The History of Tape

The History of Tape through the ages

We have been closely associated with tape since and this page covers the history of tape and where it stands today.

The first major data storage breakthrough came in the early 1950’s with the widespread adoption of half-inch tape coated in Oxide. These tapes were wound on a 7, 8.5 or 10.5 inch open reels and were 300/600/1,200/2,400/3,600 or 4,800 feet in length. The open reel tape heads used were 7-track, 8-track or 9-track, it was the 9-track that finally became the de-facto standard as these were adopted by IBM. Many of the early open reel tape drives were vacuum column controlled and had sophisticated tension and spring arms to take up the slack tape when it was running at full speed and had a BOT (Beginning of Tape) and EOT (End of Tape) marker.

The amount of data that could be stored on tape was anything from 2MB – 220MB using a 6250bpi GCR machine. The tape densities were 200/556/800/1600/3200/6250 bpi, although the most common were 800/1600.

Open reel tape was able to store a far larger amount of data than was previously possible. The half-inch tapes persisted right up until the mid 80’s when they were replaced with cartridge tapes.

Fast forward to today and the modern cartridge tape technology that won out is LTO tape (Linear Tape Open) originally developed by IBM, HP and Seagate (latterly Quantum who purchased the rights from Seagate). The highest capacity LTO tape in use is LTO-5 and this holds a tape that is 846m long, 12.65mm wide and writes 16 tracks per pass and needs 80 passes to write a full tape making 1,280 tracks. An LTO-5 tape holds 1.5TB native with a transfer rate of 140MB/s. The roadmap for LTO tape goes through to LTO-8 storing 12.8TB’s.

Below are some of the tape companies that once existed and are no more or have moved on to offer alternatives.

Exabyte 8mm Wangtek WangDAT / QIC Tecmar DAT / QIC / Travan
Colorado Memory Systems DC2000 Iomega Ditto / QIC / Travan Ecrix 8mm / VXA
Conner Peripherals DAT / QIC Archive Corp DAT / QIC Maynard QIC
Cipher Data 1/2″, QIC Irwin Magnetics QIC Anritsu 1/2″
Perkin Elmer 1/2″ Memorex 1/2″ DEC DLT
Sony AIT Kennedy 1/2″ Ampex 1/2″
Control Data 1/2″ Digi Data 1/2″ Fujitsu 1/2″
Pertec 1/2″ Qualstar 1/2″ Wangco 1/2″
M4 Data 1/2″ / DLT Graham Magnetics 1/2″ Quantum DLT

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