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I used to back up files to DVD, but I found that the DVDs really didn't last very long, and were very delicate.

When I upgraded my computer I opted to go DVD drive free.

Now I've been using USB sticks for cold data storage. The price per gigabyte is acceptable for me. But will the data last on there?

Will I be able to plug in my old USB stick in 30 or 40 years to look at my old photos?

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3 Answers 3

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I don't think USB compatibility in the future should be that much of a concern to you. On worst case, if USB backward compatibility is dropped at some point you will see it come and have plenty of time to react. I'm sure will be able to move your data to a brand new, let's say, 4TB USB stick that will sell for less than 20$ at that time.

The part that I cannot answer is how reliable are those USB sticks for long term storage? Were there any studies made on this? Another concern I have with USB sticks is, for instance, if the USB controller breaks then you cannot access even 1 bit of your data. At least with DVDs you can almost always recover at least parts of it.

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  • 1
    This seems to have a great deal of speculation and thus not very helpful.
    – Ramhound
    Feb 19, 2014 at 16:38
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    The question invites speculation.
    – Xavierjazz
    Feb 19, 2014 at 18:44
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As far as the ability to read and write data, they should be theoretically good for a very long time - it depends on how many writes you do per day. Assuming you do just one backup per day, the normal quoted 100,000 writes indicates that your life of the drive would theoretically be 273 years or so. As far as writing to the drive and storing it, various sites quote the manufacturers as saying it should retain data for 5-10 years before the charge dissipates. More importantly, since the industry is on a severe quick update cycle, I doubt USB will be around in even 10 years, much less longer. Think about the cassette port, DIN keyboard, VGA port, parallel, serial, SCSI 25, SCSI 50... All used to be normal ports, now they are hard find on a new computer

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  • To be brutally honest I generally wait until I have enough to justify filling a new backup, then I write everything to it. So it's one big write, then I never read from it again, hopefully. Feb 20, 2014 at 19:40
  • Still have the data self erasing 5-10 years down the road and really - probably USB won't be around in 5-10 years. Sad to think how much we've come and we've actually made things more fragile. Your grandparents pictures and letters may outlast your digital data. Feb 20, 2014 at 21:08
  • why would USB be gone in ten years? Is there something coming out that replaces it? It seems to have replaced everything else already (e.g. floppy drives, cd drives). Feb 20, 2014 at 21:47
  • USB is an interface - just like ISA bus which had EISA, PCI PCIe, AGP... Parallel and serial and SCSI became replaced by USB. VGA 15 pin rapidly replaced by DVI and HDMI and newer versions... And now we have Thunderbolt or Lightning coming as a contender. The important lesson is that the interfaces evolve so don't rely on having a USB port. 10 years is an awfully long time in computer terms. Feb 21, 2014 at 19:28
  • Thunderbolt is a proprietary interface. Only macs can use that. It will never take over from USB. Feb 24, 2014 at 17:45
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Putting aside the cost argument for necessary redundancy I would suggest cloud backup. Any service has to be configured correctly to be effective. However, I would comfortable relying on Google, Amazon, Sugar Sync, Dropbox or Sky Drive. I have used Google Photos / Picasa for backing up photos of my daughter since she was born.

No data should be backed up in the same location (in this case your home) the original files are kept. USB or DVDs are not great options for backup because presumably they are in the drawer of the desk your computer sits on. That said, they could be damaged, lost, stolen or destroyed. If you are really serious about backing these files up without using a cloud service you should make multiple copies and keep them at separate locations such as friends or relatives homes or a safety deposit box.

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  • If using cloud storage, it's not a bad idea to encrypt first. I use BoxCryptor for that purpose. Makes the process pretty much transparent. Feb 19, 2014 at 18:49
  • I've actually taken advantage of "flickr" for off-site photo backups. They have 100GB for free. It won't be enough to hold all my images forever, but for now it is ample. I am more concerned with my local backup. Feb 20, 2014 at 19:41

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