HGST has unveiled the Ultrastar He12, the fourth generation of its helium-based hard drives. Cramming 12 TB of storage space into the standard 3.5-in form factor, the new drive is also faster, more energy efficient and more stable, to help businesses and data centers manage ever-increasing loads of data.

Helium may seem an odd choice, but HGST claims that the gas is key to the improved speeds and stability. At about a seventh of the density of plain old air, sealing helium into the device lets the platters spin with less drag, which reduces the power consumption. The company says that also lets them shrink the discs down to pack more in, and this new model comes with eight of them – one up on previous versions – for increased capacity.

The previous version was built with shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technology, which is designed for better density by storing data on overlapping tracks like roof shingles, rather than in parallel. For this version, HGST has gone back to the tried-and-true perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) system, which is supposed to be more reliable.

The Ultrastar He12 comes with either a 12 Gb/s SAS or 6 Gb/s SATA interface, and the first is backwards compatible with data centers using 6 Gb/s SAS systems. For added security, there's an Instant Secure Erase feature to make sure sensitive data is really gone. On the reliability front, the new drives have a mean time between failures (MTBF) rating of 2.5 million hours, an extra half a million hours over the previous models.

HGST's parent company, Western Digital, says that the new Ultrastar He12 hard drives have begun shipping, but doesn't offer anything in the way of pricing details yet.