-> Whoa, whoa, what's this? Are you kidding me? Are we using tape reel computers? Noooo! Wait ... are those slots for punched cards?
-->-- '''Gordon Freeman''', ''FreemansMind''

In older movies and TV shows, made before the invention of the personal computer, all computers had large nine-track reel-to-reel magnetic tape drives, which were always moving back and forth. They usually had banks of blinking lights as well. Most viewers were left with the impression that the tape drive ''was'' the computer.

This was primarily done because the computer itself is very visually uninteresting when in operation. [[RuleOfPerception When a Tape Drive is operating, there is obviously something going on.]]

No longer as common, since in RealLife, almost everybody[[note]]except certain industrial class backup systems[[/note]] has stopped using the old-fashioned 9-track mag tape reel because of size and cost, e.g. a 6250 bpi, 1600 foot tape could hold, at most, a little over 100 megabytes of data,[[note]]the normal maximum block size is 32760 bytes, and each 32760-byte block takes, with the gap following it, 5.992 inches[[/note]] and costs about US$12. By 2012, it was possible to walk into a stationery store and buy a microSD card the size of a man's thumbnail for close to $12, and it would hold at least 4 billion bytes, or about 50 times as much as the above tape reel. And that's not even the cheapest example. A top-the-line 4 terabyte[[note]]that's 4,000,000 megabytes, since disk drives are sized in decimal, not binary, units[[/note]] hard drive could often be purchased at or under US$200. That means data storage on modern hardware is ''[[ReadingsAreOffTheScale thousands]]'' of times cheaper today, and that's before factoring in inflation.[[note]]It's impractical to use because of extremely slow random access, not because of low capacity and high cost. Most have moved on to modern tape cassette drives, which has a capacity of up to [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tape_drive#History 5 terabytes.]][[/note]]

In modern works, this trope shows up only in period pieces set before approximately 1975, or when dealing with technology built before then. Interestingly, although the use of audio cassettes for data storage on home computers was quite common in the late 70s and early 80s, no one ever mistook a tape deck for a CPU box.

Superseded by ComputerEqualsMonitor. It might seem weird though, but [[http://www.securitronlinux.com/bejiitaswrath/computer-tape-drives-coming-back-to-the-computers-of-2012/ the tape drive is not exactly extinct]] as a storage medium, and modern ones can store up to 8 TB of data. Their niche seems to be for the purpose of backups in large multinational enterprises though, given the low retrieval speeds. As for appearing in film, most filmmakers give the modern drive a pass since modern LTO tape drives don't look anything like those tape drives of old and are so uncommon that not many people have seen one; the tapes look like small videocassettes (nothing like the big open-reel tapes that used to be common) and the drives mount in the same bays as CD/DVD drives. Not to mention that the lack of activity indicators on one and the inability to see the tape reels spinning, as well as the abovementioned speed issue, makes it a very boring subject to film.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* In ''LightNovel/KinosJourney'' one country obviously has very highly advanced technology, but the computers there apparently still use tape drives.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* In the original ''Comicbook/{{X-Men}}'' comic in the '60s, Cerebro (!) had a tape drive.

