Tape Drive and Disk Storage: 29 Differences

For any average user it was not very easy to differentiate between a tape drive and disk storage, two common media for storage, in the past. And, making a choice between the two was even harder.

However, after reading this article it will not be anymore, even if you are not tech savvy. This article will make you knowledgeable with all the major differences between these two types of storage media.


  • The disk storage systems are much faster in comparison to the tape drives which need to be rewound and loaded every time.
  • The tape drives are quite reliable medium to store as compared to the disk storage systems.
  • Tape drives store data in a tape cartridge while the disk storage systems use a disk that prevents data duplication.

29 Differences Between Tape Drive and Disk Storage

Tape Drive vs Disk Storage

1. Basics

The tape drives will allow you to copy data packages to a tape cartridge from a hard drive. The data stored in the tape cartridge will help you create a backup and also help you in the recovery purposes in the event of data loss due to a computer crash or any other failure.

On the other hand, the disk storage systems will allow you to create a backup on a hard drive. It also allows easy access in the future as and when required.

2. Speed

In terms of speed, the tape drive is typically not as fast in operation as the disk drives.

On the other hand, the main reason that the IT professionals prefer the disk storage systems over a tape drive is its ability to operate much faster.

3. Data Duplication

If you are not very careful while writing data on a tape drive, there may be a chance of data duplication. Therefore, data consistency is a serious issue with the tape drives.

On the other hand, in the case of the disk drives, its ability to de-duplicate data prevents copying the data that is already stored in the disk. This feature also adds to its speed as well as to the data consistency aspect.

4. Time to Access 

Time to access a particular data stored in a tape drive is pretty high. This is because the read/write head has to go through the entire data stored before it can reach that particular data.

Also, it has to be rewound and reloaded every time which adds to the time factor.

On the other hand, accessing a particular data stored in a disk drive is quite easy and fast since it is easy to search that specific data when the disk is connected.

5. Capacity

In terms of storage capacity, the tape drives fall much behind the disk drives.

On the other hand, the disk storage system typically comes with a much larger storage capacity which provides significant benefits such as easy accessibility and simpler usability since every data and information is stored in one place.

6. The Cost Factor

Every backup system comes with a cost and the cost per TB of the tape drives is about $33/TB. Moreover, this legacy technology is difficult to use and more expensive to support due to costly and fewer repair specialists.

On the other hand, though the cost per TB of the disk storage systems was much higher before, the improvement in technology has closed the gap and brought it down to around $45 to $50 per TB.

This new technology is easier to use and you will get repair specialists easily making it less costly.

7. Convenience

Considering the amount of work you have to do, you can take the tape drives offsite but there can be security issues and it is also cumbersome and time consuming.

On the other hand, the disk drives are usually automatic and you can replicate it very easily offsite in a safe location.

Read Also:  What is NTFS (New Technology File System)? (Explained)

8. Reliability

Typically, the tape systems have a proven track record for its reliability and capability to get the given job done quite efficiently.

On the other hand, the disk storage systems are new and there is also quite a significant amount of risk involved in these types of backup systems.

9. Flexibility and Agility

The tape storage systems are not as agile or flexible as the disk storage systems.

On the other hand, both these are offered by the disk storage systems due to their simplified writing backups and easier reading.

10. Characteristics

The tape drives that need to be mounted physically every time are less resilient and need proper storage. They also have a longer access time and higher policy standard to follow.

On the other hand, the disk storage systems are more resilient, do not need to be mounted physically and have a lower policy standard to follow. It offers faster access time with quick searching ability of data.

11. RPO and RTO

The tape storage systems usually have a higher Recovery Point Objective or RPO due to lower frequency of backup and higher Recovery Time Objective or RTO due its unpredictability and complexity in configuration.

On the other hand, the RPO of the disk storage systems is low due to their higher frequency of backup and the RTO is lower because it is more predictable and easily configurable.

12. Shoe Shining

Continuous spinning and loading of the tapes results in shoe shining that affects both its performance and lifespan.

On the other hand, in the case of the disk storage systems which do not have such requirements do have such issues.

13. Automated Disaster Recovery

The design and features of the tape storage makes it quite difficult if not impossible for automated disaster recovery.

On the other hand, the disk storage systems can be easily integrated with the automated disaster recovery solutions.

14. Compatibility

The tapes storage systems are not usually compatible with the cloud and hence does not support cloud backup and recovery.

On the other hand, the disk storage systems are easily compatible with the cloud and therefore recovery and backup based on the cloud is a possibility in this case.

15. Storage Management

Being an older technology and a legacy, tools and support are not adequately available for tape storage management.

On the other hand, there are lots of vendors who are out there to provide support to disk storage management with the latest tools available.

16. Data Grooming and Defragmentation

There is a high possibility of data grooming and defragmentation in the case of the tape drives.

On the other hand, as for the disk storage systems, the chances of data grooming and defragmentation are pretty low or nil.

17. Data Corruption Effects

Damage caused to the tape or data corruption can affect the entire tape resulting in complete data loss.

On the other hand, complete loss of data is hardly a possibility with the disk storage systems since corruption of data may not affect the entire disk.

18. Resource Contention and Connectivity

In the case of the tape drives, connectivity can be a serious issue just as resource contention.

On the other hand, in the case of the disk storage systems there are no such issues with connectivity or resource contention issues.

19. Fragility

The tapes are vulnerable to wear and tear and therefore the tape drives are considered to be more fragile.

On the other hand, the disk storage system is usually robust and therefore less fragile.

20. Storage Needs

The tape drives need a lot of room for storage due to their bulkier build and design. The space to use or store the tapes should also be heat, dust and moisture free to prevent the tapes from being damaged or corrupted.

