Optical Disk Choosing and Burning
I periodically get into discussions about how optical discs suck and are a pain for backups. The short answer is: they don't have a problem, you do. Properly choosing and burning an optical disc isn't hard. Here are the main points.
- There are only a dozen or so true manufacturers of optical discs. Odds are that you haven't heard of them. Some will sell in bulk to consumers, some won't. All the other "brands" are actually OEM'd and relabeled from these manufacturers.
- Choose a good brand of disc. Don't be tempted by the discs on sale just because they are cheap. They are crap. Even be wary of "Professional Use" labels on discs. Any disc could be used professionally but may not hold up as such.
- My preferred brand is Taiyo Yuden/JVC (Victor Company of Japan). These usually have to be mail ordered. In the store I'll choose Fuji if I can't get Taiyo's. Note that both of these companies are Japanese (and Fuji's are sometimes relabeled Taiyo's). Sony is generally OK for short term burns. The Taiyo Yuden "Value Line" is mediocre and I've had read problems with them (even one of the best companies has troubles). Mitsui is supposed to be one of the best but is usually expensive and hard to find. Stay away from CMC Magnetics. They tend to produce for everyone else and are cheap China crap. Even big names like Memorex and Maxell usually use CMC Magnetics. Just because they are a big name doesn't mean the discs are worth anything.
- If you are in doubt about a brand of disc, hit your favorite search engine and see what others say about it. You'll have to filter out a lot of the fanboy nonsense, but real reviews and data are out there. Look for key words I use in this paper. Try to get the real manufacturer and not the OEM's name.
- Better quality discs read easier in various data, audio, and video drives. Low quality DVD's are notorious for read problems in table top DVD players and laptops.
- Long term dye (100 years) Vs. short term dye (10 years). The discs are rated to last that long in air conditioned, low humidity, no sunlight environments (discs should be stored this way to being with). Long term dyes tend to be easier for optical drives to read and are the choice for long term storage. Low quality discs tend to use short term dyes.
- Choose a good brand of burner. Don't be tempted by a burner just because it is on sale and cheap. Better and more expensive burners use better parts and that makes a big difference in the long run. A strong laser with clear optics and a stable motor are key to a clean burn. Having extra cache/buffer RAM also helps. The drive interface (IDE, SATA, SCSI, USB) really doesn't matter (but obviously some will be naturally better than others, i.e. SCSI) so long as the computer can keep a consistent data flow and keep the drive's buffer RAM filled. I personally prefer Plextor SCSI burners. Do an Internet search and read plenty of reviews before you buy anything else.
- Burn the disc at 1x or 2x. The slower the burn the better. Slower rotational speeds have less vibration and the laser has more contact time with the dye (increasing the reflection contrast). Some RW's have a minimum burn rate, so go with that.
- Premake an ISO image from the data and burn that. While this takes extra space and time, it allows one to know the exact size and doesn't run the risk that the system will get bogged down with a lot of little files and make a coaster.
- When burning an image, walk away from that computer until it is finished. Bumping the computer will cause the laser to go off track and fail. If the computer gets bogged down with something else during the burn, it runs the risk of a buffer under-run and making a coaster.
- An optical disc won't die like a hard disk. Take care of it and don't scratch it and it will last a very long time. Unlike a hard disk, an optical disc can survive short term water exposure and an EMP. If your optical reader goes out, it is trivial to take an optical disc to another reader or buy a new one. Not so with a hard disk. Hard disks also must have the drive interface supported and still may crater after a few years of storage doing nothing (not all electronic parts last forever). It is also easier to move around optical discs between geographic locations or to a laptop during a power outage.
- Labels on the disc tend to protect the top better than an unlabeled disc (from scrapes and as a sun shield). Painted on labels at the manufacturer are preferred. If adding sticker labels, make sure it is properly centered so the disc doesn't go out of balance at high rotational speeds. Do not add a sticker label until after the burn is finished. Even if a sticker label is mostly aligned, it will still vibrate the disc more than without.