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helium hard disk drive (HDD)

A helium drive is a high capacity hard disk drive (HDD) that is helium-filled. This hard drive technology replaces the air inside the HDD with helium and is hermetically sealed during manufacturing. Helium drive technology is compatible with most industry-standard magnetic recording technologies including perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), two-dimensional magnetic recording (TDMR), shingled magnetic recording (SMR), microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR), heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) and bit-patterned media (BPM).

Helium Hard Drive

Image Description: Western Digital Ultrastar DC HC530 14-TB

Helium Improves Efficiency

Compared to air, helium is one-seventh the density. In traditional drives, the air inside typically creates an amount of drag on the platters, requiring more energy to spin. Replacing the air with helium reduces the amount of energy needed to spin the platters. By some estimates, helium HDDs may be up to 20 percent more efficient than air-filled drives. Additionally, helium drives offer higher sequential data transfer rates as a result of the overall increased areal density.

Helium Storage in the Data Center

Newer helium hard disk drives have provided an advantage in the data center, specifically, cloud and exascale data centers, where 14-TB plus capacity drives can maximize data storage capacity per rack while lowering power consumption to meet TCO objectives. Helium drives have lower cooling requirements which reduce overall energy costs.

As helium-filled drive technology advances, so does the storage capacity of the drives. In fact, Western Digital has announced (Sep 2019) a 20-TB helium-filled drive, using nine platters, each with a capacity of about 2.22TB and a 2.5M hour mean time before failure (MTBF) rating and feature SATA or SAS interface.

Helium Drives at Home

Currently, helium-filled drives that focus on the consumer market are limited. Standard drives are 3.5" drives that use perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) platters in a helium-filled enclosure, in capacities starting at 10-TB. The drives are compatible with specific lines of desktops and entry-level direct-attached storage enclosures.

Helium Drive History

The first helium-filled hard drive (6-TB capacity) drive was made commercially available by HGST, a Western Digital subsidiary, in November, 2013. Today, several hard drive manufacturers, Including Western Digital, Seagate and Toshiba offer helium hard disk drives.

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