On the other hand, the compact design of the disk storage systems needs much less room for storage.

Read Also:  What is Hard Disk Drive (HDD)? Function, Pros, Cons & More

21. Vulnerability

The tapes are vulnerable to sunlight, Ultraviolet rays, magnetic fields or any form of radiation and may get corrupted if not protected from them in a proper storage space. Even creases on the tape can corrupt the data stored in it.

On the other hand, the disk storage systems are not as sensitive to these elements as the tape drives and therefore are more dependable.

22. Fieldwork Possibilities

Due to the above mentioned susceptibilities of the tapes, you cannot use a tape drive outdoors for fieldwork. If a damaged or flawed tape is read it may cause further damage to both the tape as well as the drive reader.

On the other hand, there are no such possibilities in the case of the disk storage systems and therefore you can use them for fieldwork.

23. Maintenance

The tape drives should be cleaned and maintained properly and regularly for proper functioning. The films should be handled with care and stored vertically to avoid damage and corruption. The several moving parts in the system may also wear out pretty fast due to regular use.

On the other hand, there are no such cleaning and maintenance requirements for the disk drives.

24. Innovations

Tape storage is an older technology and is now less popular for which there have been no real innovations in this space. Though tape storage still exists, there is little compatibility and collaboration among the suppliers of tape storage.

On the other hand, in the disk storage space, innovations are a regular feature and a lot of vendors collaborate here to provide support to the software-defined storage of the industry standards.

25. Head Alignment Issue

There can be issues with the head alignment of the drive and the tape creating a problem while reading the tape or film in the case of higher and lower capacity drives or that which was written by another tape.

On the other hand, in the case of the disk storage systems there are no such issues with head alignments and reading the data.

26. Recovery and Restoration

In the tape drives, if data is corrupted then its recovery and restoration is pretty tough, if not impossible.

On the other hand, a corrupted disk can be quite easily restored and data can be recovered by using several advanced data recovery software.

27. Age

The tape drive is considered to be an older technology being introduced in the early 1950s.

On the other hand, the disk storage system is relatively new with the first Hard Disk Drive or HDD developed and introduced by IBM in June 1956.

28. Bit Error Rate

Tape is much better for writing data because it has a much better bit error rate which is storing one in place of zero and vice versa and is not fixed by error correction.

On the other hand, disk storage usually comes with a lower bit error rate in comparison.

29. Power Consumption

The tapes do not need any power when idling and it also does not need any electricity to maintain the media.

On the other hand, the disk drives, especially the Hard Disk Drives or HDDs, keeps running even when idling, reproducing or while recording and therefore will always consume a certain amount of energy.

Which is More Useful – Tape Drive or Disk Storage?

Differences Between Tape Drive and Disk Storage

Today, most of the business operations depend on data and are done mostly online.

In such a situation, in order to ensure success you will need to choose one of the best storage systems for your business data and information.

If you are into retail business you will need to manage your inventory database so that you can track your supplies.

Or, if you are into an automotive dealership, you will have to create a customer list so that you can maintain proper buyer records.

Read Also:  What is Free Space? (Explained)

In short, data storage is an essential aspect for every business and the manner you store it is also important.

Depending on the list of differences above, you can already make your choice between a tape drive and a disk drive to store your data but the process of data backup may vary from one company to another.

Therefore, you will need to know a few other facts as well in order to know which among the two is more useful.

First of all, it will all depend on your preferences and needs when you decide which among the tape drives or a disk drive will be more useful in your case.

Once you know that, you will need to find answers to some common yet useful questions such as:

  • What does each of these backup systems entail?
  • What are the pros and cons of each?

Ideally, most ignorant users will go for any form of storage but it may not prove to be useful.

Disk storage is more useful, no doubt. It is clearly the best even for data centers because it offers:

  • Technical advantages
  • Reliability
  • Ease of use
  • Security and
  • Ecosystem advantages.

However, tape storage will be more beneficial for archival storage needs especially if you need to access the data irregularly. The reasons behind saying so are:

  • The cost of hardware is cheaper than the disk
  • It is good for long term storage
  • The read and write speeds are reasonably fast when the data is optimized
  • Fewer bottlenecks to affect the throughput and
  • It supports reasonable encryption and compression technologies.

Therefore, disk storage is a better solution for backup and tape storage should be considered only for data archiving.

Yes, tape storage will offer some initial cost benefits but it is very small and artificial when you consider other factors such as:

  • The human effort required overall to manage the system
  • The risk of data loss and
  • The longer recovery time in case of a failure.

On the other hand, going through the differences above, you can see disk storage offers several benefits. Add to that, it will allow you to make the most out of the software-based capabilities of the modern world.

Moreover, the modern management tools allow managing general use of disk storage in a much better way than the tape storage systems.

On the contrary, you will not be able to get that kind of performance and benefits from the tape drives.

The tape drives are considered to be legacy and therefore there are not many vendors who provide the necessary support or tools for managing them en-masse.

However, a tape drive, in general, is cheaper than the disk storage in terms of each gigabyte.

So, considering everything said above, you should go for the current disk storage technology for backup for data centers and even for the cool-looking retro cassette tapes since you will probably be using a digital music player.


With the knowledge gathered from this article, you can very well differentiate between a tape storage and disk storage along with their respective utility.

It should be clear to you by now why disk storage systems are more preferred today. Typically, it is all due to the performance benefits and support.

About Dominic Cooper

Dominic CooperDominic Cooper, a TTU graduate is a computer hardware expert. His only passion is to find out the nitty gritty of all computers since childhood. He has over 12 years of experience in writing, computer testing, and research. He is not very fond of social media. Follow Him at Linkedin

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments