The Backer for Linux project: a project to develop a Linux device driver for Danmere's Backer video tape backup devices.
Last update: 2003/05/07
|Screen Shots||SourceForge Project Page|
A company in England named Danmere Technologies Ltd. (now 4TV Ltd.) used to sell a line of devices that allow you to save data on regular video tape. They called them Backers and they came in three flavours: an external version that plugs into an ECP parallel port and two internal versions that sit in ISA bus slots. If you remember the days of using audio cassettes to store programs and data then the operation of a Backer device should be familiar to you.
Unfortunately, Danmere would neither provide Linux drivers for their products nor were they willing to release programming information to developers who were willing to do so for them. The last e-mails I sent to them on the subject were ignored. Finally, as of the fall of 2002, their web site has disappeared. Oh well...
It turns out the Backer hardware is extremely simple and contains virtually no data processing intelligence whatsoever. It plays the role of a modem, blindly modulating a byte stream into and demodulating it out of a video signal. External software is required to perform all data framing, error correction, etc.. The advantage of this design is that it reduces the cost of the hardware and permits a great deal of flexibility in matching the tape format to the video equipment in use.
The software discussed on this page is a Linux device driver for Backers that allows you to use them as though they were standard magnetic tape devices. With this driver, you can perform backups of your system using, for example, GNU tar or the archive software of your choice.
You can download the latest stable and unstable versions of the driver from here.
The driver version numbering works as follows. The version major number (the number to the left of the decimal place) indicates the native tape format. This number is increased when the driver's tape format changes in a way that makes it incompatible with previous versions. The minor number (the number to the right of the decimal place) indicates the release number. Minor numbers less than 100 are stable releases and will all use the same, well tested, tape format. Minor numbers greater than or equal to 100 are unstable, developmental, releases leading up to the next major release. Developmental releases might not be well tested and might not use the same format from release to release.
The driver has two native data formats and a pass-through mode. One of the formats is optimized for SP and LP recordings and the other for EP recordings. The pass-through mode provides applications with access to the raw tape data stream.
The data formats used by this driver are not compatible with the data formats used by Danmere's Windows software. The driver's pass-through modes can be used to read and write non-native formats through the use of helper applications but I have not written such a utility for Danmere's format and have no plans to do so.
These are calculated assuming 60 fields per second for NTSC and 50 fields per second for PAL.
|Low||49560 B/s||48800 B/s|
|High||129360 B/s||130700 B/s|
|EP with bkrenhanced||NTSC||PAL|
|Low||39609 B/s||40752 B/s|
|High||102010 B/s||105292 B/s|
Multiply the numbers above by your tape length and compression ratio. For example, for NTSC video a T-120 in SP mode at high density can hold 888 MiB uncompressed (120 minutes * 129360 bytes/second). Danmere's best figures are obtained assuming a high density recording (probably PAL) on a T-180 in LP mode with 2:1 compression for which they claim either a 2.8 GiB or 3.7 GiB tape capacity depending on which web page you read. Under the same conditions, this software's tape capacity would be 5.3 GiB. Why ``would be''? Because my VCR (along with every other VCR sold these days it seems) does not have an LP mode and 2:1 compression is probably a bit optimistic if your disks are full of .mp3s and other pre-compressed data.
For a real-world benchmark, my system partition has 2.6 GiB of data on it (excluding /tmp, etc.) which compresses to 552 MiB using bzip2, or about 2/3 of a T-120.
The highest capacity one could hope to achieve is with an EP recording on a T-200 with 2:1 compression. Such a recording can hold 6.8 GiB in NTSC format and 7.1 GiB in PAL format.
These are the system requirements that I am aware of. Most of them are not fundamental and could be relaxed if people with the appropriate systems could help test and debug the code.
Internal, ISA, version of the device. Support for the external version is currently in development The latest unstable release of the driver includes a module, backer_parport, that you can go ahead and try but more than likely it will not work for you.
The driver is known to work with NTSC video equipment. I do not have access to PAL video equipment so I cannot test the software's operation in this video mode but it should work. If it doesn't work then getting it to work is just a matter of adjusting a few numbers. If you have PAL equipment and know that the driver works with it, please let me know so I can update this page. If you have PAL equipment, know that the driver does not work with it and would like that to change then drop me a line.
Verions prior to 3.0 required i386-like system architecture: a little endian system capable of unaligned memory reads and writes. Since version 3.0, the software should work on any system supported by Linux. I can only test the driver itself on an x86 system but I have compiled and run bkrencode on an IBM RS-6000 running AIX (big endian, unaligned OK) and it worked perfectly so I believe the portability issues have been addressed.
The following table indicates the kernel version I had installed on my own system while developing various versions of the driver. Thus, this table does not represent absolute requirements but rather combinations that are known to work.
|Device Driver Versions||Kernel Versions|
|3.100, 3.101||2.4.15, 2.4.16|
|1.104 <= x < 3.100||2.4.3|
I do not know the minimum CPU required. What I do know is that my PII-400 system can process tape data approximately 27 times faster than the actual tape data rate. If we assume, then, that a computer 27 times slower than a PII-400 would still (just) be able to process a data stream in real time, then a 486DX-33 is probably the bottom end of what's workable. Unlike Danmere's software, however, this driver does not require the data to be processed in real time. Using offline processing, I suspect that even a 386SX-16 would work just fine.
A software package that, together with some hardware, allows your PC to act as an infrared remote control. I haven't actually downloaded and checked this software out but it looks like combining it with tape operations in a script could allow you to fully automate your Backer/VCR combination allowing you to do unattended backups.
My name is Kipp Cannon and I can be contact by e-mail at SourceForge: kcannon at users.sourceforge.net
This document uses the new binary units recommended by the International Electrotechnical Commision. So 1 MB is 106 bytes while 1 MiB is 220 bytes; 1 GB is 109 bytes while 1 GiB is 230 bytes; etc..
This project has been conducted entirely without the support, participation or even interest of Danmere, Ltd. (now 4-TV). Please consider the following: