Risking your irreplaceable images

Oh no, George is at it again:

Q. I want to archive family photos and slides from our hard drive onto a DVD. However, I have read that home-burnt DVDs and CDs can have a short shelf life of about five years. What is the best technology to store 1-5 GB of irreplaceable images?
B. McGregor

A Manufacturers claim life spans of 30 to 100 years for DVD-R and DVD+R discs and up to 30 years for DVD-RW, DVD+RW. Your advice about a five-year life may apply to a CD that has not been burnt, as in that state the storage life is much shorter. For archiving you should use a premium-quality product, which in my opinion is Verbatim as they come out on top in almost all independent reviews that I have read.

No no no no no. You don’t tell someone who wants to store irreplaceable images that it’s fine to chuck it on a DVD, and blindly believe the manufacturer’s claim of the 30 years plus lifespan. The technology is not yet nearly that old, so while theoretical lab tests might claim that, in my book it’s not conclusively proven, and plenty of people have had problems.

If the files involved are genuinely irreplaceable, the message here is to make sure you don’t rely on one copy, or even on one medium. You make multiple copies, in a format that is futureproof (JPEG probably being the best for photos), distribute them widely (for instance with different family members) and check and copy them regularly onto new media.

You sure as hell don’t burn a single copy and chuck the DVD in the cupboard and hope nothing renders it unreadable.

5 thoughts on “Risking your irreplaceable images

  1. josh

    Hard drives are cheap and reliable backup media, but unless they’re physically separated from the primary copy of the data they are subsceptable to loss through theft, fire or other negative physical events.

    I’m moving my backup fileserver to the garage.

  2. Melissa

    Why does no one stop this man? I’m an archivist, and one of the biggest problems we’re seeing is people and institutions doing precisely what this sadly misinformed person suggests. One copy of something fragile is never enough, and no product, whatever the manufacturer claims, is good enough to keep a sole copy. I’m going to skip the next thirty pages of this and just thank you for a chance to rant 😀

  3. Stuart

    When it comes to digital photo’s, which it sounds like the person was enquiring about,
    the recommended approach is to actually print the images, so that there is always a
    hard copy, in case the digital one is lost. This then allows the digital to be
    re-created. Sure, it can get pricey, but if they truly are “irreplaceable” then the
    cost should not be a problem.

    Although, from the wording (photos and slides) it sounds like the digital version has
    been created from the original film version.

  4. Dave

    Ah, the same George. George Starbuck, who also writes PC Q & A stuff for our
    (WA) morning newspaper.

    I’ve noticed some of his answers being off track, or even just wrong. And with
    this subject, someone following his advice may be seriously disappointed some time
    in the future. When their burned CD/DVDs fail. I’ve had media fail. I couldn’t say
    what brands they were. But with the media industry sourcing their products from
    who knows where, you can never be sure who manufactured the disks in that
    packet branded “xyz”. At least not until AFTER you open the packet and
    run some sort of DVD utility to read the manufacture’s code from the disk.

    Yeah, you guys have it with backup of your stuff. Simple summary – never trust
    anything to just one copy. And those copies ought to be on different media types.
    Never store all your backups in the one place. Periodically check and test
    your backups, and, where necessary, rewriting older to new media.

    So how old are YOUR last backups? And when did YOU last test your backup set?


  5. Randall Swain

    I had two hard drives – one as my primary backup and one as my normal drive. Not RAID’ed or anything – just backed up.

    Moved house and re-setup the PC no problems. 3 weeks AFTER I moved (having used it everyday…) BOTH hard drives died – within about 10 minutes of each other. I assume a power surge but am not sure. Lost about 260gb of stuff – programs (easy to fix), docs (had some older DVD backups), ripped music (had MOST of the original CDs – just painful) but lots of family snaps – which I only had some backed up elsewhere…

    Anyway, now I have THREE drives (LOL!!!) as well as DVD copies. And I am STILL paranoid…

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