Computer Guide

How good are the re-writable discs?

by George Skarbek - 12 December 2006

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Q: We backup our data files each day onto a DVD+RW disk. Recently, a computer technician advised us that there is a limit to the number of times you can rewrite to a rewritable DVD.  Is this true and, if so, how many is the limit?

All re-writable DVDs have a limit to the number of times they can be used but this limit varies and depends on the manufacturer but it is usually quoted as between 1,000 times up to 10,000 for premium products. Storage and handling can affect the life as well.

However there is no real guarantee that any given DVD will reach that limit and the DVD will usually fail without warning. There have been many reported instances of users not being able to retrieve their backup files due to the re-writeable DVD failure.

As the common write-once DVDs cost less then 40 cents in lots of 50, I do not use the re-writable media for my backups as my data is important to me.

I back up daily onto a USB drive that the manufacturer claims a life of 100,000 cycles and weekly onto a write-once DVD that is stored off-site and then discarded after a year or two.


Password managers

Q: I seem to be accumulating new passwords by the day. As they often say, one should change their passwords every few months. Are there any password managers you would recommend, both free and ones that are for sale? How secure are these programs?

There are very many password managers, both free and commercial and I have only looked at a couple of the free ones and they seemed to be quite secure.  A search on Google for “password manager” revealed over three million hits so you will have a wide range to choose from.

If you do not wish to trust these then you can use Excel but make sure that you use a password for that Excel file that is at least eight characters long and contains upper and lower case letters and a number other characters such as an {.

Q: I am using an external hard drive for backup (LaCie) and use the MS Automated System Recovery.  I never had to resort to this yet but I wonder if the worst happened would I be able to restore by replacing the failed HDD with a new one and the booting from the diskette (part of the process) And then run a restore?  Or should I use the Norton Ghost I also have.

As I have not used the Microsoft System Recovery I cannot give a definitive comment on its ability to fully restore the hard disk and its ability to back up open files.

My suggestion is that you use Ghost to create an image on the external drive as in this way you can be certain that the entire hard disk will be restored. With Ghost it is possible to make a bootable CD so that if the hard disk dies and has to be replaced, you will not have to install Windows first, but just boot on the CD and you should be able to restore from the image. However, you should test first to ensure that the boot CD will recognise the external hard disk.


Q: Whenever I go into Windows Explorer to organise files, they are all displayed as icons.  I want to change this setup so they always appear as Details. Can you tell me how, please?

Set your preferences on how you want your folders to appear on one typical folder and then apply this as the default setting for Explorer. Note that you can add more columns to the detailed view by clicking on View, Choose Details and also select the column width and the order of the columns.

When you are happy with the layout, apply this to all folders. This important second step is done from Tools, Folder Options, View and click on Apply to All Folders.

Freeing disk space after an operating system upgrade

Q: Earlier this year I upgraded to Windows XP Professional from Windows 98, and the computer is working OK. I want to free up some space on my hard drive - is it safe to delete the old Windows 98 system files?

Yes, it certainly is safe to delete these files as you are not likely to revert back to Windows 98.
Another very quick and easy way to free space is to reduce the size that the temporary Internet files consume as in some cases this is huge. A setting of about 10 MB is adequate. This is done from Internet Explorer, Tools, Internet Options, Temporary Internet Files, and Settings.


To look at the e-book in PDF format, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here