Debate: Discs vs Cartridges

Last week, I went over the debate over handhelds and consoles and talked about the strengths and weaknesses of each. One side’s strength is the other side’s weakness. Some people (like me) like the idea of playing video games anywhere, even out of town, more than playing exclusively at home. I’m the kind of guy who likes traveling. And I like to play games, even when I’m out of town. Other people prefer to play at home and play the games you would never see on a handheld. It’s also interesting that Nintendo fans like the handhelds more while Sony fans and Xbox fans like consoles more.

This week, I have gone over more about the games than the players, but it’s a little bit of both. Back when I was on Bell Tree Forums, I written a blog entry discussing how older game consoles are performing much better than newer game consoles when it comes to durability. I thought it has to do with how more data is being used at once due to advancement in technology, which uses a lot more energy. But I saw what else was causing the issue with durability, and this was the main cause. Someone left a comment on my blog entry that best explained the situation. It was more about the disc drive. What happens there is that discs were able to hold more memory than game cartridges while being much cheaper to produce. As a result, all future consoles relied solely on discs for cost effectiveness. However, this created a new problem. All future consoles stop working after years of continued usage. Disc players aren’t as durable while cartridge players appear to last a while. This subject, as well as one of the points in the blog entry from three weeks past, has inspired this debate. This is what we call Discs vs Cartridges.

There are nine issues where the discs and cartridges compete with each other. This time, I might even bring up Nintendo’s competitors, Sony and Microsoft. If you have noticed, even if Nintendo now uses discs, they still mass produce cartridges for their handhelds. They just don’t do it for their consoles anymore. But if durability becomes an issue, they might switch back to cartridges. Sony and Microsoft only went with other solutions to take care of their durability problem. But let’s put the durability issue aside until it’s that issue’s turn.

Issue # 1 – Data Size

The Discs vs Cartridges debate begins with the data size of each game unit. Nintendo began all the way back to the NES, a very large console that played cartridges. Back then, cartridges were like only four megabytes maximum. For the longest time, Nintendo only went with cartridges. It wasn’t until recent times when they started using discs. Sony, on the other hand, started out with discs. Their first discs were 650 megabytes. It appears that discs can hold more memory than cartridges. The more data there is in one disc or cartridge, the more that can be stored. But when less data is used, performance is much better. Third Party developers prefer more data to build their games on, and it seems that Nintendo isn’t friendly towards third party developers. Because of how small the cartridges were, third party developers either have to shrink down their games or not make the games available for Nintendo at all. The latter is usually taken, and that’s why Nintendo 64’s library is pretty small, compared to its successors’ and Playstation 1’s libraries. Starting sixth generation, all consoles used discs because cartridges can’t hold much data.

Over time, cartridges have improved in size. 3DS cartridges can hold up to 8192 megabytes, or 8 gigabytes. At the same time, discs were also made to hold more data. So throughout the whole time, discs can hold more data than cartridges can. Opening last week’s debate, that is why console games are bigger than handhelds. The handheld systems can only support cartridges while consoles can support both discs and cartridges.

So what wins this issue? Since discs can hold more than cartridges, a better capacity means better scores. Winner: Discs; Loser: Cartridges.

Issue #2 – Production Costs

This issue is not going to have much information, but here are the facts. Another reason why consoles don’t play cartridges anymore is because of the costs of production. What happens here is that discs appear to be a lot cheaper to mass produce than game cartridges. I wouldn’t be surprised because cartridges are tough to build while discs are an instant copy and paste when they are produced.

It appears that game cartridges aren’t very cost effective at all. They are more expensive to mass produce copies that don’t hold as much data as the discs, even after years of improvement over data size. For that reason, all future gaming consoles followed this format and never went back to cartridges. Even I would prefer to spend less to get more. Winner: Discs; Loser: Cartridges.

Issue #3 – System Durability

Now we are in the discussion on durability of the system that plays the games. So we know that discs are more cost effective (cheaper with more memory) than even the most advanced cartridges, but does that make them any better?

It appears that the disc players are worse than cartridge players when it comes to durability. The problem here is that disc players stop working after continued years of usage. The spinning mechanisms, laser readers, and the ability to accept and eject use a lot more energy. They are prone to overheating, and they aren’t as easy to replace like a desktop CD player. An interesting fact about machinery is that the lifespan is based upon usage, not hours of existence. Because lasers use a lot of energy, and moving parts can only move so much, the disc drive won’t last as long. It may live up to only five years or ten years, depending on how well it was made. We may all know about the infamous Red Ring of Death. However, that has to do with the faults in the production. The PlayStation 3 has the Yellow Light of Death. Although not as common, it may get there after five years of ownership or more. Even the Wii is not doing as well as its predecessors. Although they have the lowest failure rate out of the three (and the most units sold out of the three), switching to the disc format sure has caused a negative impact on durability. Another issue related to the durability issue is the type of discs used. Blu-ray players burn a lot faster and a lot hotter than DVD players.

Cartridge players, on the other hand, have a better grade in durability. The cartridges and players can be played for so long until they ultimately break down, possibly at 40 to 50 years. This is even true to battery-consuming handhelds. I’ve been hearing a lot of stories about how some people still have functional-working NES systems, which were a thing of the 80’s. Nintendo 64 is about to turn 20, and plenty of owners still have functional N64s. Cartridge readers don’t produce a lot of heat, and there are no moving parts. It’s like placing a piece of metal on a microchip. They don’t move, but they read the information just like disc players.

So that is the full story about durability. Disc players, which can play the more cost-effective games, don’t last as long as cartridge players, which don’t use much energy to read a lot of data at once. However, a busted up disc drive doesn’t mean the console is unplayable anymore. You can still download games from the Xbox Live Marketplace and the PSN Store, depending on what you have. However, that doesn’t make durability any better, which adds one more reason why the Nintendo 64 and newer handhelds are better than the newer consoles. Winner: Cartridges; Loser: Discs.

Issue #4 – Game Speed

The next issue is about how fast games load. It is true that cartridges and discs load at different speeds. The more data there is to read, the longer the times. But the loading times may differ based on the reader information.

The disc players take a while to read information from the discs. They are a lot bigger, and the laser can read only one sector of a disc at a time. This makes loading times longer, which is not good for gamers who have trouble with short-term patience. The worst game I ever played when it came to loading times is Little Big Planet 3. You literally have to wait at least five minutes to swap between levels, go to hub, or bring in a new character. I think it has to do something with the game since LBP2 didn’t take this long at all, but all the disc games I played took a while to load up. Although five minutes doesn’t sound long, it’s pretty long for a loading time, especially if there’s not much data to read.

Just thinking about how slow the N64 games were in comparison to the PS3 games, I don’t even remember waiting awhile for the next scene to load. Cartridge games do have loading times, but I don’t remember waiting five seconds or more to get to the next scene. Even Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer had a few negligible loading times before. This shows that cartridge players and cartridge games are a lot better when it came to loading times.

So who wins this round? Obviously not the disc players. Despite being more cost effective, they don’t seem to last very long, and they load slowly. Cartridge players, on the other hand, last a lot longer after years of continued usage, and can load games very quickly. LBP3 has been criticized for many reasons, and loading times are one of them. ACHHD was also not very popular, but at least loading times are pretty short. Winner: Cartridges; Loser: Discs.

Issue #5 – Space Efficiency

The next issue is based on how much space discs and cartridges take up in real life. This is a short, but easy debate. It appears that the newer cartridges save more physical space since they are smaller. They can even fit in smaller cases. But at least discs use up more space inside their cases, which reduces wasted space in video game cases. Winner: Tied; Loser: Tied.

Issue #6 – Susceptibility to Piracy

We spent a while on the main advantages and disadvantages of the discs and cartridges, more particularly durability and speed versus cost effectiveness, so let’s move to another issue, how open they are to piracy.

Like said before, it is cheaper to mass produce CDs, but only because it’s a lot easier. However, this has another weakness. When you first watch a movie (whether or not it’s the first time), an FBI warning appears on screen. It tells you the consequences of making copies of movies and selling them for profit, which is highly illegal. They can only be mass produced by the producers or publishers. Consumers are not authorized, so they can’t do this without getting in trouble. This is true even if the movie or game is out of print, discontinued, not yet distributed, or outlawed by the state, nation, or company that made the movie/game/tv show, or whatever it is.

The reason why this is illegal is because if media pirates made them free or cost less money for other consumers, the companies that made them would lose a lot of money. Demand is higher when prices are lower. It’s just as bad if someone makes money off of illegal copies as it is to distribute for free. One way shows that someone is making money, but the company that made them won’t make money for the credit they deserved. The other shows that nobody is making anything at all, and that’s stealing.

Despite having tough laws against piracy, not everybody would follow the law. Disc copies of video games, TV shows, and movies are easy to mass produce by the developers or publishers, but they are also easy to mass produce by media pirates. Video game cartridges are difficult or impossible to mass produce by pirates. In fact, cartridge production is harder in general. It requires adding parts to the chips, adding data to them, and adding plastic coverage to keep it more resilient. That would mean the expenses of production would be worse with the producers, but at least they’re immune (or mostly immune) to piracy.

So do we have a winner? Yes we do. It appears that cartridges aren’t open to piracy due to their difficulty in mass production while discs are in trouble here. Winner: Cartridges; Loser: Discs.

Issue #7 – Resistance to Breaking

This is a short one, but what if you want to snap a copy of a game apart or shatter it into bits? We don’t want to do that, but here’s the hint. Cartridges are not just microchips. They are microchips covered by plastic to prevent electrocution or touching rough surfaces. The plastic hides the microchip, so we can see what we play while the player reads the info. Discs are more vulnerable though. With no protection, you need to be careful when holding a disc. And what if you see one on the floor? Watch where you step. Discs can break a lot easily. Winner: Cartridges; Loser: Discs.

Issue #8 – Resistance to Data Corruption

One thing that kills a game digitally is data corruption. If your game data was corrupted, then either you have to start over everything or you can’t play your game. For games like Animal Crossing, data corruption is a much bigger deal, especially if you had more hours of work. And corruption stories are a lot more common.

Although data can be saved on a game copy, it’s actually stored onto the memory card or internal memory. Discs can’t hold any part of the data you save. They only hold the game. Cartridges can hold the data you save too. Since newer cartridges are getting thinner and due to the increasing security made by the publishers against hacking devices like Action Replay, cartridges are more vulnerable to data corruption.

If there’s a scratch on a disc, or if there’s dust or anything, it won’t hurt the game. It’ll just hurt the copy, as this may force you into buying a new disc. If there’s a scratch on the microchip of a cartridge, or if there’s dirt, it might hurt the game. Once your data is corrupted, it’s gone. This is why you should take good care of your cartridges. Discs you should do the same, but I’m more serious about the cartridges.

So discs are more vulnerable to breaking, but less vulnerable to data corruption. Winner: Discs; Loser: Cartridges.

Issue #9 – Faults in the Physical Copy

The last issue is to talk about how the discs and cartridges can impact the console. The thing with cartridges is that they are exposed to live wires while discs are only on spinning parts. If there’s a fault in the disc, it will only damage the disc, not the console. You’ll just need to get a new disc. With cartridges however, if any static discharge occurs, not only the cartridge is damaged, but the entire handheld or console will be damaged too. This is very ironic to the main issues because of how disc players, especially Blu-ray players, are bad at durability since they burn so easily, but a defective copy does no more damage to the system than the cartridge. Winner: Discs; Loser: Cartridges.


That’s all for the nine issues. Throughout the entire debate, we all know that discs are more cost effective than cartridges, which is why they dominate the modern consoles. They are cheaper to mass produce, and they can hold more data than cartridges. They also don’t create as bad of an impact towards the console when it comes to faults in the copy or data corruption. A defective disc can’t destroy the console, and it’s not very likely to be corrupted. But cartridges have their own advantages. Cartridge players load a lot faster, and they are more durable due to less parts needed to read the system. Plus, they can’t be mass produced by pirates, nor could they be broken very easily.

But what is your opinion? Do you like to play games that are more invulnerable to corruption and system shock, or would you play games that load faster and last longer? It’s your call, but here is my opinion.

I honestly prefer cartridges more because although I like some of the new games, I prefer playing older games more. After hearing about many stories on the Red Ring of Death and how the Nintendo 64 still works, I prefer to play games that last longer. It’s all about childhood memories.

But to be more serious based on the issues I picked, durabilitiy would be my main issue. I had short-lasting electronic devices before, and I like longer-lasting devices. I noticed that cell phones with advanced upgrades die faster than cell phones with no upgrades. Cartridges may be better on the durability issue, but discs had their good intentions. Regardless of what you pick, there will always be problems. Even the most durable systems don’t last forever. However, I never bumped into the fatal flaws of either player. I still think durability is important. Even Nintendo thinks durability is more important than powerful hardware.

And the winner of this debate is:


Feel free to comment. I would love to see your opinions on what you like better.


One thought on “Debate: Discs vs Cartridges

  1. You DO of course realize that PSP used discs, and it was a handheld, so it’s not always true that cartridges are for handhelds only. Nintendo is the only one who retains the cartridge format, unless you count SD cards, then for that matter, the handhelds would thrash discs, since I have yet to see a disc in the terabyte level like micro SD cards have now reached. That’s another story though, for that matter since a disc has to spin, there are always going to be bigger discs than cartridges, as the micro SD cards show, you don’t have anything moving then those things can get ludicrous in small size- like grain of sand small!!!


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