Overburning: An Intro to the Dark Side


Extend Your Media

We’ve all been there.  You get that file that is just a little too big for the data disc you wish to back it up to.  If it’s too big for a CD-R, you could simply stick it on a DVD-R - although I consider that an immense amount of wasted space.  DVD-Rs are cheap now, so it’s not really a big deal unless you are pretty anal.  And then there’s the old standby: the DVD-R Dual Layer.  8.5 GB of precious space just begging to be filled up with video files, downloaded programs, and backing up all those pictures of scant chicks at Oktoberfest.  Data backup is near and dear to my heart.  But there is also a dark side to it.  A very dark side…  Overburning.

I personally think that overburning is a very unstable process.  I don’t like it, and I never suggest that you do it.  But if you feel the need to go to the Dark Side, then here are a few tips to get you on your way.  First, make sure your burner is capable of overburning.  Plextor burners are notorious for their ability to overburn successfully, but keep in mind that even if you do succeed in overburning your disc, you might not be able to use it afterward on anything but your computer.  I’ll explain why later.  Right now, let’s have a brief overview of various data storage, starting with External Drives.  Yes, I know you don’t burn to them, but seeing as they are capable of the largest storage space and there’s little to no chance of a data write failure, I think that including it in here would be a wise reminder of what you should fall back to for large media storage.

Just about any form of data backup has its drawbacks and limitations.  External HDDs, by far the best when it comes to capacity, have overheating problems.  This can cause data loss.  They are also very susceptible to magnetism, heat, cold, and pretty much anything else you can think of.  They are also much heavier than most other media options, which is a negative for travel.  Also, many of them might make the guy scanning your luggage at the airport look at you twice before taking you to the back room.  Don’t take square boxes filled with electronics onto an airplane.

Next in line is the new BD-R, or Blu-Ray disc. They can hold around 50GB of media, which is equivelant to 10 DVD-Rs, 5 DVD-R DLs, or 70 CD-Rs.  That’s a lot of burning space.  And while the cost of the media itself isn’t dropping as fast as most would like, the price of the burners themselves are coming down fast.  A decent Blu-Ray burner can be had online for under $200, and a few I’ve found are just over $100.  Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for.  And if you care about your data enough to back it up, be sure you do it with something dependable.  BD-R overburning isn’t really a huge deal right now, as it’s not the most popular form of backup and not many files are that big.  So we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

DVD-R DL is the next in line. Also known as the DVD9.  This is not to be confused with the repulsive Dual Side DVD-R, which requires you to burn to both sides of the disc.  That thing should have never been created.  Throw it in the trash with the Zip Drive.  No, the DVD-R DL has a topmost layer for burning data to, but the laser on your burner and your reader can also peek through and see the layer underneath, enabling you to burn twice as much to the same size disc.  And without having to flip the disc over to finish the burn on the other side.  Imagine that you have two layers of glass, and a layer that has the ability to burn through to the second layer, then the top layer.  There’s not a lot of need for overburning with DVD-R DL, unless you have massive video files that must stay in one piece.

Next we have DVD5, or the typical DVD-R with 4.5GB of data space.  This is usually enough for most people.  However, if you are looking to make backups of your movies to keep your originals safe, I would recommend going with a Dual Layer disc for a pristine backup.  Using a program such as DVD Shrink, then burning the backup with a reliable burning software will get you a decent copy, but sometimes with an obvious loss in quality.  When it comes to data, you can typically get a good 4.5 – 4.7GB of storage on one of these, depending on which brand of media you buy.  I can’t say this enough, you get what you pay for.  Right now this is my mainstay when it comes to data backup.  I use these for everything.  Whenever my iTunes folder gets up to enough to fill up a DVD5 I always burn them off and stick the disc in a plastic case for safe keeping.  Music costs too much to let it get scratched in a vinyl case.  DVD5 is the most popular form of data backup at the moment, but I assume that BD-R will replace this over the next couple of years as prices continue to drop.

A little less used is the 1.4GB Mini DVD that is usually reserved for camcorders.  While most people wouldn’t find use for these for large data backups, they are perfect for those amounts of data that normally wouldn’t fit on a CD but are too small to fill up a DVD5.  I usually keep a couple of these around for when I miss an episode of a television show, all I have to do is download, convert, and burn.  A typical 45 minute show fits on these great.  Also some programs that I buy online come as instant downloads and are just over 1GB, so there you go.

And finally, the original burning media.  The classic CD-R. Capable of holding 702MB of data, 80 minutes of music, or 15 minutes of HD video.  Amazingly, this is still a popular format for the burning scene, as it’s the only media that most in-car disc players recognize.  And even though many players are now iPod compatible and have jacks for just about an auxillary add-on you could imagine, I don’t see CD-Rs going away any time soon.  They are still perfect for many levels of media backup, and most disc players now come with the ability to play MP3s directly from the disc.  On average, you can fit around 400 MP3s or more on a typical CD-R.  That makes for a lot of music during long trips without having to plug in your Zune or iPod.

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  1. Ellie K

    January 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Remember, this article WAS written in June 2009, so it isn't going to be perfect now, in nearly Feb 2012 ;)

    But this is what I'm still confused about: Is overburning a standard operating mode for some storage devices, just not recommended because of higher risk of damaging the media? OR Is overburning disks analogous to overclocking CPU? :S In other words, a DIY that might be done if the reliability risk to performance trade off is worth taking that chance? :S

  2. Gern

    January 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    The longest intro to a topic that I haver seen. SO long, in fact, that there must not have been room left for the topic. B)

  3. Not amused

    January 21, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    That was an excellent overburning guide. The only thing it was missing was an actual overburning guide.

    • ocmodshop

      January 22, 2012 at 12:24 am

      If this were a how-to article, it would have been in the "how-to" or "guides" section. This is an introduction about overburning for the uninformed.

  4. seriously

    July 4, 2011 at 2:48 am

    "Given that DVD5 media costs just under $1.00 per disc, and Dual Layer is a little pricier, you’re taking a 1-in-4 chance of ruining a disc and damaging a $75.00 burner permanently."

    How can attempting overburning/overburning ruin your burner?

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