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Thread: 9-track magnetic tape unit maintenance and operation?

  1. #11

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    Very timely thread created here. I acquired a 9-track Cipher tape drive from a co-worker several years ago. I don't recall the model number off-hand, but it looks very much like this unit. It's been in mothball since then, because I never had any hardware to interface it to nor any software to drive it. Stumbled over it in storage a couple of weeks ago, and have been thinking I would pull it out and fire it up again and get on this forum to see if anyone has any PC interface hardware and/or software.

    The cable looks like it has a SCSI interface. The document cache on bitsavers.org has a ton of info on how to create an interface cable, so may add this to my list of projects.

    I have a couple of 9-track tapes in a closet from college days. They're mid-70's vintage, so could have the problems that Chuck G. mentions. No idea on the widths. Would share one, but they (hopefully) still have content I'd like to preserve. Also, they haven't been used in 35 years, so hardly "known good" specimens.

    Would be a hoot to browse the contents of those time capsules!
    Last edited by normanator; September 12th, 2019 at 07:37 AM.
    “The Bex religious impulse does have its collective side. As in, collect everything and hold on to it whether you remember where it came from or not.”
    —Alberto Fossa, Privateer 2

  2. #12
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    1/2" mag tape is governed by ANSI specs--at least in the matter of width, they're all the same.

    Bake them before you read them. Also clean them, if you have access to a cleaner.

    It's no big deal to read 50+ year old tapes. It's really amazing how durable they are, even when infested with mold.
    Last edited by Chuck(G); September 12th, 2019 at 08:48 AM.

  3. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck(G) View Post
    ...

    Does Athana still have tapes in stock? They did, as of a couple of months ago.

    http://athana.com/html/ctape.html
    My eyes!! That website looks as old as the tapes they are selling. Every page on the site is a new adventure. Haha. I'll have to give them a call and see what the prices are, since they don't show pricing except to say the minimum order is $100 (ouch). They list "re-certified tapes", and it would be nice to have one that I know is good so I can get on with testing / fixing any problems.

    I wonder how you clean tapes off of the tape unit?


    Quote Originally Posted by normanator View Post
    ... because I never had any hardware to interface it to nor any software to drive it. ...

    The cable looks like it has a SCSI interface. ...
    If your tape unit has a SCSI interface, then just pick up a computer with SCSI built in (I have a SunBlade 2000 in the Market Place section of the forum that has SCSI built-in), or pick up an Adaptec 2940 on ebay. SCSI cables of all kinds are cheap on ebay too, just identify the connector type you need and do some searching (and make sure you pick up a terminator). That should take care of the hardware.

    As for the software, I have not messed with that part yet, but I totally expect to be able to read/write data on my tape with Unix (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, a Linux distro, etc.) utilities like "tar" (actually going to use it to write a *tape* for the first time!) or other such commands that were designed to work with tape. Maybe I'm wrong about this part, but I don't think (hope) software will be a problem.

    Quote Originally Posted by normanator View Post
    I have a couple of 9-track tapes in a closet from college days. They're mid-70's vintage, so could have the problems that Chuck G. mentions. No idea on the widths. Would share one, but they (hopefully) still have content I'd like to preserve. ...
    Thanks, but I have enough *questionable* tapes now. You should hang on to yours and try to read the data off of them once you get your drive up and running. I would suggest getting a known good tape from somewhere (like I'm trying to do now) so you will have a way to run the diagnostics on your drive once it is running. The diagnostics will overwrite whatever is on a tape, so you will want one specifically for running the tests.

    If your unit is like mine, you can run diagnostic tests from the front panel without needing to have the drive connected to a computer. I won't even bother trying to control mine from a computer until it passes the diagnostics tests without error codes.

    Here are a few photos of the one I have. It is branded "Bull" on the front, but the firmware via the SCSI interface identifies the unit as a "CDC 92185 Streaming Tape Unit". Inside there is a label from the CDC/Philips Joint Venture "Laser Magnetic Storage International", and under that label it is a 92181. Poor thing is a physical manifestation of an identity crisis, I mean how many model numbers and names can one tape drive have??
    stu1.jpgstu2.jpg

  4. #14

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    Nice! Where/how did you stumble upon it?

    Quote Originally Posted by matthew180 View Post
    If your tape unit has a SCSI interface, then just pick up a computer with SCSI built in
    I just acquired a Sun UltraSparc 10 with Solaris 2.6 still loaded up and running. Was wondering what to do with it, and now perhaps I've found its purpose. I downloaded the manuals from bitsavers.org and browsed through the diag procedures. Will drag out the unit and crank up the onboard diagnostics at least as soon as my daily workload allows. It's a Cipher M990, which is a horizontal front load unit. Size and shape of a large 60 gallon cooler. I don't have a picture of my actual unit, but here's a sketch from the manual.
    M990.JPG

    Quote Originally Posted by matthew180 View Post
    Poor thing is a physical manifestation of an identity crisis, I mean how many model numbers and names can one tape drive have??
    “The Bex religious impulse does have its collective side. As in, collect everything and hold on to it whether you remember where it came from or not.”
    —Alberto Fossa, Privateer 2

  5. #15
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    You're expecting newly-manufactured tapes today? Offhand, I'd say that the market is very small.

    I wonder how you clean tapes off of the tape unit?
    You use a tape cleaner/certifier machine. Mine is equipped with a tungsten carbide blade that could neatly sever fingers from your hand, a vacuum pickup and various features, such as leader measurement. (In the old days, if a tape started to get errors, it was usually on the front end; so you simply discarded a hundred feet or so and attached a new BOT marker). I use isopropanol to clean the junk from the cleaner surfaces; in the old days it would have been Freon TF.

    I've also got a gizmo that adds a film of cyclomethicone for the really sticky tapes.

    They're not common on used market, but they do come up from time to time for sale. Exempli gratia
    Last edited by Chuck(G); September 17th, 2019 at 09:46 AM.

  6. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck(G) View Post
    I use isopropanol to clean the junk from the cleaner surfaces; in the old days it would have been Freon TF.
    Thanks. This was going to be my next question. The Tech manual for this drive says to use Florochloro-whatsy-who to clean the heads, but as you mention it's Freon based and long gone. My unit will definitely need cleaning before I put any tapes in it, so good to know what works in today's environment (pun intended).

    As matthew180 says, I should try to get my hands on a test tape reel before putting in my data-laden ones.

    Question for you, ChuckG: My tapes were written under CMS on an IBM 370 mainframe back in 1979/80. No idea of the write density or data format. Was the actual data format standard back in that day? Meaning, did IBM have proprietary data block formats or such back in that day? This is way way down the road after I get the tape drive working and successfully hooked up to something. Just wondering.
    “The Bex religious impulse does have its collective side. As in, collect everything and hold on to it whether you remember where it came from or not.”
    —Alberto Fossa, Privateer 2

  7. #17
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    Probably 1600 PE; 6250 was a bit more common later. As to data format, that was mostly under program control.

    That's the wonderful thing about tapes--other than (optional on some systems) standard header and trailer records (e.g. VOL, HDR, EOF, EOF etc.) there weren't really any standards. Here's a reference on current standards. The difference is that instead of ASCII, S/370 would be EBCDIC.

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