Saying Goodbye: 5 Alternatives To The Optical Disc

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optical disc solutionsWith computers growing smaller and lifestyles going mobile, less and less devices offer sufficient space for internal optical drives. Presently, the market is kept afloat by Blu-ray consumer home video sales, but in terms of data storage, optical discs are slowly becoming obsolete. Moreover, while most movie buyers still prefer to own a physical copy of their purchase, this market, much like the music market, will soon be taken over by streaming services. So are you still storing data on optical drives?

Optical discs have a storage capacity of up to 50GB (Blu-ray) and at around $0.08 per GB they remain one of the cheapest ways to store data. Under optimal conditions in terms of temperature, humidity, and handling, Blu-ray discs can last over 50 years, an impressive number. The problem is, optical discs require an optical drive to be used and such a device will likely break long before 50 years are up. The question then is whether those drives will still be available in a decade or two from now and at what point it is smart to switch to another storage medium.

The way you store your data should always be current. There is no point in chaining yourself to a specific method or medium. The key is that your data is easily accessible to you, now and in the future. Hence, the best way to store your data depends on your needs. How much data do you have? Do you want to store, transport, or share your data? Where do you need to access them? And for how long do you need to store your data safely?

To make potential alternatives to optical discs comparable, I have examined four different criteria: storage capacity , average price per GB, average or approximate lifetime in years or number of write/erase cycles, and compatibility with other devices and operating systems.

Option 1: USB Stick

Capacity: regularly up to 128GB (256GB available)

Price: from $0.60 to $0.80 per GB

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Lifetime: 10 thousand to 5 million write/erase cycles, approx. 2 to 20 years

Compatibility: theoretically any device with USB port

Flash-based drives and particularly USB thumb drives are probably the best alternative to optical discs in terms of lifetime and portability. Since lifetime depends less on climate and storage conditions, but primarily on the amount of times data are written to or erased from the drive, flash drives theoretically could have a longer lifetime than DVDs or Blu-ray discs. With up to 128GB, thumb drives also offer more storage capacity (Blu-ray up to 50GB) and they do not depend on the availability of an optical drive. However, flash drives are significantly more expensive per GB.

optical disc solutions

Option 2: SD(HC) Card

Capacity: up to 128GB

Price: from $0.62 to $1 per GB

Lifetime: 100 thousand to 1 million write/erase cycles, approx. 1 to 10 years

Compatibility: adapter or SD card reader required

This is the most portable alternative to optical discs. With regular storage sizes between 16 and 64GB, SD cards are also comparable in size. Similar to USB sticks, the lifetime of SD cards depends on write/erase cycles and can thus be very short or rather long. Like all flash-based storage devices, the price per GB is significantly higher than that of optical discs. Moreover, SD / SDHC cards require an SD / SDHC card reader or an adapter.

Option 3: External Hard Drive (HDD)

Capacity: up to 3TB

Price: from $0.04 to $0.15 per GB

Lifetime: approx. 2-5 years

Compatibility: any device with USB port

External hard drives are the cheapest alternative to optical discs. They cost less, offer a much higher storage capacity, and are essentially compatible with any device that sports a USB port. In terms of connecting the hardware, compatibility is a non-issue. That said, keep in mind that the file system (typically FAT32 or NTFS) can potentially prevent recognition or full functionality of a HDD when connected to other devices (TV) or operating systems. The biggest issue, however, is the vulnerability of HDDs. They are easily damaged by physical shock, which makes them suboptimal for transporting data. Moreover, their operation relies on moving parts, meaning each use increases the likelihood of hardware failure.

optical disc

Learn more about file systems from my article What A File System Is & How You Can Find Out What Runs On Your Drives, then find out How To Format A USB Drive & Why You Would Need To. And while we are on the topic of file systems, you might also want to know How To Reformat Your FAT32 Drive To NTFS – And The Advantages Of Doing It or How To Format A Large Hard Drive With Either FAT Or FAT32 .

Option 4: External Solid State Drive (SSD)

Capacity: up to 256GB

Price: from $0.80 to $1.78 per GB

Lifetime: 100 thousand to 5 million write/erase cycles, approx. 5 to 20 years

Compatibility: any device with USB port

In terms of price and durability, SSDs are similar to thumb drives or SD cards: expensive, but potentially long lifetime. SSDs are available with larger storage capacities than other flash-based storage devices, however, this also comes at a higher price.

Fancy an SSD? Be sure to look into my 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD .

Option 5: Cloud Storage

Capacity: regularly up to 500GB with Dropbox (theoretically unlimited)

Price: from free to $1 per GB and year

Lifetime: theoretically unlimited, practically as long as service is available or as long as you pay

Compatibility: any device with internet access

Storing your data in the cloud is the most convenient way to backup, share, and keep your data with you, provided you have access to the internet. However, this is only practical for small amounts of data. If you have more than a few GB, it can get very expensive as fees are due monthly or yearly, for as long as the storage space is needed.

optical disc solutions

Before you make a decision on where to store your data in the cloud, browse our cloud storage articles for tips & tricks.


Many alternatives for optical drives exist, but few can compete with the price and theoretical lifetime of Blu-ray discs. On the other hand, many make for better long term investments. In the long run, you should always have your data stored in at least two future-proof locations. But for the moment, Blu-ray discs and DVDs are a viable storage method. Just make sure you move your data before your last way to access them disappears.

Do you still use optical discs to store or transfer data?

Image credits: CD DVD via Shutterstock, USB Stick via Shutterstock, HDD via Shutterstock, Cloud Storage via Shutterstock

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Comments (149)
  • stmed

    None of these options are as cheap/effective as using, say, a DVD. I wouldnt feel happy storing a film or game on a memory stick as I would a CD or DVD. I still love the ability to rifle through my media, choose the one I want and then store it back again once I’m through.

  • Qasim Al Khuzaie

    I still believe that optical disks are the most reliable media for storing information… Never trust a flash disk or a hard disk because with a simple failure can wipe out terabytes of data. Cloud? Forget privacy. SSDs? Too expensive and not tested properly until now. Optical disks can live for a 100 year!

  • Anonymous

    I have fair share of hard disk crashing on me, dvd dye turns bad, which produces data error on read. It seems like the most reliable data storage is the flash disk.

    And the most important thing that I learnt is to let go of old data that is not important anymore :D. Because when these media crashed on me, I felt bad initially, and moved on after that. And 90% of the time, I don’t even remember the content in those medias, move on happily :).

    • Tina Sieber

      Letting go is an important part of life. But imagine all of our ancestors had let go of everything. There is a benefit in our desire to collect and document.

      But yeah, when one of my HDDs died while I didn’t have a backup, all I really mourned was the pictures I lost. Some things are hard to let go. Needless to say, I always keep backups now. And I got the pictures back. Lesson learned, Happy End! :)

    • Richard Brown

      Did I mention I recover failed PC drives? Even ones where the motor is dying and rarely spins. Nothing like dedicating a computer 24/7 for 7 weeks to recover a very dead drive. Been there, don’t like to do that. FYI, the data recovery is usually about 85% perfect with about 15% mangled files. Sometimes you get everything back. Sometimes its worst case and the drive really IS dead. I have recovered probably 10-20TB of good files from dead drives by now.

    • Richard Brown

      Oh, as to DVDs and so forth “going bad” MOSTLY the culprit is burn speed. The need for speed, especially on the not ready for prime time PC disc utilities is in the 48x or higher variety. Fast is NOT good for burning, so says my 100% readable and rather giant library of CD’s burned 28 years ago. Burned SLOWLY on great quality discs. DVDs, burned correctly should fair better, given the chemistry. I think the Most Interesting Man in the World would say, “Burn slowly, my friends.”

      Why? Pit depth, the source of all things long lasting.

    • Tina

      Good point, Richard and thank you for making it!

      Apart from creating a worse quality burn, the error/abortion rate also increases when media are burnt at higher speeds.

  • Shmuel Mendelsohn

    It wasn’t that long ago that I had a problem leaving 5 1/4″ floppies and 3 1/2″ floppies. When PC’s started using hard drives it was a major move for me, I guess that I’m just too old fashioned. I’d really rather be back using a 286 with DOS 3.9.

  • Jorge Yort Rosal

    Thanks for the info. I really love the cloud storage.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
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