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Helium-filled HDDs boost storage to 6TB

Ultrastar He6

By Shona Ghosh

Posted on 4 Nov 2013 at 14:06

HGST has come up with a way to pack more punch into data centre storage by stuffing its hard-disk drives with helium.

The Western Digital subsidiary has started shipping the 6TB Ultrastar He6, a high-capacity drive that it claimed is considerably faster, cooler and more power-efficient than normal HDDs.

Unlike standard HDDs, which contain five platters rotating in filtered air, the Ultrastar He6 uses helium, which is less resistant, lighter and cooler than air. The reduced friction and temperature mean disks can spin for longer on less power – allowing HGST to pack in seven platters and increase storage to 6TB from the usual 4TB.

Since the drives shouldn't experience the same wear and tear as standard HDDs, HGST claimed its devices will last longer and therefore cost less in the long run, although the company hasn't revealed prices yet.

No gas leaks

HGST said it had to develop a way of sealing the drives hermetically to prevent helium leaks. That technology, it said, means the drives can also be safely dunked in cooling liquid without getting damaged, something not currently possible with standard drives.

The drives measure 3.5in, weigh 640g and consume 5.3 watts when idle, the company said. HGST has already tested the drives with existing partners, including HP, Netflix, Huawei and CERN, and is targeting the enterprise market.

Currently Seagate leads the enterprise HDD market, but helium-filled drives could change the game, according to IHS iSuppli.

The analysts said in January that growing demand for higher performance HDDs could catapult the company to the top of the market – not least because competitors might struggle to catch up.

"Other HDD manufacturers — like archrival Seagate as well as Toshiba, the third remaining HDD player after Western Digital acquired Hitachi — could also develop their own scaling technologies to compete with helium filled offerings," said analyst Fang Zhang earlier this year.

"However, technological difficulties and patent issues could present challenges and delay submissions from Western Digital's rivals," she added.

HGST claimed the breakthrough would ease the pressure on data centre operators to find ever more efficient ways to store more at lower costs.

"This is a huge feat, and we are gratified by the support of our customers in the development of this platform," said marketing vice-president Brendan Collins.

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User comments

eh?

It's not April 1st is it ?

By Farrinaf on 4 Nov 2013

Oh good

Worldwide, helium is getting close to a serious shortage and there is no way to replace it. A noteworthy use of helium is as a coolant in MRI scanners.

So it fills me with joy, that we are now squandering more of the stuff just so we can have slightly (only slightly) bigger HDDs. This is only marginally less wasteful that filling party balloons.

By maniacfox on 4 Nov 2013

@maniacfox

Given the relative quantities likely for these two uses, I'd say a lot less wasteful than filling party balloons!

And before someone suggests this will make laptops lighter, they too should do the math!

By JohnAHind on 4 Nov 2013

Ahh...but is the usual HDD noise at a higher pitch?

By everton2004 on 4 Nov 2013

@manicfox

According to that redoubtable source Wikipedia:
"an estimated 3000 metric tons of helium are generated per year throughout the lithosphere".
Should keep the discs spinning for a while.

By martindaler on 4 Nov 2013

@martindaler

That's what happens when you believe everything from Wikipedia rather than proper research sources. He(lium) has been in short supply for a while now, as mentioned above, one of the most critcal uses is cooling MRI and MEG scanners. Last year into 2013, many card shops were asked to shop supplying He filled balloons (or had their supplies unfulfilled), including many in Cambridgeshire (I'm speaking with actual knowledge...) Fgures vary but 8-10% is estimated to be wasted in party balloons. There are many respected sources on this shortage: from the BBC to Independent and Guardian; through to to scientific sites such as: livescience.com which has a good article on this dated 19/08/2013.

By isofa on 4 Nov 2013

I meant to add the respected quote from Dr Peter Wothers of Cambridge University (who presented last year's RI Christmas lectures), "The scarcity of helium is a really serious issue. I can imagine that in 50 years' time our children will be saying 'I can’t believe they used such a precious material to fill balloons'".

By isofa on 4 Nov 2013

The article talks about a "usual 4TB". Have we reached the limit for conventional HDDs?

By halsteadk on 4 Nov 2013

Daily Mail readers revolt!

BBC, Independent, and Guardian as respected sources! Get me some balloons.

By milliganp on 4 Nov 2013

@JohnAHind

It's 'maths', you twerp.

By qpw3141 on 5 Nov 2013

@maniacfox

I say use the helium for the hdd and fill the party balloons with hydrogen.

That way we can have the new drives, kids can have floating party balloons an the party should go with a bang!

By wlm42 on 5 Nov 2013

The leakage issue

I am really curious to see how they're preventing the usual leakage issues associated with helium. It is notoriously difficult to keep in place as it readily diffuses through pretty much everything over time.

By skarlock on 5 Nov 2013

Finally!

HGST have been banging on about these drives for so long now and I was beginning to think they'd given up and we'd be stuck at 4TB. Interested to know how they dealt with the leak problem. Any word of prices yet?

By Tom85 on 5 Nov 2013

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