Tecmar Travan NS20 External SCSI Tape Drive

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail

Made by: Tecmar Technologies, go to the web site
Requires: SCSI connection, backup software (NovaNet Backup version 7, Seagate Backup Exec, NT Backup, etc.)
MSRP: US$649 (internal), US$769 (external)

(Ed. Note: reviewed in 1999. The follow-up review containing long term test results on this drive can be found on the web site here)

Since 1982, Tecmar Technologies has been a pioneer in the DC6000 data cartridge and 4mm DAT tape industry. Tecmar developed products under the Wangtek(tm), WangDAT(R), Proline(R) and QualityTape(tm) brands. Tecmar's new Travan NS (network series) 20 GB tape drives have the highest capacity and fastest transfer rates of any Travan drives available. Delivering 20 gigabytes of compressed capacity at a transfer rate of more than 2 megabytes per second, the new drives are aimed at the popular, fast growing class of Windows NT servers and workstations.

We tested the Tecmar Travan NS20 External SCSI unit over a period of 10 days. We did four daily backups of approximately 16GB each. Using 12 Imation Travan NS, 20GB tapes we created a rotating series of four generations of backup sets. The drive was connected through an Adaptec 2940 SCSI adapter to one of our secondary file servers - a dual Pentium II 350MHz machine with 256MB of RAM, running Windows NT 4.0 (SP4). We accessed the drive via three pieces of software: NovaNet Backup version 7, Seagate Backup Exec (which is bundled with the drive), and NT Backup which is integrated with Windows NT Server.

Before putting the drive into full service, we performed some full read/write backup operations on fixed size directories, to get an idea of exactly how long actual backups would take. The results were impressive. We used five different test directories, performed 5 backups on each one, and cycled each directory through 3 different combinations of backup settings (A, B, and C below):

# of Files
# of Subdirectories
Amt of Data

Here are the weighted test results:

A - full directory read, compression, data write, full write verification, drive spin down, and tape eject. The weighted data backup rate ranged from 103.7KB/second in test 1 up to 1.4MB/sec in test 5.

B - full directory read, compression, data write, drive spin down, tape eject, no write verification (see the "read-while-write" recording feature description below). The weighted data rate ranged from 391.8KB/sec in test 1 up to a 1.7MB/sec in test 5.

C - full directory read, data write, drive spin down, tape eject, no write verification, no compression. The weighted data rate ranged from 301.2KB/sec in test 1 up to 1.2MB/sec in test 5, obviously slower than the compressed rate.

Conclusions - as overall data sizes increased, weighted backup times improved dramatically. In other words, these drives are designed to backup huge amounts of compressed data, very quickly. Compare top quality DLT backup drives which provide a weighted rate of 1.6MB/sec.

Note - actual continuous throughput 5 seconds into the write procedure in two of the compressed tests hit nearly 2.1MB/second (which exceeds Tecmar's published rating for the drive - very impressive). The high rates occurred when doing throughput of video files (40MB-65MB AVIs).

Travan NS industry standard ALDC hardware data compression improves the interchange of compressed data, adds an additional level of redundancy and improves overall system performance. The read-while-write data recording feature, an technique pioneered by Tecmar, eliminates the need for a full verification pass, which significantly reduces total backup time. When you add compression to the whole scheme, impressive backup speeds can be achieved.

Travan NS uses linear recording technology as used by DC6000 data cartridges and DLT technology. According to the technical description, data tracks are recorded in serpentine fashion, which is supposed to require fewer moving parts, thereby increasing overall reliability. The drive uses Imation's NS tape mini-cartridges. Imation licenses the NS trademark to products that use read-while-write data recording and hardware data compression.

If you're looking for more specs to compare, the following should help. The drive boasts a 250,000 hour MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure which in this case indicates an very long service life), 20% duty cycle (heavy-duty usage), SCSI and ATAPI interfaces, search/rewind speed of 110 inches per second, transfer rates of 1MB/sec uncompressed, 2MB/sec compressed, and a capacity of 10GB uncompressed and 20GB compressed. The drive is accessible with a lot of different backup software. Check the Tecmar Web site for complete, regularly updated compatibility list.

In the NS20, Tecmar has introduced NSync(tm) soft loading technology, which adds many of the same security and reliability enhancing features used by high-end tape drives. It's also the first Travan NS drive that loads the cartridge completely into the drive. The metal cartridge deck (the baseplate of the cartridge) provides more precise positioning in the drive mechanism, and dissipates more heat than other configurations. In addition, full registration of the cartridge reduces track offsets and electrostatic discharge from the cartridge base plate. Data security is also increased with TapeAlert diagnostics, proprietary extended diagnostics and locking manual eject. Data recovery is reportedly enhanced by patented Redundant Read technology, which defaults to a secondary read channel if the primary channel fails, and by automatically updating the tape directory upon eject (we believe it, but we hope never to have to make use of it!)

Cons: We couldn't find anything wrong with the drive. We've now begun some long-term testing/usage with NovaNet Backup version 7 driving the Tecmar Travan NS20 and we'll report back to CompuNotes in a follow-up review.

Pros: The Tecmar Travan NS20 provides much needed price and performance benchmarks for the extremely fast growing Windows NT server market, and proves it by operating at the same speed as pricey, top quality, high capacity (70GB) DLT drives. The drive is well-made, operates quietly, and treats NS20 tapes with great care. The initial combinations of NovaStor's NovaNet Backup version 7, Seagate Backup Exec, or NT Backup and the Tecmar Travan NS20 are excellent. We're big fans of SCSI drives and we rate this backup powerhouse at the top of our list.

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: whine@kickstartnews.com




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