) to read them.

    I do believe that DVDs will be the longer lasting of the removable technologies but most of my computers already don't have optical drives and I expect in the next couple of years the few computers that do will be gone.

    I wonder what answer to the longevity question ultimately will be but for now I'm using several external drives which get rotated out to the garage for 'offsite' storage.
    • DVDs are already extinct

      Take up too much room. Materials used are suspect to dilution, making them inferior. USB FLASH CARDS,,,, Bank on them.
  • Too little, too late

    Unfortunately durability is only a small part of the problem with digital archiving, the really big problem is having a device that can read the media back. Sitting on my shelves and in my drawers I have every generation of media that's been used in the last 40 years, 3250 tapes, floppies, syquest drives, zip drives, CDs, DVDs. It doesn't matter if the oldest stuff still has the bits intact, I don't have a 3250 tape reader, and I can't hook up a Syquest drive or a ZIP drive because they use obsolete interfaces. CD/DVD drives are already starting to disappear on new computers so for some people those aren't an option even today and in 10 years they won't be readable by anybody. The other problem is that there is no archival media that's big enough to backup even the cheapest hard drive. Double density DVDs are only 8G and BluRays never got cheap and in any event even the biggest BluRay disk is only 2% of the size of a basic hard drive. I backup my absolutely critical data to DVDs but for most of my data I rely on backing it up to multiple separate computers, some of which are offsite. For ordinary consumers, i.e. not someone like me who has a farm of Linux servers, the best solution is to use multiple cloud services (you don't want to use only one because the company could go out of business or have a disaster that loses your data). But even with this solution you'll have to take some sort of active role in maintaining the data because even a company as big as Google could be gone in 20years (remember Digital Equipment, Data General, Prime Computer, all hugely successful in there day, now gone).
    • ZIP was SCSI

      I have a ZIP250 drive I am still able to use because it's SCSI and I have SCSI PCI cards and still have machines with PCI slots. But I can tell you something right now. ZIP drives were a floptical, storing data magnetically but using an optical timing strip on the disk to pack more bits in. I stored huge amounts of valuable source code onto those flopticals. After 10 years, none of it was recoverable. My permanent back-up for that source-code is a bookcase of binders full of printouts.
      • Zio drive

        I still have some also and the drive. It says on the packages that they last about ten years.
        I have not fired one up in about that long either.
        Those were great back in the day.
      • mheartwood .. don't get me started on ZIP drives

        Hated 'em then and hate 'em now.

        The sheer fact that there IOMEGA launched a product that compared to CD's & DVD's, was so expensive - for roughly the same storage capacity as a CD, was something that irks me even now, just thinking about it.

        I've got a .zip disk sitting amongst some stuff from my university days ... i like the idea that it's buried amongst a whole lot of other relics (..where i'll have trouble finding it).
    • Offsite storage

      I am building a moon base server to be used to avoid hurricanes, earthquakes and nuclear wars. It will be accessable through the internet, and in highly secure situations I will have small drone space shuttles to physically pickup and remove physical media.
      • I appreciate that was sarcasm - but...

        You do realise that the surface of the moon is a *worse* place to put data, not better? The lack of a magnetosphere and no atmosphere means the surface of the moon (and quite a ways into the surface) is irradiated directly by solar wind when the moon's position is at the 'half-moon' phases in the sky?
      • Let me guess

        Let me guess, you're trying to be funny because this article was reminding you of your poor backup practices?
    • Copyrighting old movies

      Reminds me of a story I saw on the news a few years back. It seems that the Library of Congress was restoring some of the oldest original motion pictures. Some of the newer ones were unrecoverable. The difference was that at the time, copyright law didn't cover motion pictures (a case of the technology galloping ahead of the legal system -- not unlike what we have now.) In order to copyright their work, early movie studios had to transfer each frame to a photograph, and each photograph was then copyrighted. As a result, the LC had physical copies of these films that hadn't deteriorated, and they were easily able to recreate the films.
    • dont throw the drives.

      One thing that is going to enable retaining your data and be able to read them is - USB! . There are many converters available that allow you to use IDE/SCSI and other connectors over USB. When you throw out your old computer, save your media reading drives. Chances are, you will still be able to read from your media by connecting your drive over USB through some converters.