Helical Scan Technology

Tape recording based on helical scan is the same type of technology as was used in VHS video-tape recorders. As the data is written in diagonal stripes across the tape, more data can be packed onto the tape than just with parallel bands up the tape. However, data access on helical scan is slower than linear, and does not scale well. Few vendors use Helical Scan now, probably DAT is the only implementation still in large scale production. See the product comparison page for details.

In a helical scan tape system, both the tape heads and the tape move. The heads are arranged around a cylindrical drum, and the tape is wrapped halfway around this. The drum contains two read heads and two write heads, arranged alternately. The read heads verify the data written by the write heads. The tape moves slowly, in the opposite direction to the spin of the drum. The drum is tilted at about 5 degrees to the tape. Although the tape moves relatively slowly, the drum spins fast, so the relative tape speed is high. The cylinder head is tilted slightly in relation to the tape, and spins at 2,000rpm. Data is written in diagonal tracks across the width of the tape.

helical scan

The second write head writes data at a 40 degree angle to the first one. The data is read back by the correct head, because the two tracks a recorded with different magnetic polarisations. The criss-cross pattern packs more data onto the tape, enabling helical scan systems to achieve quite high data densities. A directory of files is stored in a partition at the front of the tape, or in a file on the hard disk.
There is a large surface contact area between the tape and the drum, and this means the tapes are prone to wear and tear. However, it is difficult to see how helical scan can scale up like linear tape does, as it would be difficult to fit more pairs of heads to the rotating drum.

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I retired 2 years ago, and so I'm out of touch with the latest in the data storage world. The Lascon site has not been updated since July 2021, and probably will not get updated very much again. The site hosting is paid up until early 2023 when it will almost certainly disappear.
Lascon Storage was conceived in 2000, and technology has changed massively over those 22 years. It's been fun, but I guess it's time to call it a day. Thanks to all my readers in that time. I hope you managed to find something useful in there.
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