Are CDs and DVDs Obsolete? Exploring Their Role in Modern Tech

In the age of cloud storage and high-capacity drives, optical media like CDs and DVDs seem like relics of the past. Yet, these formats persist, surprisingly resilient and still in use for specific purposes.

Let’s explore the enduring appeal of CDs and DVDs, their functionality in modern computing, and whether they still hold value in our digital world.

cd reader

The Lasting Charm of CDs and DVDs

Recently, I stumbled upon an old external DVD recorder and stacks of both blank and recorded CDs and DVDs while cleaning my house. These discs included old operating system versions and backups of PC games and movies—some over 20 years old. Despite their age and the less-than-ideal storage conditions, many of these discs were still functional, allowing me to recover forgotten data.

This discovery led me to experiment with these optical discs again, revisiting their use in a contemporary setting. Here’s what I found:

Practical Uses of Optical Media Today

1. Limited Storage but Useful for Specific Needs

  • CDs offer a mere 700 MB of storage, and DVDs provide around 4.7 GB. While inadequate for large files or modern media, these capacities can be useful for smaller data sets. For instance, I found CDs handy for backing up original music for my car stereo—a niche but practical use.

2. Backup Solutions Following the 3-2-1 Rule

  • Despite their limited capacity, DVDs can be part of a comprehensive backup strategy. The 3-2-1 backup rule—keeping three total copies of your data, two on different storage forms, and one off-site—can include DVDs as a secondary backup medium.

3. Software Installation and Retro Gaming

  • DVDs can still serve to store installation files for formatting computers or for keeping a collection of retro games, both of which don’t necessarily require large amounts of space.

The Viability of Optical Media Recorders

Surprisingly, software needed to burn these discs is still available and functional on modern systems like Windows 11. Programs like Nero Burning ROM, Alcohol 120%, and ImgBurn offer robust solutions for burning CDs and DVDs even today.

Why I’m Moving Away from CDs and DVDs

Despite their uses, the reality is that CDs and DVDs are becoming obsolete. The technology has not kept pace with the rapid advancements in digital storage solutions. After backing up the data from my old discs onto a 16 TB external hard drive and into the cloud, the practicality of using optical media has diminished for me.

I’ve decided to keep using DVDs for encrypting and storing private data that I want to keep out of reach—a unique advantage of optical media due to the possibility of data encryption and physical control.

Conclusion: Nostalgic but Limited

Optical media like CDs and DVDs evoke a sense of nostalgia and can still be useful in specific scenarios, especially where small-scale backups or data privacy is concerned. However, their relevance is dwindling in the face of superior technology options available today.