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February 2014 Vol. 12 No. 12

Is a helium drive just a lot of hot air?

According to Jon Toigo, a helium drive doesn't advance the art of hard disk design, it just makes it possible to stuff more old technology into a new package. Like many data storage industry watchers, I had to repress a bored yawn late last year when Western Digital's Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) Division announced a helium-filled disk drive with a 6 TB capacity. For one thing, Seagate had had comparable technology for many years but chose not to build a product around it, preferring to pursue other technologies to drive capacity growth. But that wasn't even the primary reason for my unenthusiastic response to the news. Simply put, helium-filled disk drives don't do anything to increase capacity. Rather, engineers take advantage of the lower-density-than-air-hence-lower-friction properties of the gas to design a drive that violates the design trends that drive makers have been pursuing for some time. For the past decade or two, the industry has tried to reduce the number of platters, motors, actuator arms and read/...

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