First ever LTO-9 tape drive review shows lots of promise - but also worrying weaknesses

OWC Mercury Pro LTO
(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

TechRadar Pro has rcently published a world exclusive, the first ever review of an LTO-9 tape drive, the OWC Mercury Pro LTO. 

The first such product to have reached our test bench impressed our reviewer and seasoned veteran of many tape wars enough to give it a strong 4/5 rating.

The device is expensive (at more than $6,000) but the fact that it can take 18TB LTO-9 cartridges means that 1PB of data stored will cost you just under $15,000 with the cost of the device factored in. 56 hard disk drives on the other hand cost more (around $18,000 with 18TB drives), are far more fragile and more wieldy when it comes to moving around (a hard disk drive weighs roughly the same as three tapes).

Strong start

Some may point out that cloud backup providers like Backblaze or cloud storage companies like Box offer unlimited storage. But your time is probably far too precious to spend days if not weeks uploading terabyte-size files.

And while LTO-9 seems to be the perfect candidate for backing up large datasets on premise at scale, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Our reviewer noted that an elegant way to manage tape has yet to be found (although it is unlikely that one size will fit all).

 Tape storage 101

As for the OWC tape drive itself, there were issues, none of which were critical but they highlighted the fact that there’s plenty to be done. “Simply buying this device because it can spam 18TB of data to a tape reasonably efficiently isn’t enough, and there is considerably more to using it that is initially apparent”, our review.

That’s not to say that it is not a capable beast as it includes two other useful features rather than just the label of tape backup. You can plug in a SATA or SAS SSD/HDD in a 3.5-inch drive expansion bay for extra storage and backup capacity.

OWC engineers were smart enough to add a DisplayPort connector and two Thunderbolt 3 ports which means you can also charge your laptop (up to 85W) and plug in an 8K monitor (or TV). An external hard drive, a tape drive and a docking station all rolled into one.

For future iterations, we expect the drive to have more ergonomic handles, the ability to upgrade to LTO-10 simply by swapping an internal drive out, OWC ArGest backup software bundled by default, more ports (including a LAN one if possible). 

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.