Helium-filled hard drives will increase capacity and efficiency

By on September 13, 2012, 1:00 PM

Western Digital’s recently acquired HGST (formerly Hitachi Global Storage Technologies) has announced plans to ship helium-filled hard drives next year. Replacing air-filled drives with helium has a number of benefits and is seen as a major win for disk technology that could go a long way in reducing energy costs for major cloud storage providers.

According to HGST, these new helium-filled drives reduce power consumption by around 23 percent which in turn helps to lower overall operating temperatures by 4°C (7°F). Furthermore, the manufacturer is now able to stuff two additional platters into a standard 3.5-inch drive. This should result in capacities approaching 6TB.

Engineers have known for years that air inside hard drives creates drag and turbulence which leads to decreased performance and higher temperatures but it wasn’t until just recently that they figured out what to do about it. Current generation hard drives have an air channel used to equalize pressure within the drive when it’s under stress.

HGST’s engineers have since figured out how to develop a drive with a structure that is rigid enough to withstand changes in pressure, how to fill it with helium and then how to trap the helium with an air-tight seal. The entire process took roughly six years to figure out, HGST says.

There are processes that could produce even better results, but they come with significant risks or manufacturing hurdles. Hydrogen, for example, wouldn’t exactly work because it’s flammable and a vacuum would require a stronger and more expensive frame to withstand the pressure.




User Comments: 39

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3DCGMODELER 3DCGMODELER said:

This is cool... how much will it affect the prices???

Guest said:

Only if its a 7200rpm drive. If its 5400 then this technology is completely pointless. God I hate 5400 rpm drives.

1 person liked this | Win7Dev said:

I'd be cool with having a 6tb external hdd as long as the price isn't $500 for it. I would love to see some 5.25" hdds and see how those would perform and what capacity those could reach.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

I thought helium was depleting?

1 person liked this | Guest said:

Its funny that this comes about now that the world is facing such a huge helium shortage. Companies can barely get helium unless it is for medical reasons. I wonder if these will ever even go into mass production because of it.

LinkedKube LinkedKube, TechSpot Project Baby, said:

You could always just throw some nuclear waste into the ground, /bamHelium

RzmmDX said:

You could always just throw some nuclear waste into the ground, /bamHelium

No dude, those are alpha particles silly.

1 person liked this | Adhmuz Adhmuz, TechSpot Paladin, said:

This should result in faster spinning drives if it ever does see the light of day, less resistance means higher speed. From what I gather the shortage isn't so much of a shortage as the US' Bush Dome Reserve is going to run out and no one is stepping up to fill the gap. Helium is the 2nd most abundant element in the universe, theres lots there, we just need to refine more of it.

Staff
Jesse Jesse said:

And, we're talking about a relatively small amount of helium. Hard drive cases are fairly low volume.

EEatGDL said:

I think it may have a future, at least in servers, because HDDs can offer higher capacity for a lower price and decent RPM for servers, yet we have to see how much money shrinking more the SSDs transistors save us.

VitalyT VitalyT said:

The funny thing is... since helium is much lighter than air, it will reduce weight of HDD-s. And if pumped in under good pressure, decimating weight dramatically, turning HDD into a balloon

ghasmanjr ghasmanjr said:

The funny thing is... since helium is much lighter than air, it will reduce weight of HDD-s. And if pumped in under good pressure, decimating weight dramatically, turning HDD into a balloon

The weight difference between about 30mL of air vs. 30mL of helium is incredibly trivial. 30mL of helium weighs 0.0054 grams vs. 30 mL of air weighing about 0.0384 grams. Helium may be lighter than air, but a brick of iron filled with Styrofoam will still sink...

Guest said:

What a sad day for hardrive lifetime this is, I remember seagate before was great until they bought maxtor, and hitachi was superb in quality and cant believe they belong to wd now, I have had 3 wd hdd and all three have gone bad in less than 1yr. o well at least I still have samsung as a backup

NTAPRO NTAPRO said:

I'd be cool with having a 6tb external hdd as long as the price isn't $500 for it. I would love to see some 5.25" hdds and see how those would perform and what capacity those could reach.

What kind of price are you expecting for it?

Guest said:

The 5400 is pointless? How in the heck you know that. Where is your technical proof. You have no clue. Drag works on any rotational speed. Reduces any speed.

Guest said:

Really, this is just going backwards. It's better to invest in SSDs!

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

My tablet is zero-gravity.

Emexrulsier said:

One problem with this is that Helium is running out and once gone its gone its once gas we can't recreate.

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

One problem with this is that Helium is running out and once gone its gone its once gas we can't recreate.

