Western Digital recently reaffirmed plans to ship helium-filled seven-platter hard drives to customers by the end of this calendar year. The company is already sampling sealed drives with select customers as of writing, we're told.

First generation sealed drives won't be produced in significant volume as, by Western Digital's own admission, customers will want to test the drives out early on. According to WD CEO Stephen D. Milligan, he doesn't expect the first generation to meaningfully move the needle in terms of market share in their favor, at least not initially.

Western Digital acquired HGST (formerly Hitachi Global Storage Technologies) early last year for $3.9 billion in cash and 25 million shares of WDC common stock. WD's subsidiary has since been working on helium-filled drives which offer a number of improvements over traditional air-filled models.

The density of helium is one-seventh that of air. As such, there's much less drag inside a helium-filled drive which means components don't have to use as much power to operate. The company cites a 23 percent reduction in power consumption and an overall operating temperature drop of 4°C (7°F). Additionally, more platters can be stuffed inside a helium-filled drive which in turn means capacities should approach 7TB by sometime next year.

Specific capacities and product specifications will be released closer to launch although at this point, it's unclear if the drives will be geared exclusively toward enterprise users or if consumer models will also ship with the new technology.