How Long Will That Media Last?

Media in the context of this article refers to file storage. I’ve covered this before but I have a few new things to add, plus it’s just a good refresher to know this stuff.

Facts about hard drives and optical media

Western Digital used to offer lifetime warranties on consumer PC hard drives

There was a point where any WD HDD you bought had a lifetime warranty. Then WD knocked that down to 7 years. Then 5 years. Then for some models 3 or even 1. If you want to see every type of warranty WD has currently, go here. You’ll notice that nowhere is the word "life" or "lifetime".

What happened is that the manufacturing process changed, and certain components on the inside of the HDD that used to be made from metal were changed to plastic.

I’m not saying WD drives are bad because I use them myself, but the phrase "they don’t make ’em like they used to" definitely applies.

As a testament to this, there are still 386 PCs out there that when started, the drive takes a really long time to spin up, it’s really loud once running, but it amazingly still works 25 years later and all the data is accessible and ready to rock. I seriously, seriously doubt hard drives made today will be able to boast that 25 years from now.

The vast majority of blank optical media sold today is absolute junk

It’s very easy to tell if the spindle of blank DVDs you just bought are junk or not. Look at the sides of the discs in the stack. Do you see lumps, bumps and inconsistencies? If the answer is yes, they’re crap. Don’t bother returning them because every spindle you buy will be like that unless you go with a specific brand which I’ll mention in a moment.

Truly good optical discs have no imperfections that can be seen by the naked eye. Unfortunately the only way to get these is by special order because they’re never sold in stores.

The best optical media made is Taiyo Yuden like this. Yes, it costs more but you’ll never use a better disc. If you care about what you write to disc at all, use that brand.

How long will that media last?


You know from above that off-the-shelf media today is crap, much the same way floppy diskettes turned to crap at the end of their tenure. Manufacturers churn these things out without any consideration of quality file writes or reads for the long haul.

If you do opt to use this media, don’t plan on having anything last for longer than 2 to 3 years at most before read failure. It doesn’t matter if you have  the best optical drive available, because there’s nothing you can do to fix junk discs, other than not using them and buying better discs.


The best way to make a hard drive last as long as possible is to use two. A smaller hard drive for the operating system and a large one for storage. This is a time-honored way of computing and it does allow for HDDs dedicated to storage to last longer. As for how much longer, standard fare is 3 to 5 years. A dedicated storage HDD will last for 5 or greater, possibly much greater.

And yes there are plenty of instances where people have had hard drives last well beyond the 7-year mark, however it’s never wise to assume that you will achieve that just because someone else did.


USB sticks have been around long enough to prove that they can definitely withstand the test of time better than any other immediately available affordable storage media. If you write data to a USB stick, toss it in a drawer then 8 years later go to use it again, it will work. A hard drive used that way is an iffy prospect at best and I’d never trust optical media to last that long even with premium brand.

I’ll put it to you this way: If I were making a time capsule and wanted to put some data in it, I’d use nothing but USB sticks if I wanted something I could retrieve two decades later and have relative assurance it would still work and not have decayed beyond being usable.

(Side note: If you’re thinking, "Hey! USB sticks are a great idea for a time capsule! I’m doing that!", make sure you buy the kind have a cap on the end to protect the plug from corrosion. You can add in extra ‘insurance’ by wrapping where the cap meets the body with a few layers of electrical tape.)

The only known thing that can kill a USB stick is either unmounting it improperly or running out of file writes as it does have a predetermined limit – but that limit is usually only reached if you’re doing something with the stick that requires a monster amount of reading/writing, such as running a biz-card sized Linux distribution off of one. Otherwise, Flash media will give you years upon years of trouble-free use.

I strongly suggest picking up a 3-pack of USB sticks where each is 2GB a piece; it’s $22 well spent. These are definitely worth having and believe me, you will use them.

If it sounds like I’m telling you to burn discs less and use Flash media more, I am. Flash sticks don’t suffer from scratches or any damage from being a moving part because it doesn’t move.


  1. Cool. Thanks.

  2. Binary chiseled into some French cave….thousands of years.

  3. Clifton Mayo says:

    I wish I had as much faith in usb flash memory as you do. Unfortunately I have not had very good luck. I have had five die on me, and once they die, they are dead. No recovery available. I have used several different brands, Corsair being the worst (3 out of 4 died an early death); and until recently had good luck with Microcenter’s generic brand.
    True, I have had many flash drives starting with a 64K drive, one 256K, five 1G (three Corsairs, two died, one too small to use and discarded, numerous 2G (I loan these out and have none left), numerous 4G (also loaners, 1 died), five 8G (two died), 3 16G and 2 32G (one died). I have also lost two to damage caused by my dog (not included in my died total). One went through a washer/dryer cycle (still going strong a year later) so I am reasonably satisfied.
    I just do not have much confidence in their being there the next time I plug them in.
    The Corsair units had (have?) a lifetime warranty, but after a few years the shipping costs exceeds the replacement cost.

    • A generic rule of thumb for USB sticks is to use Sandisk or Kingston, in that order. Sandisk in particular may not always be as fast for file transfers, but they do have a solid track record for reliability.

      It’s also a good bet that your Micro Center USB sticks are rebranded Sandisk models.

      • These generic rules differ from case to case: Mine is, never use Sandisk. Had one (Platinum, you know, the one you could drive a truck over, no damage done); it lasted about a year of light use. Exception to the rule? Frankly, I do not care.

        In general, I have seen a number of USB sticks fail over time, probably more than the proportion of optical disks that went kaput. What has worked out best so far is an HP USB drive that takes SD cards that I prefer to use for additional storage. Over 7 years, no failure.

      • Funnily enough, I have used Kingston, Sandisk and Microcenter flash sticks, and they have all been pretty resilient (the Sandisk has been through the washing machine twice, to no obvious ill effect). I have had quie a few CDs that were only a few years old (and were kept in decent conditions) that either didn’t work, or had to be really fiddled with to get any data from them.

  4. hallo .
    nice post .
    be success .

  5. 2gb x 3 units on this site you give.

  6. I have seen a couple of people loose data when the password protection software gave errors.
    I have also recovered a few bad usb drives bay takeing them apart and fixing the solder joints.
    The solder joints will weaken with a lot inserts and removals or hitting them on things while in laptops.

  7. Sagecrispin says:

    How does this apply to SD cards? For Christmas I got a gizmo that looks and acts like a USB stick but has an SD card inside. And what about the longevity of the microSDs which seem even more plentiful than SDs, but I think are scary as Hell since they are so tiny. Why use the sticks over the cards-or not? (Real question-not meant to be argumentative.)

    • With SD it varies depending on device. In digital cameras they easily last several years. In GPS devices, same deal. In camcorders, not so much (there’s a lot more read/writes involved). SD was definitely designed right the first time with a thick shell, so it’s tough to kill one.

      microSD on the other hand is a completely different story. You absolutely cannot plug/unplug one of those frequently because the contacts are very thin and wear out easily. Never touch the contacts if you can help it, because even the oils from your fingers can tarnish them very quickly and lead to early corrosion. What happens is you’ll literally start to see the contacts flake off. Not pretty. With microSD it is highly advisable not to unplug them unless you absolutely have to in order to keep the contacts working.

      SD and flash stick are both good, but the stick is more convenient. It can go on a keychain, after all.

  8. nice post media will last long for every thing there is a need for media but cant say anything about the new technology anything can happen
    Symptoms of GERD

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