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This magnetic tape drive can store way more data than you’d imagine

Published Aug 2nd, 2017 4:22PM EDT
magnetic tape storage
Image: IBM

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The hard drive in your computer right now — or even your smartphone, for the matter — absolutely dwarfs the storage drives of just a decade ago. The relentless march of technology ensures that digital devices require more and more space to hold growing libraries of music, movies, and photos, and a new breakthrough in data storage by IBM and Sony promises to make your current hard drive feel completely inadequate. The only catch is that it uses a storage technique that you probably thought was long dead: magnetic tape. 

The partnership between IBM and Sony has resulted in a new type of magnetic tape storage capable of holding 201 gigabits of data per square inch. That’s roughly 25 gigabytes, which might sound rather unimpressive when your iPhone can be outfitted with as much as 256 GB, but keep in mind that this is tape. When you take that storage density and apply it to a length of 1,098 meters you’re left with a cartridge capable of storing an insane 330 terabytes of data.

Magnetic tape data storage dates back to the 1950s, and its cutting-edge status lasted for several decades. It continued to be used in enterprise applications and for data archiving and long term storage ever since, but its viability in the consumer space essentially evaporated.

This new tape format won’t change that thanks to its cost and relatively slow data access speeds in comparison to, say, a modern SSD, but for commercial applications it means a lot more storage in a smaller space.