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[ 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 using.
  • 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 recovering it.
  • 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.

Next: Compact Disks

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