"Helium ... is the second most abundant element in the observable universe, being present at about 24% of the total elemental mass..." -Wikipedia

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

This is very interesting news, maybe we will now see hardrives with spindle speeds above 15000RPM

Emexrulsier said:

"Helium ... is the second most abundant element in the observable universe, being present at about 24% of the total elemental mass..." -Wikipedia

And... it's second to hydrogen in the "universe" but last I checked we don't have easy access to travel around the universe collecting helium. Hell a quarter of the Sun's mass is made of helium why not pop over there with a bucket...

Guest said:

"...air inside hard drives creates drag and turbulence which leads to decreased performance and higher temperatures but it wasn't until just recently that they figured out what to do about it."

All that effort to pump a HD full of Helium...why not just suck all the air out and make it vacuum!? NO DRAG AT ALL!

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

why not just suck all the air out and make it vacuum!? NO DRAG AT ALL!
You didn't read the last two paragraphs. Besides they are not pumping anything, they are replacing the air inside and the results will be 0 pressure with a variance depending on altitude.

HGST's engineers have since figured out how to develop a drive with a structure that is rigid enough to withstand changes in pressure, how to fill it with helium and then how to trap the helium with an air-tight seal. The entire process took roughly six years to figure out, HGST says.

There are processes that could produce even better results, but they come with significant risks or manufacturing hurdles. Hydrogen, for example, wouldn't exactly work because it's flammable and a vacuum would require a stronger and more expensive frame to withstand the pressure.

Guest said:

WOW. Imagine that - a HD that doesn't weigh anything!

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

WOW. Imagine that - a HD that doesn't weigh anything!

Thats ingenious, I think I will throw a couple of helium bottles under the hood of my car and a few in the trunk. Then I can claim, I have a hovercraft!

Zoltan Head said:

No dude, those are alpha particles silly.

And helium atoms are alpha particles which have (inevitably) captured a couple of electrons, so not silly at all!

The REAL problem is that the HDDs will float away...

Guest said:

The hard drives they will be putting Helium in are server class drives and will be $300+ dollars, I don't see this every coming to Desktop or Laptop HDDs. I wouldn't expect to see faster spin speeds because they will probably remove the disc separator plates to save on cost and to be able to put the higher number of discs in. Decreased turbulence doesn't mean no turbulence.

TJGeezer said:

You could always just throw some nuclear waste into the ground, /bamHelium

By that logic, Japan's crashed nuclear power plants are already turning the Pacific Ocean into a huge helium generation plant. Oregon, Washington and British Columbia should get together to harvest all that helium. They could ship the other spilled nuclear waste back to Japan while they were at it. Gotta say, though, the table salt idea (linked by @Guest) sounds a lot cheaper. Link goes to Tom's Hardware and it doesn't depend on any post-peak-everything depleted materials, just salt - [link]

fimbles fimbles said:

Helium is a by product of natural gas production, is very abundant in the universe but will run out on earth in the next 25 to 30 years.

PinothyJ said:

This is stupid and selfish ...

1 person liked this |
Staff
Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

"Helium ... is the second most abundant element in the observable universe, being present at about 24% of the total elemental mass..." -Wikipedia

Right, but is it *that* abundant on Earth? Probably not.

However, I don't buy that we're "running out" though, in the sense that my children won't have the opportunity to marvel at amazing floating balloons. The only source I *think* I know of is natural gas deposits and think it'll be awhile before we deplete those.

A little more on topic though, an interesting repercussion here is for data recovery: will labs be able to refill the drives with helium after opening the units up? Will the helium even be necessary for temporary operation?

If it took Hitachi, a major global conglomerate, 6 years to figure out, such a thing would certainly be bad news for brave do-it-yourselfers and quasi-professionals without Hitachi's (proprietary?) gear.

Guest said:

I've used WD almost exclusively for the last 20years, I've never had a problem with any of my drives, so you having 3 crap out, seems like really bad luck, or I've had amazing luck.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I've used WD almost exclusively for the last 20years, I've never had a problem with any of my drives, so you having 3 crap out, seems like really bad luck, or I've had amazing luck.
I'd say both counts are true.

Mycophile Mycophile said:

Thought hydrogen was flammable only in the presence of oxygen? If you evacuate the drive and fill with hydrogen how might this be dangerous. And in a 2.5" or 3.5" drive has soo little volume.

ghasmanjr ghasmanjr said:

Once scientists perfect nuclear fusion, we will have an infinite amount of energy and helium. Hydrogen is incredibly easy to extract from H2O. Now if only there were nuclear chemists out there trying to create a fusion power plant that generates helium...

Zoltan Head said:

Once scientists perfect nuclear fusion, we will have an infinite amount of energy and helium. Hydrogen is incredibly easy to extract from H2O. Now if only there were nuclear chemists out there trying to create a fusion power plant that generates helium...

What's a nuclear chemist?

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