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mDisc Review: A Thousand Years of Storage

Diamonds are forever. DVDs die.

Call it data rot. DVDs last 10 years at the outside. Enterprise knows and has to regularly back up its DVD archives. Home users often discover that too late -- when an old stored DVD no longer runs a favorite song or photo collection. DVDs truly are rotten long-term storage media. They're fragile. Heat, light and humidity degrade discs and data over time.

Enter Millenniata. Its new mDisc technology is impressive. At 4.77GB, mDiscs look and act like regular write-once read-many optical discs. But a new data layer keeps disc data safe for generations -- for as long as 1,000 years, execs claimed.

Millenniata CEO Scott Shumway explains.

Backwards-compatible with current DVD readers, mDiscs use inorganic (read: rocks and minerals) composite at the DVD data layer.This replaces the organic (polycarbonate) die substrate where standard DVDs store digital material.

Organic materials, like all things living, are at the mercy of the elements. Extreme temperatures, moisture and light degrade the average DVD's polycarbonate data layer quickly. Soon, the laser heds can't read data pits at all.

Millenniata's rock-like composite allows for more durable and long-lasting laser etching of data on disc. A hotter laser is required -- all mDiscs need a proprietary mWrite drive for recording. Its partners Hitachi-LG Data Storage are already taking orders for such drives, consumer-priced at under $200 and targeting fall release. Discs cost $2.99 each and $26.99 for a 12-pack.

Check out how mDiscs and standard DVDs compare at the data layer and see laser specs below.

Illustration: Tim Downs

This Millenniata-produced video shows how the mDisc lasers and composite material work together.

The opportunity for super long term archival disc storage is huge -- just in governments, hospitals and the military alone.

Millenniata commissioned the Navy to stress-test its mDisc technology. The Navy complied. The US Department of Defense Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) in China Lake, CA put the mDisc up against six leading archival DVD makers in three series of demanding stress tests.

Some 125 DVDs from makers Mitsubishi, Verbatim, Taiyo Yuden, Delkin, MAM-A and Millenniata faced extreme light, temperatures and moisture in a battery of tests -- check out the UV testing racks and balast boxes.

Courtesy: US Department of Defense Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

Courtesy: US Department of Defense Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

According to the NAVAIR report, of all discs tested, only the mDiscs survived.

"Every other brand tested showed increases in data errors after the stress period. many of the discs were so damaged they could not be recognized as DVDs by the disc analyzer," the reports said.

Not a single mDisc in the study suffered any data degration at all. The bargraph below shows the comparative number of dead discs from each manufacture after stress testing.

US Department of Defense Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Report: Number of Discs Dead after Stress Cycle

This tech bears long-term examination. I dug through Millenniata's patent filings -- claims on metallic and rock nanosubstrate mixes, UV protection and laser read methodology abound. The patents cover a variety of possible recipes for composite inorganic material -- for the metal and metal oxide layer comprising its dark metal layer structure and more. Millenniata cofounders and inventors Barry Lunt and Matt Linford filed most of these now issued patents -- they also are professors and researchers at Brigham Young University.

Execs said the exact materials comprising its composite are trade secret, but patent docs show a range of elements potentially mixed to create the rocky substrate, predominantly Chromium and Chromium oxide. Nanoparticles of gold, chromium, lead, magnesium are other potential materials for possible substrate mixes. In these patents, the inventors are covering a range of inventions around using inorganic and metallic materials for optic use.

They point to an industrial, light-absorbent technology I refer to above -- called dark layering metal technology -- this constitutes the dark layer into which the laser etches the data. This enables high contrast for data reading. In use now in some LCD units and often thermal solar collectors, common dark layering mixes rely on chromium and chromium oxide, among many other nanoparticles. Applying dark layering in combination with the inorganic data layer composite for optical storage appears novel and I reviewed several issued patents.

As he notes in his video below, high contrast is key to mDisc design.Keep an eye on BYTE for more on this new technology.

Inventor Lunt describes his inspiration for the technology -- high contrast petroglyphs in the mountains of Utah. See what dark technology and ancient petroglyphs have in common, below.

I'll be reviewing mDisc technology -- using the Hitachi/LG burner and some discs Milleniata provided -- over the next few weeks.

So far, I've found mDiscs work in every DVD reader I've tried. And the write process -- expectedly slow for long-term storage data burnings -- is so far uneventful. At this point, the extra price and nominal cost of a burner seem a great trade-off for practically permanent storage.

The cloud is fine for routine storage, but over the long term, many businesses and users will continue to seek physical archives for important data. For such use cases, this technology looks especially promising.

Governments and large organizations with digital libraries, such as the LDS Church, are already examining mDisc for archival reasons and it's easy to see why.

According to execs and publicly available patent filings, mDisc technology in the future will evolve toward the 25GB Blu-ray standard and beyond, to wider-diamater discs of 200GB or more. Larger and hardier mDiscs are most certainly on the horizon.

Based in San Francisco, Gina Smith is Chief Editor at BYTE. Follow her @ginasmith888 and email her at [email protected].