Vintage Computers — 11

One reason I began this vintage computer journey was to restore files from quarter inch cartridge (QIC) backup tapes.

For many years the tape cartridges were used for backups. The original tape drive was a Conner. While still possessing that drive there is no name plate data to identify the model number. Based on online pictures I am guessing possibly a model 11250N or similar. The drive used QIC-80 DC2120 mini-cartridges. Uncompressed storage space was about 120 MB although extended (XL) cartridges held about 170 MB.

To provide more storage capacity that drive was replaced with a Colorado T3000. The T3000 used cartridges capable of storing 1.6 GB of data or 3.2 GB compressed.

After buying the then-new Pentium I system running Windows NT4, all data files on the 486 E: partition were moved to the equivalent partition on the NT4 hard disk. Backups with the new system were performed with a removable hard drive tray and external hard disk. Thereafter there was no need for the tape backups.

Some years later when I tinkered with dual booting Slackware 11.0, I replaced the tape drive with a CD-ROM drive.

I wrote no notes about this transition and my memory about the event is as crisp as an old dog on a hot August afternoon.

With my updated floppy disk image archive I knew I had a Colorado installation floppy disk. I also had a QICStream floppy disk. That latter floppy disk probably came with the original Conner tape drive. Both floppy disks are 720 KB.

Reviewing the CONFIG.SYS provided no clues about the original tape drive configuration.

I presumed I had deleted the CONFIG.SYS tape drive configuration when I added the CD reader. To access the tape cartridges I needed to restore that configuration. I still had the T3000 dead tree user manual.

These smaller tape drives were connected to floppy drive controllers. The manual mentions a special floppy drive cable that was packaged with the drive. The original floppy drive controller chips could support up to four floppy drives. The industry standard became two drives starting with the Pentium era when a single connector was embedded directly on mainboards. Before those days, and in the day I bought the 486, separate I/O boards were used to connect peripheral devices. On my 486 that was an MIO-400KF All-In-One Input/Output Board, to which I still had the dead tree manual.

I found no such cable in the junk collection.

I removed the case cover from the 486. I found the cable still connected to the 3.5 and 5.25 inch floppy disks. Unused on the cable were two floppy disk drive connectors. Seems I removed the tape drive, installed the CD reader, and did nothing more.

I wondered if there ever was a device configuration in CONFIG.SYS. Another reason I wondered is noticing related Norton Backup configuration files. I have no memory of using the tape drives only in DOS. I began to think the only configuration was directly in the Norton Backup utility.

In the day I used the Norton Backup to backup the system to the tape cartridges. My memory is fuzzy, but I remember the backups not consuming a horrible amount of time. I recall the software working well and recovering files to be straightforward. Decent software. I still remember the hum and whir of the tape drive.

Launching Norton Backup revealed some backup catalogs remained intact. The last tape backups were performed December 1999. The Norton Backup configuration showed I stored catalogs on the tapes as well as on the system hard disk. That meant I might be able to retrieve catalogs directly from the tapes.

The tape cartridges have since been sitting idle but free of an adverse environment, sunlight, magnetism, etc. The backup tapes have remained stored in the original plastic storage containers. Considering my overwhelming success with archiving floppy disk images, I was optimistic about reading the tapes.

Were the tapes readable after these many years?

More to come.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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