What is a Tape Drive?

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen

There are many ways to back up computer data. One of the easiest and most efficient is the tape drive. This is a device which uses a magnetic tape to store computer data. The tapes used in the drive are about the size of a large pack of gum and are fairly sturdy. The drive itself can be built into the computer or used as an external component.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

A tape drive is primarily used to back up important information from a computer. The tapes come in a variety of sizes, from the 20-80 GB range for home users and single computer office use, to hundreds of gigabytes and even into the terabytes (approximately 1000 gigabytes) for large servers and entire networks of computers.

Tape drives can be used manually or set to automatic operation. One for a personal computer comes with software that allows the user to easily perform a number of actions. It can be used to backup individual files, folders, entire drives, or the contents of the whole computer. Of course, the most important operation is the ability to restore any data which is lost or damaged. The drive software allows the user to restore any or all of the saved files with the push of a button.

The benefits of using tape drives for backup include their reliability, ease of use, and automatic backup capability. The tapes are fairly sturdy, although they can be damaged by magnets, heat, and liquids. A tape is simply inserted into the drive, and after a few moments, it is ready to back up or restore data. The software included with the drives is usually very easy to use and understand. The tapes can be set to backup during the evening or over a lunch break while the computer is not in use.

There are some disadvantages of tape drives. They require human intervention, the tapes themselves can be expensive, and the backup can take a long time. Tape drives, unlike an online backup service or backing up to a network computer, require a person to periodically put in a new tape and put the old tape in a secure location. If someone leaves the drive empty, it cannot make a backup.

While writable CDs or DVDs can cost about one US dollar (USD) each and many computers come with CD or DVD writing drives, a tape drive and several tapes can cost almost as much or sometimes more than the computer itself. Backing up a personal computer to a drive can also take several hours to complete. There are many types and sizes of drives, internal and external, small to large storage size. The costs and benefits are different for each computer user, but anyone with a tape drive will tell you that the peace of mind that comes with having safe, backed up data is priceless.

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen

Jeff is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist who earned his B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Creighton University. Based in Berkeley, California, Jeff loves putting his esoteric knowledge to good use as a EasyTechJunkie contributor.

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Discussion Comments


I remember when cassette tape drives were used to load computer programs. That was the first drive available for home computers. Our TRS-80s at school had tape drives.

My workplace also backs up our servers on tape drives. They're better than nothing, for sure, but it's slow going to restore a drive from them!

It was a big day when we graduated to five-inch floppy disks and then three-inch disks. Then we got CDs and finally, flash drives, which are universally wonderful.

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