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Is the data storage based on magnetic threads instead of magnetic tape possible and practical?

Particularly, magnetic thread cassetes with endless loop (which is easier with thread than with tape).

I am asking about a thread storage because it is possible to bend the thread in multiple 3D directions, for instance, allowing it to pass multiple times through the head, connect bottom of one reel to the top of another etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Classical hard discs (non-ssd ones) use a few magnetic spinning discs. While not really a thread, the concept is pretty close. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 30 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @T. Sar I was asking about a thread storage because it is possible to bend the thread in multiple 3D directions, for instance, allowing it to pass multiple times through the head, connect bottom of one reel to the top of another etc. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Aug 30 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ @anixx add that reason to your question. Contrary to popular belief: more details and info on your thoughts makes the question better $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Aug 30 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Most VHS devices work in a similar way. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 30 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ Does this look similar to what you need? $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Aug 30 at 14:19
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There were wire recorders prior to 1940 (the only recording we have of Hitler's natural speaking voice is on a wire recording from, IIRC, 1938).

These have significant limitations for data storage, but could be made to work, more or less. First limitation is single channel recording -- with effectively a one-dimensional medium, you can't even record once each direction. All data will be serial, not even 8 bits wide (plus a parity bit) as on 9-track tape of whatever size. Transport would generally be slowish, and seek wouldn't be much faster (2x or 3x was about what you got with fast forward or rewind on wire recorders, though that might be improved).

Worst, the wire was a bit fragile -- with voice, it just made a little "click" where you spliced the broken wire ends together, but with data, it would cause frame errors and other mayhem. Not practical, in my opinion.

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  • $\begingroup$ Modern polymer wire can be made very strong and thin. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Aug 30 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ Magnetic polymer wire? I suppose you could make a hollow fiber, like what's used to fill high-end sleeping bags, only with magnetic oxide in the core, but I don't see this as an improvement on tape. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Aug 30 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ data errors: that's why God invented CRC and FEC :-) $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Aug 30 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft And when did He invent those? Parity I know goes back to the beginning of TTY, but fancier stuff seems like post-1970 at least. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Aug 30 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ Yep, but in wire recorder days, 110 bps (TTY) was fast. Audio on cassette was never a high bit rate, either, back when that was an option for early microcomputers. If you have today's knowledge with 1940 hardware, you'd probably skip over wire and go to tape -- it's easy to make and the electronic part of a wire recorder is the same as a mono tape machine. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Aug 30 at 18:15
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To expand Zeiss Ikon reply, metal wire data storage devices existed at some point in the late 40's (according to this Ars technica article, you can see them in "The Thing"). One would argue that the first use of these kind of devices (in 1898) was precisely data storage: the first patent covers a telegraph log recorder. Voice dictation would come after the invention of the microphone.

SEAC wire data storage

Self-looping data tape devices also existed, such as the ZX Microdrive.

Both devices are known for one thing: unreliability. Thread is very thin and prone to breakage, and looping devices (of any nature) can tangle and break, too.

So combining both is not a very good idea.

So, is possible? yes, and is perfect if your novel is set in the 40's or earlier.

Is practical? not much. There's a good reason we stopped using them. Information density is not good and they are prone to breakages. It may be slightly easier to manufacture, but not much more than tape.

Edit: I would add that one could argue that magnetic platters are the pinnacle of magnetic wire storage: it is, after all, a series of concentric rings of magnetic loop, fused so they can spin faster than any wire would do, but that's outside the scope of the question ;)

Edit2: In general you want as less moving pieces as possible. That's why we moved from tapes to disks and from discs to solid state devices :)

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  • $\begingroup$ ZX Microdrive seems to be very competitive with the floppy. 8 seconds to read the whole drive? Very fast. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Aug 30 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ It was fast, and at the time the smaller storage size was not smaller than a floppy drive. The main problem was the fragility of the tape plus the general unreliability of the mechanism. $\endgroup$ – Stormbolter Aug 30 at 14:48
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Maybe not thread, exactly, but steel wire, yes. Introduced in 1898 by its inventor Valdemar Poulsen, and now obsolete by at least two generations of tech. One being magnetic tape, and another digital recording directly onto mass storage devices. And now possibly you want to call things like solid state hard drives and USB thumb drives another "half" generation.

Also, eight track tape came in an endless loop. The tape was pulled from the center of the reel, and wound back on the outside. Eight tracks were not a product that had "legs" in the market. They were around for a while then people stopped making them. Rewinding was a bit of an issue with this design. And a cassette was likely to fail after a dishearteningly small number of plays because of the scraping and bending the tape went through.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was asking about a thread storage because it is possible to bend the thread in multiple 3D directions, for instance, allowing it to pass multiple times through the head back and forth, connect bottom of one reel to the top of another etc. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Aug 30 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Other than the potential for making en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_art why would you want to do that with data containing media? $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Aug 30 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ Ever seen the machinery that folds and interleaves the paper (rolls, then sheet) for printing newspapers? You can run a flat tape in all kinds of 3D directions, as long as you don't mind combining a rotation with each non-coplanar bend. And you can add partial rotations between roller sets, so facing is arbitrary. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Aug 30 at 15:39

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