Most low-end tape drives write data to tape in the form in which they receive it. The problem with this approach is that some backup software, such as tar in conjunction with gzip, creates a backup that's very sensitive to errors. If even a single bit of the recorded data is flawed, all the subsequent data on the backup becomes useless. Other backup packages, such as the commercial Backup and Recovery Utility (BRU—see http://www.estinc.com), don't suffer from this problem. Hardware data compression is another way around this problem. Instead of using gzip, you set the drive to use compression, which is usually the default configuration.
Just because a drive supports hardware data compression doesn't mean that you must use that feature. You can usually disable it through a jumper setting or a command issued through the Linux mt utility. Doing so can be convenient if you need to exchange tapes between two drives, one of which supports hardware compression and the other doesn't.
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