TR-3 EXtra backup tapes

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SimonSideburns
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TR-3 EXtra backup tapes

Post by SimonSideburns » Thu Oct 01, 2020 10:21 pm

I have been going through one of the metal sheds at the bottom of my garden with a view to replacing soggy mouldy cardboard boxes with plastic crates, with a goal to work my way around the shed lining it with polystyrene insulation.

I'm mostly done with the polystyrene, and every cardboard box has been decanted into crates.

Anyway, along the way I've found a few piles of old CD-ROMs, floppy disks that I picked up with my A3020s (I haven't had a chance to look through them yet but hopefully I'll get around to that at some point in the future), and three Verbatim TR-3 EXtra backup tapes, and it's these tapes and their contents I'd like to focus on in this post.

I'd love to find out what is on them. They are labelled 'Full system backup' and sequentially numbered from 1 to 3.

They were most likely written in the latter half of the 1990s from a desktop PC I had at that time.

The tape drive (I cannot remember the manufacturer) was the size of a 3.5" floppy drive, and it had a caddy that allowed you to install it in a 5.25" drive bay. The drive (I believe) was connected into the floppy drive connector on the motherboard and the ribbon cable from the floppy drives would then have been connected to the cable supplied with the drive. I believe you could still have two floppy drives and the backup drive in your system, so it didn't replace a floppy drive, but rather used the interface.

There were expansion cards for the PC that you could plug the drive into and it would make the data transfer much faster.

From memory, I would have been using either Windows 95 or possibly Windows 98 at the time. If it had been Windows 98, it was likely the Windows Backup software that was part of Windows 98 that I would have used, but if not there's a good chance that the drive would have been supplied with some backup software.

Image found on a quick Google image search:
Image

Now to the tapes. The TR prefix as I understand it means Travan, which may be compatible with some QIC tape formats. In fact, the image I've just found via a quick google image search (shown above) even mentions QIC-3020 on the label. The standard TR-3 tapes could store around 1.6Gb uncompressed, and the TR-3 EXtra tapes (due to them being deeper in size thus sticking out of the tape drive quite some distance) could store 2.2Gb uncompressed. Assuming a 2:1 compression ratio they could store up to 4.4Gb per tape, so for my three tapes I'm pretty sure there would be around 8Gb or so of files stored on them, which would correspond to the 8Gb drives that were probably the norm at the time.

So, I'm looking for someone who may have a suitable tape drive that can handle these TR-3 EXtra tapes, and who could help me to find out what is on these tapes. I suppose we could meet if you're in the UK, I could send you the tapes, or you could loan me the drive/software/leads. Failing that, once 'non-virtual' ABUG meetings start taking place we could try to read them there if we're both going, or if the CfCH has a drive in their archive, I could try to arrange going there at some point.

Fingers crossed.
Just remember kids, Beeb spelled backwards is Beeb!

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SimonSideburns
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Re: TR-3 EXtra backup tapes

Post by SimonSideburns » Fri Oct 02, 2020 8:40 pm

I managed to source what I hope to be a compatible Travan tape drive today for £15 on ebay and quite local to me too.

It didn't come with any software or cables, but I just have to find a suitable PC to shove it in and I'll then have to figure out what software I used. Not sure how I'll work that out, but I do feel it might have been whatever software came with Windows at the time. It might have been Windows 95 or 98, so I guess I'll just have to install various operating systems and see which one might read the tapes.

Failing that, I'm hoping Archive.org will have suitable backup software (or one of the various abandonware sites that are around on the web).
Just remember kids, Beeb spelled backwards is Beeb!

tingo
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Re: TR-3 EXtra backup tapes

Post by tingo » Sun Oct 11, 2020 2:10 pm

You should check the tapes and the tape drive before any attempt to put a tape into the drive and try to read it.
Common problems with tape drives are:
- the rubber rollers turns to goo or turns hard and breaks into pieces
- the mechanism might be stuck due to old grease or lack of grease

Common problems with tape cartridges and tapes:
- the tension bands lose tension or breaks (needs to be replaced)
- the tape sheds the oxide layer, making the tape unreadable and your tape drive dirty (which will contaminate further tapes). Baking the tape can help.

TL;DR - reading old tapes successfully requires much more preparation than reading old floppies of the same vintage. Being prepared reduces the chance of failure.
--
Torfinn

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SimonSideburns
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Re: TR-3 EXtra backup tapes

Post by SimonSideburns » Mon Oct 26, 2020 11:07 pm

I had mixed success with this project.

Firstly, the larger tapes (the 2.2Gb uncompressed) TR3-EXtra ones had completely seized. The tape wouldn't turn. I opened each tape very carefully (three or four small screws on the underside) and checked the rollers and elastic belts, and gently persuaded the tapes to move. This is where the first problem occurred. One of the tapes was stuck to the rubber band belt inside the tape and wouldn't come away, and I ripped it. Oops. The trouble is that the three tapes formed a three tape backup and now with one damaged I'm probably never going to find out what's on them.

Also, on all three of these larger tapes, the edges of the tape on the spool that had most of the tape on it were covered in a white mildew or dust. I managed to brush most of that off with a very soft paintbrush.

Next, I went about sourcing a tape drive. I was led to believe that a HP T3000 drive was compatible, so I managed to find one on ebay for £15 very near where I live, so went ahead and bought it. I checked the belts and rollers, and managed to plug it into the oldest PC I had to hand and it works.

I used an older hard drive and installed Windows 98 on it, and managed to try the Windows Backup software to read a regular TR-3 tape I had, and while it could read there was a backup stored on it, it told me that that version of Windows Backup was unable to do anything with the data as it was created in a different software (but that's all it said).

Then I went online and found a version of Colorado Backup software (which was likely to be the software that HP would have shipped out with their drives), and once that was installed I could read the same TR-3 tape but once again it told me that while there was a backup on it, it was marked with a different OEM code and Colorado Backup wouldn't be able to process it further.

Feeling a bit deflated, I was then browsing old CDRs that I had burned in the 1990s. Mostly archives of stuff that I wanted a backup copy of, such as software installation files, MP3s, Documents, etc., and found the installation software for Ditto Tools, which is Ditto's version of the tape backup software. Lots of files on these CDRs have gone bad as they were cheap CDRs back in the day and aren't as reliable as more expensive ones were, but the Ditto Tools did install, however, because it can't see a Ditto branded drive, it won't read the tapes or do anything with them.

I'm now on the lookout for a Ditto TR-3 drive. They also had a Ditto Dash controller card that plugged into a PCI slot (although I never had one) which could increase the transfer rate to 2Mb/s rather than the floppy interfaces paltry 500Kb/s rate.

To be fair, as I've already managed to mess up one of the TR3-EXtra tapes and it's likely I'll never get anything off them, I'm probably going to scrap the idea.

In any case, it was a fun and necessary distraction while recuperating after I had keyhole surgery on 10th October to repair an Inguinal Hernia. I'd only been called by the Hospital on the Wednesday saying they now had a few last minute surgery slots and would I be available. The poor lady had already phoned 15 people before me and was a bit shocked when I said I'd be quite pleased to get it done so soon.
Just remember kids, Beeb spelled backwards is Beeb!

tingo
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Re: TR-3 EXtra backup tapes

Post by tingo » Sat Nov 21, 2020 6:26 pm

Thanks for the update. Don't give up, you might get something off the remaining tapes if you find the right software and are lucky. It depends on how the software was made (and how the backup is laid out on tape).
--
Torfinn

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