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HGST prepares helium-based hard drives to increase density

Western Digital’s Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) intends to ship its first 3.5-inch, helium-based hard disk drive in 2013.

A technology that’s been under development for about eight years,  helium-based hard drives are the next evolution in drive technology, according to  HGST’s vice president of product marketing Brendan Collins. Helium will replace air in the Sealed HDD platform that HGST announced today. Helium has one-seventh the density of air, allowing manufacturers to build in seven spinning disks instead of five in a 3.5 inch drive. That could boost capacity in the 3.5-inch form factor by 40%.

“It’s going to radically change the way data is stored,” Collins said. “By using helium, you lower the power consumption by 23 percent while increasing capacity by 40 percent. It’s the same form factor so you don’t have to change anything on the system level.”

Collins said air-based drives are reaching a point of diminishing returns because manufacturers will no longer be able to add tracks to increase capacity. Since air is dense, it tends to affect spinning disks with vibrations. Helium puts less drag force on the spinning disk stack so the mechanical power in the motor is reduced. Helium’s lower density reduces the force buffeting the disks and the arms that position the heads over the data tracks. That means disks can be placed closer together. It also allows data tracks to be positioned closer together to scale data density.

“The sealed helium HDD platform will provide high capacity storage for the next 10 years,” Collins said. “It’s an ideal platform for bulk and cold storage.”

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