SuperChallenge on…Disc Resurfacing

SuperChallenge on…Disc Resurfacing

While there's a wealth of information available regarding optical media repair, it's crucial to distinguish between accurate facts and misleading opinions. To assist you in making informed decisions, we've decided to try to clarify some aspects and address a few common queries.

What is disc resurfacing?

Optical media discs take damage when treated improperly. Dirt and dust are usually easy enough to clear up with a decent disc-cleaning cloth and spray, but scratches and scuffs are not.

The process of disc resurfacing (also known as “buffing”, “polishing”, or “sanding”) involves re-levelling the shiny side of the disc. Several micron-thick layers of the disc’s protective polycarbonate substrate surface are buffed away until the surface is at the same level as the bottom of the deepest scratch. This causes the scratches to “disappear” and gives the disc surface a uniform look.

Fortunately, most scratches look a lot worse than they indeed are. Even the worst scratches are typically only a few thousandths of a millimetre deep.

Note: A standard DVD contains roughly 0.6 mm of protective plastic on either side of the data layer. One of our heavy repair cycles removes between 0.007mm and 0.015 mm of the plastic.

Disc thickness before repair work, gallery 01
Disc thickness after repair work, gallery 01

Why bother?

Damage to the surface of a disc can prevent the game from starting, cause crashes during play, or cause audio and video to skip.

Resurfacing a disc can remove all these issues and make the disc work like new. A resurfaced disc also looks nicer than one that looks like somebody has been using it to sharpen their kitchen knives.

Why are some people against disc resurfacing?

One common opinion is that resurfacing reduces a disc's lifespan. We aren’t scientists, so we can’t effectively argue that point. However, we have still-perfect discs that were resurfaced 25 years ago using far more aggressive methods than those available today, so we’d say that it isn’t something to worry about. How a disc is handled and stored has a more significant impact on its longevity than the resurfacing process.

Others don’t like resurfacing because it means the disc isn’t “original” anymore, as it has effectively been modified. The alternative is to leave the disc in a scratched and unplayable state, so…we’re not sure what they’d rather we do there.

Can I resurface a disc myself?

Yes, though it takes a fair amount of work, is risky, and the results are never as good as using professional-grade equipment.

We’ve seen people recommend using toothpaste, banana skins, plastic polish, and all manner of other slightly abrasive substances. We’re not saying these things can’t work, but your mileage will almost certainly vary wildly. Just don’t use Brasso. We know the disc looks like metal, but the surface isn’t metal. Please believe us.

Several budget (and not-so-budget) machines on the market promise to fix scratches at home. In our experience, if they manage to get a disc working again, they will most likely have introduced lovely stripes or circular defects to the surface. After all, these devices are usually nothing more than low-powered rotary sanders combined with a budget buffing compound which is closer to flour and water paste than a professional mix. We assure you that we’ve tried them all.

What are the limitations of disc resurfacing?

A machine can’t clean up scratches or damage to the ring at the centre of a disc. Fortunately, there’s no data there, so scratches won’t affect operation.

The data layer on a Blu-ray disc is much closer to the surface than on a CD or DVD, so the disc can only stand a limited amount of work before you start erasing the critical stuff. Fortunately, Blu-rays have a much tougher outer coating than DVDs to (hopefully!) prevent damage from occurring in the first place. We’ve saved many failing Blu-rays before, but there’s often only so much that can be done with them.

There are also some limitations to what can be done with standard DVDs and CDs. Cracks, chips, or holes in the disc can’t be repaired, and if the layers of a disc have started to separate, very little can be done there. Discs with manufacturing defects often can’t be saved, either.

Moreover, there is a limit to how many times a disc can be resurfaced. With that said, discs can handle way more resurfacing than a lot of people seem to think. We’ve seen claims that a disc can only be resurfaced once and that anything more will kill it. That may be true if you’re using coarse sandpaper for the job and then rinsing it off with gravel from your front yard, but not if you’re doing things the right way.

To prove the point, we took a factory-sealed copy of Game Works 3 for the Sega Saturn and put it through 10 iterations of our Extreme repair process. For reference, we have never had to run that process more than once on any disc. Out of the box, the disc was 1.202mm thick. The repeated work took off 0.147mm of the protective top layer - or just shy of a quarter of it. It still looks new, isn’t brittle, and plays flawlessly without audio or video skips. It would probably have survived several more iterations, but we got bored.

Repeat resurfacing test subject, gallery 02
Repeat resurfacing test subject before work, gallery 02
Repeat resurfacing test subject after work, gallery 02

Not that a disc should need to be resurfaced multiple times, of course. Once the damage the previous owner definitely caused has been repaired, you’re going to look after it properly, right?

