A tape drive is a data storage device that reads and writes data on a magnetic tape. Magnetic tape data storage is typically used for offline, archival data storage. Tape media generally has a favorable unit cost and a long archival stability.
A tape drive provides sequential access storage, unlike a hard disk drive, which provides direct access storage. A disk drive can move to any position on the disk in a few milliseconds, but a tape drive must physically wind tape between reels to read any one particular piece of data. As a result, tape drives have very slow average seek times to data. However, tape drives can stream data very quickly off a tape when the required position has been reached. For example, as of 2010 Linear Tape-Open (LTO) supported continuous data transfer rates of up to 140 MB/s, comparable to hard disk drives.
Tape drives can be connected to a computer with SCSI (most common), Fibre Channel, SATA, USB, FireWire, FICON, or other interfaces. Tape drives are used with autoloaders and tape libraries which automatically load, unload, and store multiple tapes, increasing the volume of data which can be stored without manual intervention.