Computers

Helium-filled hard drives promise capacity boost

Helium-filled hard drives prom...
HGST's helium-filled sealed hard drives (not pictured) boast higher capacity and lower power consumption than their air-filled cousins
HGST's helium-filled sealed hard drives (not pictured) boast higher capacity and lower power consumption than their air-filled cousins
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HGST's helium-filled sealed hard drives (not pictured) boast higher capacity and lower power consumption than their air-filled cousins
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HGST's helium-filled sealed hard drives (not pictured) boast higher capacity and lower power consumption than their air-filled cousins

Unlike Iomega’s eGo Helium portable hard drive, a new hard disk drive platform developed by Western Digital (WD) subsidiary HGST actually does fill hard drives with helium. Rather than just making the drive a little bit lighter, replacing regular old air with helium and sealing it within the drive enclosure has allowed HGST to increase hard drive storage capacity by 40 percent while reducing power consumption by 23 percent.

The capacity and power consumption improvements are possible because the density of helium is one-seventh that of air, resulting in less drag on the head arms and the spinning disk stack. This means that less power is required to spin the disk stack and move and position the heads over the tracks. Additionally, the reduction in forces buffeting the disks and moving arm allows both the disks themselves and the data tracks to be placed closer together.

This provides in increase in data density of the individual disks, while also increasing the number of disks contained within a standard 3.5-inch enclosure from five to seven. And because the enclosures are hermetically sealed to keep the helium in, humidity, dust and other contaminants are kept out.

Helium also provides more efficient thermal conduction than air, meaning that the new drives run 4° C (7° F) cooler and therefore also quieter than traditional air-filled drives. HGST anticipates the reduced cooling and power requirements of the drives, coupled with their increased capacity, will make them attractive to the corporate and cloud datacenter markets, which it is targeting.

While the benefits of filling a HDD with helium have been known for some time, it was developing a cost-effective manufacturing process to store helium within a HDD enclosure that proved a challenge. Now, following more than six years of research, initial pilot manufacturing lines are operational.

The helium-filled sealed drive technology was recently demonstrated at a Western Digital Investor event in California. HGST plans to launch its helium-filled sealed drive platform next year, in capacities yet to be announced.

Source: HGST

17 comments
Michael Mantion
I wonder if filling it with hydrogen an even lighter material would work better? I know Hydrogen is obviously more reactive then helium, I can' think it would significantly impact performance.
joeblake
If a container can be sealed to hold helium, then a seal for hydrogen can't be too far off - and rather than just using it for the HDD's, methinks it would be a step forward in making hydrogen powered vehicles more readily available.
Jack Thompson
We don't have enough Helium to start filling hard drives with it also, use Nitrogen (like many motorcycle tyres), we have plenty, so we can leave the Helium for medical uses like NMR machines.
Ali Kim
Hydrogen is normally a dipole molecule in our atmosphere (they pair together). So it's about 17% lighter than helium. Not much difference for something that would require a lot more safety in mass production. Although, on the same note, helium is also a finite resource, in much smaller quantity than hydrogen.
Panayis Zambellis
why not use vacuum??
John Routledge
Two of the inconvenient things about hydrogen can leak through solid metal; which damages the strength of the metals. Which is something NASA and others finds immensely annoying. So you can put hydrogen into an HDD, but it won't stay there. So if your drive requires hydrogen to be there (and stay out of the electronics) to operate reliably, then it probably won't operate reliably very long.
Paul Brush
Helium is expensive, in short supply, and getting more expensive by the day. Can't they just pull a vacuum instead?
see3d
Pulling a vacuum is what you do when you don't want to get rid of heat. It would create a thermal management problem. Helium is mined with natural gas. It can also be manufactured in a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor. If the price of Helium rises (pun intended), then it will be used only for important things, as opposed to party ballons.
Falco Falk Guthert Güthert
Helium is depleting/ we are running out of Helium as a resource. Consequently, using Helium for this proposal is a bad idea. Instead, Wester Digital should focus their efforts on enhancing SSD-technology.
RESISTANCE
Methane would be a good substitute. It is extremely plentiful and lighter than air. The only worry would be an "ignition" lighting the gas. A fail safe could be designed to release the gas if it did ignite somehow.