Can resurfacing fix “disc rot”?

Not usually. But with no exaggeration, 90% of the time we see somebody claiming that their disc is affected by disc rot, they’re wrong. Disc rot is a thing, for sure. But it seems that somebody somewhere once said that any minor discolouration or imperfection is a sign of rot. Everybody else panicked, and now every other disc in the world is apparently now about 20 minutes from rotting into dust.

We can’t bear to think about how many games have been thrown away or given up on because the owner incorrectly decided that the discs were besieged with rot and couldn’t be saved. If you’re convinced your games have disc rot, don’t throw them away. Please send them to us. We will…erm…dispose of them responsibly for you. We’ll even deal with getting rid of the covers and the cases for you. Saves you a job, huh? We won’t even charge you because we’re cool like that.

Does every resurfaced disc end up looking like new?

Simply, no. Most do, and that’s the goal, but the most essential thing should ALWAYS be getting the disc to be 100% functional. If minor surface marks remain after the process is complete, then a judgement call must be made as to whether more work should be done to remove them. Also, scratches to the disc's centre ring (the bit containing no data) will not be cleaned up. Only the playing surface is attended to.

Doesn’t resurfacing throw out the drive’s laser focus length and cause a catastrophic failure?

We only include this question because we’ve seen multiple people state that this is a stone-cold fact and that discs should never EVER be resurfaced for this reason alone. They think that removing some of the disc’s plastic by resurfacing changes the distance between the laser and the disc’s data layer, which confuses the laser and causes it to spontaneously combust, killing us all. Or something.

It would be a fair point, but drives use magical engineering (we already said we aren't scientists...shush) to reposition and focus the laser. They have to be able to because whilst a standard DVD is supposed to be 1.2mm thick, not every disc matches those measurements straight from the factory. We’ve seen some brand-new discs measure up at a paltry 1.1mm. Others come in at 1.25mm and work without issue. Our test disc above was shaved down to 1.055mm and didn't have a problem. As mentioned previously, resurfacing is generally going to remove 0.015mm of polycarbonate at the very worst.

We're pretty confident in saying that the tolerances built into the drives mean that your console (and the wider world) can live without fear of being destroyed by a resurfaced copy of Muppets Party Cruise.

Does resurfacing work on black PS1 and blue PS2 discs?

Yes. And the colour remains the same.

Does resurfacing work on teeny-tiny GameCube discs?

Yes. And the teeny-tininess remains the same.

Are there any risks to resurfacing?

Yes. Discs can be warped, overworked, worked unevenly, or damaged further during resurfacing. Fortunately, these issues usually stem from a lack of skill or experience, poor judgement, or substandard/unmaintained equipment. The only time we’ve turned a working disc into a non-working one, it was done on purpose…for science!

How do SuperChallenge resurface discs?

Judging the damage is vital, so we start there. The “one size fits all” process that some companies use is not for us, nor is the “let’s throw 50 discs into a machine that costs as much as a small car and hope for the best” approach.

We check each disc and decide what needs to be done to fix it using as light a touch as possible to preserve as much protective material as possible. There’s no point in working on a disc that only has light scratches in the same way you would work on one that looks like somebody has been skating down the street on it.

We use a combination of three different professional-grade machines to achieve the best results based on the work that each disc requires. Based on the damage, we put the disc through either our Extreme, Heavy, Medium, Light, or Maintenance processes. If a disc is too far gone for our Extreme process, we'll ask permission from the disc owner before attempting our Hail Mary process. Hey, sometimes it even works!

We also use our own compound mixes and don’t even remotely follow the machine manufacturer’s instructions. All machine maintenance is performed in-house, our machines are cleaned frequently, and our processes were tweaked and experimented with until we were happy with the results.

No matter which processes we decide to use, each disc is finished with our top-secret finishing spray, hand-dried using towels usually reserved for preserving the wax on super-glossy show cars (yes, seriously), and tested on real hardware.

Many discs and machines have been sacrificed during our quest for greatness. We thank them for their service.

As well as preparing our own stock using these processes, we also offer a low-cost disc resurfacing service in the UK so that you can bring your collection up to...scratch. You can find out more about that via this link - SuperChallenge Disc Resurfacing Service.

The Results

Photographing the surface of CDs/DVDs is an absolute nightmare, but we’ve had a go anyway. Here are a couple of shots of discs that we’ve cleaned up recently, just as an example.

PS2 Blue Disc - Before, gallery 03
PS2 Blue Disc - After, gallery 03
Silver Disc - Before, gallery 03
Silver Disc - After, gallery 03
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