* In ''Film/TheItalianJob'' (1969), all the traffic lights in Turin were controlled by computer. The heroes caused a massive traffic jam by sneaking into the computer center and hanging a magtape that made the whole system go haywire. Presumably the control software read the tape automatically, as no other interaction was needed. It shouldn't have worked anyway - when the tape is shown being read, it's actually [[SurroundedByIdiots twisted]] over the heads, and should therefore be unreadable
* In the film ''FailSafe'' a (for then) large mainframe computer is focused upon, with the tape drives ''running backwards''. When tapes were used for main storage, not just backup, changing direction and rewriting part of a tape was common, and most mainframe tape drives were just as happy to read data backwards as well as forwards.
* ''Franchise/StarWars Episode IV: Film/ANewHope'' had one of the Imperial brass on the Death Star mention that said superweapon's plans were stored on tapes. The opening does say that the series is set a long time ago...
* In ''Film/CaptainAmericaTheWinterSoldier'', Cap and Black Widow stumble upon an old SHIELD lab and an early 80's-era computer complete with this function. It turns out that the computer is [[BrainUploading much more advanced]] than they initially thought.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/StarTrekTheOriginalSeries'' had "memory tapes". (The TNG era sensibly replaced them with "isolinear chips", which seem to be a combination of flash memory card and processing element.)
** At its premier, TOS was virtually an ''aversion'' of the trope: yes, they were tapes, but they were hand-held tapes (about the size of a deck of cards) that could store HUGE amounts of data and be accessed very quickly, which at the time was laughably far-fetched. It would be the equivalent of a standard magnetic platter hard-drive the size of a postage stamp that could store the entire internet. [[WordOfGod The creators]] have actually come out and said that they ''didn't'' want to expressly use tapes or "normal computer processing noises", but thought it would have been [[WillingSuspensionOfDisbelief been too unfamiliar and broken the glamor]].
* ''Series/DoctorWho'' in the 1960s, of course, although some episodes set in the future eschew the tape drives for more blinking lights. An {{egregious}} example in the First Doctor serial ''[[Recap/DoctorWhoS3E10TheWarMachines The War Machines]]'': [=WOTAN=], the MasterComputer, is expectedly chock full of blinking lights and tape drives - but ''so are the titular War Machines'', which were built on the mastercomputer's specifications. But that's not the best bit. The War Machines, which were largish mini tanks that roamed the streets of London, had the tape drives mounted on the outside.
* From ''Series/{{Thunderbirds}}'', Thunderbird 5, the manned observation satellite from which poor, neglected John Tracy monitored the world's radio airwaves for distress calls, used reel-to-reel memory exclusively.
** In fact, the entire premise of the programme would be completely undermined by digital technology.
* In ''Series/{{Lost}}'', the computer room in the first hatch (Desmond's, the Swan, 2nd season) has 'em. Whether or not the inclusion is realistic, it's good for maintaining that Forbidding Doomsday Computer vibe. The overall effect of pairing this visual with the song "Make Your Own Kind of Music" is positively surreal (especially compared to the outdoors setting that formerly predominated).
** It's established later in the series that the installation and computer were set up in the late 70s and then [[spoiler: mostly]] isolated from the outside world, so the tape drives (and monochromatic text-prompt computer interface) are completely era-appropriate.
* In the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series ''{{UFO}}'' a montage of flashing lights, spinning tape drives, blocky letters on coloured monitors, swaying female buttocks, and rows of large luminous buttons accompany every RedAlert.
* Averted in ''Series/AForAndromeda'' (written by astronomer Fred Hoyle who used computers in his work). The protagonist has to destroy ''all'' the components of the MasterComputer to be sure it won't be rebuilt.
* Graeme's computer in ''Series/TheGoodies'' featured a large, obvious tape drive, although that was far from the oddest thing about. Spoofed in the 2005 "Return of the Goodies" documentary where a now middle-aged Graeme tries to insert an enormous disk in his computer.
-->"I'll pop it on the laptop. Hang on, it's not compatible. I shall give it an upgrade. ''([[PercussiveMaintenance hits it with a mallet]])''

* Lampshaded in ''{{Freemans Mind}}'' when Gordon enters an old but still in-use rocket test site. Despite being under attack from an {{Eldritch Abomination}}, it is the sight of a tapedrive (and punchcards, see the page quote) that sends him to a raging rant.

* The [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m8IOD-wk9g music video]] for the song "Computer Games" by Music/NewWave group Mi-Sex was filmed on location at what was then Control Data Corp's [[UsefulNotes/{{Sydney}} North Sydney]] processing centre. In 1979. It does overlap with ComputerEqualsMonitor though.

