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Helium-filled hard disk drive

Western Digital/Hitachi produce alternative to air-filled hard drives

HGST (formerly Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and now a Western Digital company) introduced a new helium-filled hard disk drive (HDD) platform.

These new helium-filled models are at the forefront of advanced technology for increasing capacity and significantly reducing total cost of ownership in the enterprise and the cloud, the Irvine, Calif.-based company said.

New helium-filled products are expected in 2013, said HGST. The new platform enables HGST to go beyond its five-platter design, providing a path for higher capacity storage. With industry-wide challenges in scaling current areal density technologies, this new platform allows HGST to design seven-platter drives in a standard 3.5-inch form factor that can extend the capacity and cost-per-gigabyte curve.

In addition, the inherent benefits of the platform, including the helium fill, allow HGST to significantly improve data centre TCO on capacity, power, cooling and storage density, the company added.

According to HGST, with the explosion of data resulting from mobile devices, Internet services, social media and business applications, corporate, cloud and big data customers are constantly looking for ways to improve their storage infrastructure costs and their bottom line. Also, new storage models, such as cold storage, are evolving in ways that require enormous amounts of data to be stored and available within a moment’s notice. These hyperscale datacenters must deploy massive amounts of storage with the best TCO to help them manage their costs and growing storage needs. And when it comes to TCO, numbers matter most – cost-per-terabyte, watt-per-TB, TB-per-system weight and TB-per-square foot.

The density of helium is one-seventh that of air, delivering significant advantages to HGST’s sealed-drive platform. The lower density means dramatically less drag force acting on the spinning disk stack so that mechanical power into the motor is substantially reduced. The lower helium density also means that the fluid flow forces buffeting the disks and the arms, which position the heads over the data tracks, are substantially reduced allowing for disks to be placed closer together (i.e., seven disks in the same enclosure) and to place data tracks closer together (i.e., allowing continued scaling in data density). The lower shear forces and more efficient thermal conduction of helium also mean the drive will run cooler and will emit less acoustic noise.

Steve Campbell, chief technology officer at HGST, said the benefits of operating a HDD with helium fill have been known for a long time. The breakthrough is in the product and process design, which seals the helium inside the HDD enclosure cost effectively in high-volume manufacturing.