Computer discs: CD-R or CD-RW?

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I recently was asked, “What kind of disc should I use – CD-R or CD-RW?”

For that question, there is a simple answer and a more complex answer.


The simple answer: Just use CD-R. If it gets messed up during the process, toss it and make another one.

For some people, that’s good enough. If you are interested in the logic behind that, keep reading for the more complex answer.

First of all, CD-R means “CD Recordable”. CD-RW means “CD Re-Writable”.

Probably my first question would be: what are you recording onto the disc?

If you are using CDs as a regular backup of your computer’s data, such as the My Documents folder, you need to change your backup procedure and not use discs at all (that’s a subject for another day).

If you are taking MP3 files and making an audio CD to play in your home CD player or in your car, you need to use CD-R discs for that.

If you are just making a permanent archival copy of a folder of family pictures, the CD-R is again the best choice.

The idea behind a CD-RW is that you can sort of use that disc as another drive. You can put data on it, erase that data, and put more data on it again. Since they are supposed to be re-usable over and over, CD-RW discs are more expensive. That sounds perfect, right? Nope.

If you are putting something important on the disc, such as irreplaceable family photos, you don’t want to take any chance of them getting accidentally deleted. If that CD-RW somehow made its way back into your CD drive, there is a chance that you could lose those photos.

If you have the photos on a CD-R, and the disc is digitally “closed” after you put them on there, you can no longer add anything else to that disc. So there is no chance of accidentally overwriting your valuable pictures (or other data).

What if you are recording some data to a CD-R and the recording process messes up and the CD-R is ruined? Who cares – just trash it and make another one. They cost less than 20 cents (sometimes a lot less) – consider them disposable. Once you have your data recorded on there and the disc is closed, you can put it in a place for safekeeping. Or if you recorded an audio CD, you can take it to your car and listen to music on the way to work.

This week’s video is a funny mascot at a basketball game:

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dave@shireyllc.com
November 2nd, 2009

If you don't use CD's for your back up what do you (in brief) suggest? I am using Drop Box, am I an idiot?

Scott Johnson
November 2nd, 2009

DropBox is great for sharing files, but it is not the backup solution. For backups, I recommend either an external USB hard drive (1 terabyte drives are less than $100), and a program to automatically back up every day. I have set this up for many clients.

The other alternative is an online backup service such as Carbonite.com (about $50 per year).

john b
November 3rd, 2009

Another thing to consider about CD-RWs is how many times can you re-write to them? Since they cost much more than CD-Rs, you should be able to write to them many times over- I think I read an estimate somewhere of 1000 times or more. But in my experience, I never got more than 5-10 writes before the disc was totally corrupted- not even playable anymore! And I always used name brands- Sony, Maxell, Memorex, etc. Never again will I use or recommend CD-RWs to anyone, for any purpose. CD-Rs are so cheap nowadays, it's like you said, think of them as disposable.