* ''Pinball/{{Pinbot}}'' has the "Computer Equals Blinking Lights" version, a giant robot with a bank of flashing multicolored lights in its chest. Turning on all the lights opens the visor to enable multiball.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* The memory banks from the videogame ''VideoGame/EvilGenius'' are big mainframes with a nine-track tape drive, which makes sense since the game is a 1960's DiabolicalMastermind simulator.
** Also somewhat justified in that those items are pure memory banks, and the actual computing is done with a separate item looking more like a large desk (think N.A.S.A. computers in ''Apollo 13'')
* Surprisingly, most videogames - even current ones - where you get to see large, room-sized server farms (or mainframes, or whatever) seem to have at least one instance of a spinning tape animated texture slapped on a large block of metal.
** It's justified in ''VideoGame/TeamFortress2'' as well, since it takes place in the ''actual'' 1960s. Granted, this world has been shown to have more advanced science than its period (or our own, or [[MST3KMantra the laws of physics]]), but nothing that would have been out of place in a sci-fi flick of the period, which still probably would have featured tape drives.
* The computers in ''VideoGame/{{Fallout}}'' are often found with tape drives. In ''VideoGame/{{Fallout 2}}'', these are described as being very modern reel-to-reel devices. Justified, given the slightly twisted alternate history the games exist in (e.g. the transistor was never invented in the ''Falloutverse'').
* The Black Mesa facility in ''VideoGame/HalfLife1'' apparently still uses these in some areas. Seeing as many areas are converted Cold War-era missile silos and bunkers, it's possible some of the outdated equipment hasn't been replaced.
* Human computers in VideoGame/TheBureauXcomDeclassified. Since it's set in 1962, totally justified.

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* In ''TheInexplicableAdventuresOfBob,'' not only does the [[TheAdventuresOfBuckarooBanzaiAcrossTheEighthDimension Yoyodyne]]-built [[http://bobadventures.comicgenesis.com/d/20071208.html computer]] in the Generictown University Science Department have a tape drive (to be fair, the Dean's personal computer is a [[http://bobadventures.comicgenesis.com/d/20071229.html TRS-80)]], but so does a random [[http://bobadventures.comicgenesis.com/d/20091229.html gizmo]] on the alien planet of Butane.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* Played with in ''MegasXLR'' in the episode "Viva Las Megas", which features [[MonsterOfTheWeek R.E.C.R]], a giant military robot built in the 60's. It has a tape reel and a "massive" 56 kilobyte processor.
* In ''WesternAnimation/TheVentureBrothers'', The computer system that stores [[spoiler:The minds of the Venture brothers]] is apparently run on tape.
** In another episode, [[spoiler: malevolent supercomputer]] M.U.T.H.eR. is on a reel-to-reel mainframe. [[LampshadeHanging Lampshaded when M.U.T.H.eR.]] [[spoiler: tries to launch a nuclear missile]]; while everyone is panicking, Pete White mentions that a computer that runs on such an ancient mainframe (and uses a dial-up modem) can't act very quickly.
* In one of the numerous ''SpongeBobSquarePants'' TV specials, the Atlanteans have a giant machine which can shrink people down to the size of viruses, and everyone's data gets stored on a magnetic tape drive.
* A first season episode of the ''SuperFriends'' featured the G.E.E.C., a computer that could replace all the world's laborers. It filled many rooms, and sported several reel-to-reel tape drives.

[[folder: Real Life]]
* Magnetic tapes are the precursors of today's hard drive.
* In the [[The8bitEraOfConsoleVideoGames 8 bit era]] of home computers (Commodore 64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Dragon, TRS-80 and the like) software was available on cassette tapes, which were the exact same format as the Compact Cassettes that younger tropers associate with the 1990s for some reason (but were actually invented in the 1960s and were just as prevalent in the 1980s) In fact certain systems (the ZX Spectrum and TRS-80 Color Computer in particular) actually used standard cassette players as their tape "drives" and you could hear the software when if you played the software tapes in a standard Hi-Fi (which also meant that a dual deck cassette deck of the sort that was common in the early 1990s made a perfect copying device!)
* Donald E. Knuth's seminal ''[[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_Computer_Programming Art of Computer Programming]]'' includes how to best sort data on one or two tape drives, and whether the tape can be read backwards or not. First published in 1973 when tape drives were much more common.