by Mark Kidd

HGST Demonstrates 7-Platter Helium Hard Drive Platform

HGST, a Western Digital company, is demonstrating its new helium-based hard disk drive (HDD) platform at the WDC Investor Day event in Irvine, California. Sealed hard drives with helium in place of air will increase the storage density and durability of 3.5-inch hard drive storage while decreasing power consumption and audible noise. HGST’s pilot lines for the new platform are operational, and the company expects the first new products to launch in 2013. With Hitachi's current 1TB platters and a prospective 7-platter design (Hitachi 7D Platform), data center operators will quickly be salivating over potential massive gains in TBs per inch.

The idea of using helium in hard drives isn't new, hard drive vendors have long wanted to use it in their designs. They've been thwarted before however due to the inability to seal the drive entirely and issues around cost effectiveness at scale. Hitachi's key win is that they've not only solved these problems, but secured the required intellectual property as well.

Benefits of Helium HDD Technology
Because helium’s density is 1/7 that of air there is less drag acting on hard drive platters. With less drag, the motor requires less power and the fluid flow forces buffeting the platters and arms are substantially reduced. The new Hitachi helium hard drives, which have not yet been given a product name, are the result of six years of research and development at HGST to commercialize the potential of helium for platter-based storage.

Key benefits include:

  • Lower power consumption
  • More platters per drive enclosure
  • Increased data track density
  • Cooler and quieter operation
  • Operational in more severe environmental conditions

The drive which HGST is demonstrating today offers a 23% reduction in power consumption compared to a comparable conventional drive. Taking into account the extra capacity from its two additional platters, the helium drive achieves a 45% higher watts-per-terabyte and operates four degrees celsius cooler.

Helium for Bulk Storage
Mass storage applications have brought renewed focus on the 3.5-inch hard drive platform to provide inexpensive bulk storage. But while innovations have continued in 3.5-inch HDD technology, current drives are nearing capacity limits imposed by the physics of conventional drive designs. Disk flutter, tracks-per-inch (TPI), and track misregistration (TMR) issues limit the number of platters per drive enclosure and the density of data tracks on the platter.

While 2.5-inch HDDs are less susceptible to flutter, they carry a price premium and have a lower maximum capacity due to their size. This new 3.5-inch helium platform allows HGST to design seven-platter drives in a standard 3.5-inch form factor. There is a growing market for storage platforms that can manage and make available enormous amounts of data over the long term. HGST’s new helium hard drive platform has the potential to lead the industry in total cost of ownership across cost-per-terabyte, watt-per-terabyte, terabyte-per-system weight, and TB-per-square foot. 

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