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Originally published March 21, 2014 at 3:31 PM | Page modified March 21, 2014 at 6:45 PM

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Your burnable CDs, DVDs might last just 4 or 5 years

Commercial discs and archival CDs and DVDs are made to last, and favorable storage conditions could extend the shorter life spans of those you burn yourself, writes Patrick Marshall. He also helps a reader looking to buy a new computer.


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Q: A few years ago, I thought you had an article on the data storage lifetime of DVD and CD discs. I thought it was something like four or five years for the general, run-of-the-mill products. I thought there was some comment about longer life with higher-quality disks.

What is the current status on lifetime and are there any manufacturers or disk drives that will provide longer lifetime? I don’t seem to see much on the Internet on the subject.

I notice some of my past recorded music disks are now showing signs of dropouts in the music that I assume is disk dye failure. What say you?

— Ken Friddell

A: The life span of standard burnable CDs and DVDs — as opposed to commercial discs, in which pits are physically cut into the grooves — depends on the quality of manufacturing materials and, especially, on environmental conditions.

If you keep the discs in a secure, non-humid location where they are not exposed to light and extreme temperatures, they may last considerably longer than four to five years. But it’s still a good rule of thumb to not expect discs to remain uncorrupted longer than four years.

Some vendors do offer archival CDs and DVDs. These discs have a gold reflective layer that won’t oxidize or tarnish the way standard DVDs tend to do over time. As a result, the vendors claim a life span of 100 years or longer. Prices vary widely, but expect to pay between $1 and $2 per disc.

Q: I’d like to print some scrapbooks for my grandchildren with photos (from my camera) and narrative. Since I’m going to get a new computer, does it matter if I purchase an Apple or IBM product?

I am not familiar with Apple products. Do you recommend any particular software for this work?

I have used Mozilla Firefox and AVG free in the past. Should I purchase an anti-virus like Norton each year?

— Ed Crouch, Seattle

A: Lots of software is available for creating photo slideshows with audio, and many are free. I don’t generally recommend specific programs unless I’ve recently done a comparative review, and I haven’t done one of slideshow programs.

As for deciding between Windows and Apple computers, the main differences are these:

1. A greater variety of software and hardware is available for Windows.

2. Apple equipment generally costs more than comparable Windows-compatible equipment. Apple hardware is also generally of high quality, while Windows-compatible equipment varies from high to low quality, depending on the manufacturer.

3. Apple users generally claim Apple devices are easier to use. This was the case some years ago, but I personally don’t think it still holds true.

4. There are fewer viruses and other malware that afflict Apple devices. But there’s no guaranteeing that virus writers won’t target Apple devices if the numbers of users grow, especially if the use of Apple equipment grows in the sectors targeted by hackers and virus writers.

My advice generally is to buy the type of computer your family or friends use; they will be your first source of support, and sharing files will be easier.

As for anti-virus software, are you a Comcast subscriber? If so, you can download Norton Internet Security free. And if you’re running Windows you can also use the built-in Windows Defender and Windows Firewall. More reviews rate the free Microsoft products somewhat lower than commercial products, but not dramatically so.

And remember, at least as important as having anti-malware software installed is using common sense in Web browsing and dealing with email. Don’t go to sites you don’t trust. And don’t open email attachments unless you know who they are from.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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