Archival Gold CDs & DVDs from Delkin and Verbatim, plus Delkin’s New FireWire 800 Card Reader 39

Last year, we highlighted Delkin Device’s eFilm Express Card 34 compact flash adapter for ExpressCard Slots as a must-have accessory for anyone with a MacBook Pro and a digital camera that takes Compact Flash cards. A year later, we still feel the same way.

Kingston,  Delkin Devices, Ridata, and other folks now make ultra high-speed memory cards, which can download data in a hurry, provided that you have a high-speed way to transfer that data. Delkin Devices’ new FireWire 800/400 UDMA Reader-39 compact flash card reader is a great solution. Both fast and backwards-compatible with FireWire 400, it’s an ideal card reader for the photographer in your life.

Once you’ve created your masterpieces in digital data, the big concern is how to archive it and on what media. Here is a quick lesson in the basic differences between some optical media choices available. There are essentially three dyes used in optical media; Metal-Cyanine dye, which was the original CD-R dye, blue in color, and considered the least stable of the dyes. Next are the Metal-Azo dyes, which are a very deep blue and much more stable over Cyanine dyes. The “Gold” CDs are usually based upon Phthalocyanine dyes. They are very light green in color, and considered the most stable.

Of course, there are a slew of other factors that go into the “archivability” of any media, including storage, quality control, truth in labeling, and even the approach taken to labeling the disks. The gold color of the disks has nothing to do with the dyes in use, and I’ve seen gold media that didn’t use the expected phthalocyanine dyes, so it’s important to pay attention to the manufacturer. The latest version of Roxio Toast 8 (our interview regarding this is here) can even look at your media, connect to a database to tell you who the actual manufacturer of the media is, regardless of the brand or labeling.

Ultimately the color of the disks is from the material used in the reflective layer, which ranges from aluminum, silver, and gold to alloys. That layer is then coated with a lacquer layer, and lastly comes the top layer, also called the silkscreen, label, or inkjet layer. As you can imagine, there is plenty of room in each layer for choices in the materials used, so there are tremendous variables at play. Remember the stories a few years ago about “CD rot” where users would try to play a 10-year-old CD and discovered it had too many errors to be playable? But many experts felt that so-called CD rot was overblown and more likely due to storage conditions. Gather a group of experts on the subject of optical media, and few will agree; even the idea of oxidation of the reflective layer is subject to interpretation. Because gold (the metal itself, not the color) is viewed as impervious to oxidation, conventional wisdom is that it’s the best choice for that layer, but that is by no means the gospel for every expert.

Starting to sound complicated? Consider that gold isn’t as reflective as silver, thus some drives have more errors when reading gold discs. One of the most highly regarded manufacturers of optical media is Verbatim, whose UltraLife media has a combination of gold and silver, along with high quality metal-azo dyes. One of the key issues is purchasing media from a reputable manufacturer. Since many of the best-known brands don’t actually manufacture their own media, instead relying upon other companies, it’s key to stick with tried and trusted brands, since they enforce stricter quality control than generic brands. Verbatim makes their own archival media, and is a solid choice. Carried by most major computer retailers, Verbatim media shouldn’t be difficult to find in stores or online.

Another consideration is durability. Many manufacturers are starting to make toughened, or “armored,” top coats to further protect the delicate top layer. And once again, never ever use stick-on labels on the discs. The labels can actually pull the top layer apart, and with changes in humidity, can warp the disc. Even newly labeled discs can cause problems, with the slight additional thickness of the labeled disc causing a failure to eject from many slot-load drives. We have also seen instances where a label that is just slightly off-center can cause the disc to be unbalanced and render it unreadable, or cause the drive to slow down considerably to reduce the wobble so it can read the disc. There are also reports, however, that indicate if you burn at a slower speed, the burn is more reliable. Another issue to be aware of is that most drive manufacturers release special software called "firmware" that allows the drives to be compatible with new media types. Delkin has a great set of links on their site (click here to the list) to direct you to drive manufacturer's firmware updates.

In terms of labeling, the best choices at the moment seem to be to use inkjet-printable discs, with a printer such as the Dymo DiscPainter, or using a CD-safe marker to write on the inside of the disc in the clear area near the spindle hole, so that there is no chance of affecting the data. There has been a lot of discussion of the effects of using a Sharpie-type marker, but we have never seen a careful scientific test of the effect on data recovery, only anecdotal reports from users. And like most of you, we have used a Sharpie on discs for years, and so far most of them seem unaffected by their use, but only time will tell. Even then, who knows if any potential issues are the direct result of their use? Using the data-free area near the spindle hole guarantees that labeling can’t be an issue.

At the end of the day, among the digital cognoscenti, this so-called “gold media” has the reputation of the best choice for archival storage. Unfortunately, Kodak stopped making the media years ago, and there are only a couple of companies that still manufacture it now and they normally supply other companies who then “private label” the media. So it has often been tough to find unless you buy online or from specialty retailers. Luckily, Delkin Devices stepped up to the plate and now has gold media based upon phthalocyanine dye available in easy-to-purchase packages. Because Delkin has an excellent distribution channel they should be easy to find at your local retailer. The Delkin Devices Archival Gold line of optical media comes in DVD-R, CD-R, and inkjet-printable media, it’s readily available, and they have enough variety to meet any needs.

Harris Fogel, Posted 12/20/2007

For information on Delkin Devices Archival Gold Media:

For information on Delkin Devices Reader-39:

For information on Verbatim UltraLife Archival Gold Media: