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Thread: Skeptical about tape drives

  1. #1

    Default Skeptical about tape drives

    I'm not sure if i'm convinced that tape drives are as reliable as they claim. I've never used them but it physically looks like the same technology as a VHS tape or cassette tape which we all know will degrade in quality with time, and the tape itself can be subject to the elements. I sometimes see old tape drives in the donated computers that are given to me, but those are 20+ year old models, so who knows how much better reliable tape drive technology has come since then.

  2. #2
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    Tape is nowhere near as fragile as most people think it is. VHS and Compact Cassettes suffer from the same problem as 8-track cartridges. The market was flooded with cheaper than cheap tapes and players, so we blame the format. Good quality tapes in good quality tape drives are pretty decent.

  3. #3

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    So a videocassette format that won't degrade over time like VHS is actually possible? Wow.. That would be so much nicer than having to worry about carrying around DVDs that scratch, or a digital download that could be a lower quality, compressed, pixelated video file and you risk losing it if your storage drive fails or the cloud goes down.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by computerdude92 View Post
    So a videocassette format that won't degrade over time like VHS is actually possible? Wow.. That would be so much nicer than having to worry about carrying around DVDs that scratch, or a digital download that could be a lower quality, compressed, pixelated file and you risk losing it if your storage drive fails or the cloud goes down.
    In a previous job, we had HP tapes and HP drives that were well used but still very reliable.

  5. #5
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    Good tapes only wear out if overused.

    I have VHS tapes that I recorded over twenty years ago which still play like new.

  6. Default

    Part of it depends upon the coding scheme, but if stored properly, cassette tapes themselves are quite long lasting. I've successfully read data from a number of cassette tapes that were written in the mid to late 70s.

    The drives themselves age less well and often need replacement/refurbished rubber drive wheels and belts.

    regards,
    Mike Willegal

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    Magnetic tape, if stored correctly, is quite robust. It's the other stuff (e.g., in the case of QIC drive, capstans and tension bands) that spoils the picture. I've processed 1/2" tapes in excess of 50 years old. Recently, I was hunting for some old bit of software and was surprised pleasantly that both the 8mm and DDS tapes made during the early 90s were perfectly readable. (But I didn't find what I was looking for).

    Another trap is backup software. You'd think that tapes made with a Microsoft program called NTBACKUP under Windows NT 4 would be readable by later versions of the program on 2K and XP. Nope. MS apparently didn't believe in backward compatibility when designing backup programs. I finally had to resort to booting NT 4 to get my data. Some third-party software (e.g. Sytos) can be not only platform and OS-specific, but also hardware (i.e. tape drive and interface) specific. So don't toss your old copy of Trantor TMATE...

  8. #8
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    One of the important things about tape storage is that the tape drives themselves don't need to be especially reliable in terms of longevity, because you can substitute one drive for another without loss of data. The key requirements are:

    1. writing drive can write the tape reliably
    2. tape can store the data reliably
    3. reading drive can read the tape reliably

    The tape is the only part that's common to all three steps, so the most important thing is to use good quality tapes. It's less important to use good quality drives because those can be replaced, but of course you will want good quality drives anyway because unreliable drives are a nuisance to work with and who wants to create extra work for themselves swapping or repairing drives?

    Another key benefit of tape storage is that the tapes are more resistant to data loss. While you shouldn't drop a tape cartridge on a concrete floor, if it happens you're less likely to have a problem than if you drop a hard disk.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck(G) View Post
    Magnetic tape, if stored correctly, is quite robust. It's the other stuff (e.g., in the case of QIC drive, capstans and tension bands) that spoils the picture. I've processed 1/2" tapes in excess of 50 years old. Recently, I was hunting for some old bit of software and was surprised pleasantly that both the 8mm and DDS tapes made during the early 90s were perfectly readable. (But I didn't find what I was looking for).

    Another trap is backup software. You'd think that tapes made with a Microsoft program called NTBACKUP under Windows NT 4 would be readable by later versions of the program on 2K and XP. Nope. MS apparently didn't believe in backward compatibility when designing backup programs. I finally had to resort to booting NT 4 to get my data. Some third-party software (e.g. Sytos) can be not only platform and OS-specific, but also hardware (i.e. tape drive and interface) specific. So don't toss your old copy of Trantor TMATE...
    I should send you my tapes, I couldn't get any of my old backups to restore anything and one of them completely destroyed itself. Sigh. Appear to be mostly Qic tapes and as you mentioned, I have no idea how or what I used to back most of them up. One of them I was sure was iomega but that wouldn't even restore. Eventually gave up.
    -- Brian

    Working Retro PC's: Apple IIe/II+, Atari 800, Atari 520STFM, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga 3000, Commodore SX-64, IBM PS/1 2121-B82, Kaypro II, Tandy 1000 SX, TI-99/4A, TRS-80 Model 4 GA

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    Be warned that I charge a premium for old QIC tape recovery. I dislike doing it and success is not assured.

    I don't know if 3M ever intended QIC as an archival (as opposed to backup) medium.

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