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Is the SD card the most reliable way to store your music projects?

20230717The way people record these days is digitally. Whether recording to a PC or Mac with software or if using standalone recorder, you're writing data.

Unfortunately, most data storage types just plain suck and are notoriously unreliable.

A brief history on hard drives, and some tips for drive longevity

Hard drives used to come with a lifetime warranty, but today the warranty period is between 2 to 5 years; the reason for this is because they got cheap with the manufacturing materials used (several metal parts were replaced with plastic on the inner components to save build costs), so the companies who make hard drives literally can't afford to offer a lifetime warranty on a hard drive anymore because they know they bust quickly.

The two types of big-style drives people use are HDD (hard disk drive) and SSD (solid-state drive); SSD is the newer of the two and still too new to know whether or not it will last the long haul. It is however known that the vast majority of hard drives will start developing read failures within 5 years.

A hard drive that holds your operating system (such as Windows) will always be the one to bust first, so a way around this is to use a secondary hard drive just for storage and nothing else; that will add a few years of life to it.

If you want to make a hard drive last as long as possible, once you turn it on for the first time, never shut it off. A hard drive's motor works its hardest when first spinning up the drive from a dead stop, so if you always keep it spinning and not "hibernating", "suspending" or "going into sleep mode", that's how you make a hard drive last 8 to 10 years that gets continually used every day.

But while it's easy to do that with a PC or with an external USB-connected enclosure, it's not easy with a laptop because, well, sometimes you have to shut it down so you can go places with it.

Optical media

This is about CD, DVD and Blu-ray.

DVD to this day is the cheapest way to store big data, but there's a few problems with the aging optical disc format.

First, getting truly good media isn't easy. The best consumer brand is Verbatim, and the best professional-grade is Taiyo Yuden. When you want the absolute best and most-reliable, Taiyo Yuden is what you buy as they're well known to make high-grade quality optical media.

Unfortunately, most people don't bother buying either of those brands and usually just take whatever is on sale.

Here's what happens to your average cheap consumer optical media:

Optical media is made from an aluminum disc sealed in plastic. What happens to almost all consumer-grade media is that little bubbles form under the plastic in as little as 2 years. Then those little bubbles become big bubbles, and there's nothing you can do about it because the plastic is separating from the aluminum.

With better-brand media, the bubbles don't happen, but in about 7 years the disc starts developing small erosion holes in the aluminum, which again is something you can absolutely do nothing about.

In other words, no matter how much cash you spend on optical media, it will disintegrate, and start doing it in well less than a decade, even if you store them in perfect conditions.

Flash media

This is, without a doubt, the most reliable media you can buy for the long haul.

There are 128MB (yes, MB and not GB) USB sticks that were made over 10 years ago that still work today. Over the years, yeah, they slow down a bit, but the point is that they still work.

Flash media has several format types. SD, USB pendrive, Memory Stick, CompactFlash and so on. But the most widely used is SD.

SD only has three issues with it.

First, being it's Flash-based storage media, it only has a finite amount of file writes to it before it will stop working. But it is very difficult to reach that limit (and this is why some of those ancient 128MB pendrives still work today).

Second, the contacts over time can tarnish. If you have an older SD card, you'll notice the contact points might be somewhat darker than they used to be; this is totally normal. You can't really prevent this from happening, but you can slow it down simply by not clicking in/out the card too much. And in fact, it is the clicking in/out which kills an SD card faster than anything else, because you're rubbing those contacts every time you do it.

Third, most people connect and disconnect SD cards completely wrong, which leads to corrupted data.

If the SD card is inside a device, you only insert or remove the card when the device is OFF.

If the SD card is used via a PC with Windows, you can insert it any time you want, but you must "Safe Disconnect" it before taking it out, else the data stands a high risk of being corrupted.

As long as you connect/disconnect the SD card properly, it can very easily last 10+ years; it will outlast your DVDs and your hard drives.

If your music projects matter (and they should), copy them to SD cards

SD is a no-brainer way to store your music project stuff reliably, and it's cheap.

And did you know most SD cards have a lifetime warranty? You probably won't ever have to use it, but it's nice to know the manufacturers of the cards have enough faith in them to offer that.


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