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Preserving Turbo 250 Tapes
by Taper/Triad

Most of us have loads of old turbo tapes lying around, either from the early days or acquired along the way when buying Commodore hardware second hand. Except for my own old Turbo 250 tapes that I backuped a long time ago, for years I let the pile of Turbo tapes originally from others grow in size without paying much attention to their content.

During the last year I've come to change my mind and started backuping, and I'm glad I finally understood their worth. Of course, most of us have a lot of original games lying around as well, and there are ways to backup them too, but at the moment I leave that for someone else to write about. As important as the games are in their own right, the crack intros and occasional demos spread on Turbo tapes make it even more important to salvage them to more secure medias.

Despite their age and being handled wrong (sometimes with downright torture!), there is still a good chance you can rescue most, or at least some, of the content on your old tapes. But it's time for you to act now, as time is not on our side! The life expectancy of a cassette tape is 30 years, if it has been stored in a suitable environment. In a near perfect storage environment, that could be extended, but the opposite is also true, store tapes in a bad environment and the life expectancy shrinks to a few years. Also bear in mind that a tape with data is more vulnerable than a music tape, as the latter can be enjoyed even if it has acquired some hiccups during the years. A tape with data can't, at least not without first undergoing some sort of restoration process.

A magnetic tape can lose its worth in two basic ways. Either the data stored on the magnetic surface is compromised, or the tape is physically damaged.

Apart from magnetic fields, there are many other dangers a tape can be exposed to during it's lifetime. Dirt, greasy fingerprints, cigarette smoke and other airborn particles will damage the magnetic surface or at least make the data harder to read. Also strong sunlight (or any heat above 42 degrees) and water can be disastrous. Even mold can start to grow on the tape surface. Another thing most people don't know is that tapes are meant to be stored on their end, not lying flat. I can't say I'm this picky storing my own tapes, which probably makes it even more necessary to actually go ahead and save what can be saved.

There seem to be no end to hazards for our poor tapes. A bad datasette can start to "eat" the tape, or even worse, scratch the tape surface, which is harder to detect.

The cassette manufacturers recommend people to store tapes in a cool and dry environmeant, preferably a place where the temperature fluctuates as little as possible and is between 18-21 Celsius degrees. And when it comes to actually handle the tape, it should be done in a "food free, clean environment".

Needless to say, very few sceners (if any) live up to these standards when it comes to tape storage. Most probably do like me, just throw the tapes in a big box, with or without cover. Obviously, we should all be flogged for our ignorance during the years. However, I advise you all to repent while there is still time!

So, what do you need to backup them, Turbo 250 tapes of glory from days gone by? Well, apart from a C64 and a datasette, you'll need to use one of the available backup utilities. There are a few different to choose between, I recommend either "Spectacular Copy - Turbo to Disk" or "A.T.T.A.C", both from TRIAD. Of course, for the purist there is also the old original "Spectacular Copy", and the totally non-purist could make a ".tap" of their tapes and then extract the content from that.

There are advantages and disadvantages no matter what method you use, but I prefer doing the backups from a real C64, tweaking the alignment of the datasette when needed (sometimes different parts of the same tape is recorded with a different head alignment), to be able to rescue as much as possible. Be prepared to be forced to do a lot of tweaking with your screwdriver if you encounter a tape in bad shape. I usually try the same file five times before giving up on it and skipping to the next one on the tape. On the other hand, other tapes still seem to be in really good shape and you can just grab everything on it in one go.

While on the subject of difficult tapes, having a "Load It" datasette where you can see the signal strength on one or several LED's really make your backup efforts a lot easier. If you don't have a "Load It" datasette your options are to either buy one second hand, modify a datasette yourself or to use one of the available recorder justage programs like the classic "Cassette Azimuth" or "HeadAlign 1.1" from Onslaught.

However, don't be mistaken, while good signal is strength is a must, it doesn't necessarily mean that you can successfully load a file. If the signal is distorted in the first place, it doesn't matter how strong it is.

People might say it's not worth the trouble to go through all this hassle as most cracks already have been salvaged from disk and are available on the net. While this is probably true to some extent, from the about 100 disk images of turbo transfers I've sent to Mason this far (excellent if you're too lazy to go through your backups yourself), he has found at least a handful of cracks not already in his collection. A lot of work for a meager result some might argue, but I disagree. Every single release saved from an eternal damnation is worth putting work into. Also, every tape thrown in the "done" pile brings a bit of satisfaction... You should try it too!


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