HGST Reveals Helium-Filled Hard Drive Platform: Yes, Helium

You may have heard of liquid nitrogen being used in computer cases, mostly for cooling and bragging, but what about helium? Not so much. However, Hitachi GST (HGST) has just introduced a new platform of helium-filled hard drives. The company states that these offer greater capacity and significantly reduce the total cost of ownership for corporate and cloud data-centers. But what of the helium itself?

Well, the density of helium is one-seventh that of air. This lower density means dramatically less drag force acting on the spinning disk stack so that mechanical power into the motor is substantially reduced. The lower helium density also means that the fluid flow forces buffeting the disks and the arms, which position the heads over the data tracks, are substantially reduced allowing for disks to be placed closer together (i.e., seven disks in the same enclosure) and to place data tracks closer together (i.e., allowing continued scaling in data density). The lower shear forces and more efficient thermal conduction of helium also mean the drive will run cooler and will emit less acoustic noise. That's according to HGST, but it sure lines up with science.

"The benefits of operating a HDD with helium fill have been known for a long time. The breakthrough is in the product and process design, which seals the helium inside the HDD enclosure cost effectively in high-volume manufacturing," said Steve Campbell, chief technology officer at HGST. "We are excited about the introduction of this platform, which demonstrates HGST technology leadership and is the result of more than six years of development in materials science, mechanical engineering and process technology. Thanks to the hard work of our research and engineering teams, our initial pilot lines are up and operational, putting HGST in position to introduce this technology first into the market."

HGST will release specific capacities points and product specifications when the platform launches in 2013. Until then, don't hold your helium-filled breath.