Feeding your LTO Tape Drive

We would like to share with you another response to a customer’s question about using the correct tape media for your tape drive.

Dirty head with media debris
Dirty head with media debris

Our response to why the media you use in your tape drive matters:

You can see from this picture of your head, all of the debris that has been deposited.  The debris is the surface from the MP media with non IBM media being used.  You had stated you were using HP branded media in your IBM tape drive that you sent in for repair.

All manufacturers recommend using media made for the drives they sell.  Dell uses IBM tape drives so either Dell, IBM of Fuji media is recommended. Neither IBM nor Dell make media. They purchase media with the company logo from Fuji who is the manufacturer.

IBM will not put IBM tape drives under maintenance unless IBM media is being used. There is a good reason for this and it has to do with the tape media to tape drive head and the tension that is used by the tape drive. IBM uses a very heavy tape to head media so the media made by Fuji has the appropriate surface on the media. HP has the same standards for tape drives that HP sell, they require HP made media for those drives.  HP designed the LTO drives to have very light tape to head tension, so HP will have many manufacturers media for many brands; Maxell, Sony, TDK and Tandberg.

Design differences:

The physical design of the HP drives are very different than the IBM tape drives.  Most notably is in the roller assemblies that guide the media over the tape drive head.  HP uses 2 rollers about ¾ of an inch in diameter.  That design will make the media make a corner with two 90 degree angles from the media container to the take up spool.  IBM uses 4 rollers about ½” in diameter. The media won’t have to make a 90 degree turn when leaving the media case to go over the head and to be wound on the take up reel.

I suspect this above description of the tape handling mechanism may be the reason HP decided not to make LTO7 drives.  HP uses IBM drive with HP firmware for HP LTO7 drives.

OEM manufacturers will not issue for OEM maintenance contracts unless the required media is being used.  So HP will only maintain HP systems using HP media, IBM the same.

Dirty cover from debris

The MP debris not only accumulated on the head but is deposited throughout the drive assembly.

The nitty gritty:


We sell, repair and test over 3K LTO tape drives per year. When we see non Fuji base media being used in IBM drives, tension will remove the magnetic particle media from the surface of the tape media. The it deposits that debris on the head and inside of the tape drive. The debris looks like black soot. Head to tape spacing is .02 microns and a smoke particle is .08 microns. Once that debris from the surface of the media works into the head data channels it will puncture the head and render the drive nonfunctional.

Secondly, on the worm gear that elevates the head when the drive is backing up data gets debris laden as well and the elevator gear will get damaged and render that drive useless. Most people would not ask to have used motor oil put into their cars when having the car serviced.  This debris in the pictures is also deposited on the media.  Why attempt to save a few dollars by purchasing used or reconditioned media?  We only recommend new media.

MidWest Technical

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