[ The PC Guide | System
Care Guide | System Care: Protecting Your PC | Care of Media ]
Tape cartridges are magnetic media and so are subject to many of the same care
requirements as floppy disks. Having been developed later, they have many more protective
features built into them, however, to reduce the probability of problems. For example,
almost all tapes have sliding covers to protect the actual tape media, and are built with
solid protective housings that make them mostly immune to bending and flexing.
The following are general care guidelines for tape cartridges:
- Temperature: Tapes should not be subjected to temperatures exceeding about 120
degrees Fahrenheit. At high temperatures, such as when left in direct sunlight in a car
during the summer, the tape runs the risk of warping or melting. Also, since the tape is
very thin and is wound on a reel, there is the chance of adjacent layers of tape sticking
together. Like floppies, they can be subjected to very low temperatures, but they should
be allowed to acclimate to room temperature before
- Contact: The actual tape surface should never be touched; only the external case
should be handled. Handling the surface where the data is actually recorded will lead to
premature failure of the tape, by introducing dirt and oil into the data area. This will
also contribute to dirt buildup on the read/write heads. Most tape cartridges are
protected by protective devices to ensure that the tape itself is never contacted.
- Moisture: Water is deadly for tapes, if it gets inside the cartridge. If the
exterior package gets wet, it can be dried off without any problems. If the tape spool
inside the cartridge becomes saturated with anything other than water, the tape is almost
certainly ruined, since the tape will stick together when it dries. If it is water, the
tape is still probably ruined, for the same reason, but you have a bit more of a chance at
- Magnetic Fields: Tapes store their data in the form of magnetic fields, so
the data is susceptible to loss if the disk is exposed to magnetic interference. Tapes are
less susceptible to this damage than floppy disks, in my experience, but they are still
vulnerable. The most common sources of magnetic field exposure is contact or long-term
proximity to regular, permanent magnets, such as those found in home appliances, and
especially, home stereo speakers (not computer speakers that are shielded to prevent
magnetic radiation). Magnetic tapes should also never be stored near monitors; their
degaussing circuits are designed to demagnetize the monitor and will also demagnetize any
tapes that are in the vicinity.
- Flexibility: Tapes have virtually no tolerance for flexing. The data is written
on thin, parallel tracks along the thickness of the tape, and if the tape becomes
misaligned, it is ruined. This is one reason why most tapes are enclosed in very rigid
cases, many in fact using an aluminum plate for maximum stability.
- Dust and Dirt: Tapes are read by direct contact with the tape heads, so they are
sensitive to dirt contamination much as floppy disks are. In practice, however, the
problem is usually much less pronounced for tapes, probably because they are better
enclosed in their jackets, and are transported less often.
- Cleaning: Tapes (except for their outside surfaces) cannot generally be cleaned
effectively. In most cases, tapes are used for backup and they should be reliable.
- Airport X-Ray Machines: Magnetic tapes are not adversely affected by X-ray machines at airports...
See this section on media and storage life.
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