HGST unveils Helium-filled HDDs – 40% larger & cool running

Posted 14 September 2012 00:06 CEST by Seán Byrne

With Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) technology very close to the data density limit per platter, hard disk manufacturers are working on other recording methods to increase storage capacity. Both Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) and Heat-assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) promise higher storage capacity, but neither have been perfected enough to put into use.

HGST, a subsidiary of Western Digital, has unveiled a different technique to solve the capacity problem which involves using helium instead of air in the hard disk. Helium has the advantage of being a far less dense gas, greatly reducing drag and vibrations, while also providing better thermal conductivity. This allows for thinner platters and for them to be spaced close together.

With thinner platters and platter spacing, up to 7 platters can be used instead of the current limit of 5 with air filled HDDs, improving capacity by 40% and reducing power consumption by 23%. By using today’s 1TB platters, 7 platters would give a hard disk capacity of 7TB.

HGST expects to bring Helium-filled hard disks to the market in 2013, however it is unclear whether this would be early or later in the year. At present, they are still working on a suitable casing that can be mass-produced since these must be both hermetically sealed and filled with helium, unlike existing hard disks that use a breather-hole to equalise the pressure.

The first Helium filled hard disks will have an SATA interface, with SAS interface models planned later on. HGST claims that these Helium-filled hard disks will deliver the same IOPS performance as current hard disks for the same spindle speed. So far no pricing has been announced, but with the more complicated mass-production, these hard disks will likely be considerably more expensive than current hard disks.

Senior Moderator
Posted on: 14 Sep 12 02:16
Does the Helium make them 40% lighter too? Maybe make your MP3s sound a little like Donald Duck? Sounds pretty complicated to implement...
0 Agree

MyCE Senior Member
Posted on: 14 Sep 12 04:28
Given that there's an impending Helium storage, this sounds like a bad idea.
0 Agree

Senior Administrator
Posted on: 14 Sep 12 06:37
Originally Posted by yojimbo197
Given that there's an impending Helium storage, this sounds like a bad idea.
Impending Helium storage? Sure you don't mean a shortage? At least that's what I heard.

Isn't that somewhat crazy, considering the fact that Helium is the second most abundant element in the observable universe?
0 Agree

MyCE Resident Commenter
Posted on: 14 Sep 12 16:18
We're running out of helium. This is a great idea, but it's also a bad one.
Go back to the drawing board, guys. I'm amazed at how many uses helium has. I'd rather we save it for medical/scientific research instead of hard drive production or birthday party balloons. Don't get me wrong, I'd sell my grandmother for a 7TB hard drive.
0 Agree

MyCE Resident
Posted on: 14 Sep 12 16:50
This just adds fuel to the fire that HAMR technology is not ready for prime time, and neither is this R&D grasping at straws for a releaseable product in less than 2 years.. at which time the 7 BILLION DOLLAR chip plant samsung is building will be making 10nm flash chips capable of superceding all current hard drive technology in FLASH SSD!! So, the hard drive industy is really at a crossroads.. either gamble on HAMR technology & pony up the 5 billion to build a plant OR seek financing to go TOE TO TOE with the 10nm chip process and just make SSDs... all of which WILL be more expensive at first, so.. $450 4tb SSD drives are not out of the question (at least the ones that can get 500 - 700MB/second transfer rate). We'll expect drives to be made which are "SLOWER" in the range of 125mb to 250mb to be about half price... as this will be more reasonable and able to pay off the R&D cost over 5 years..

BTW, there is massive rampant speculation on which way the hard drive companies will go.. besides, if HAMR hard drives are going to be upto 40% more expensive to make going forward.. is it really worth it? The only glitch in going SSD is there will be competition beyond the current hard drive companies so that could create competitive problems for companies who only know hard drives. The consumer doesn't care who gets there first at a cheaper price & highest quality.

Promises of 6 - 40TB hard drives with HAMR technology are just that promises.. there's nothing that says flash chips can't achieve the same densities in the 10nm process at speeds and reliability that put HAMR to shame. Only R&D can tell which path is worth the gamble.
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