How Long Do CDs Last? It's Complicated

At one point, CDs were touted with 100-year plus lifespans as the future of all forms of data. Thanks to disc rot we now know that's not true, but working out exactly how long a CD will last is an imprecise science.

Image: *** Fanch The System !!! ***

NPR took a look at efforts in the US to try to determine the life of a CD that induce ageing through temperature controls to identify the points where CDs break down.

Unfortunately, it's not a simple matter of cranking a dial and seeing an average data set emerge. What they've found, according to Michele Youket, a Library of Congress preservation specialist is that there is no average when it comes to CDs because the methods used to produce them were never uniform.

Everyone always wants to know the answer to the same question, 'How long do CDs last? What's the average age?' " Youket says. But "there is no average, because there is no average disc."

The article notes that if you do want to destroy a disc without physically assaulting it, leaving it in your car over summer is the quickest method to stop it being played.

With a shift to all-digital formats the issues around CDs might seem like old news, but it's both a worry for the material that's been backed up on CDs and might no longer be readable as well as a warning sign for the formats we use now, because they're just as prone to data loss for other reasons, and there's no reason that we'll automatically be using the same formats and readers a few decades from now.

[NPR via iO9]