Western Digital's HGST: Helium-Filled Hard Drives

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Western Digital's newest subsidiary, HGST, Thursday unveiled a hard-drive platform in which helium replaces the air inside the drives, pointing the way for many more years of potential development in the hard-drive business.

HGST, which was known as Hitachi Global Storage Technologies or Hitachi GST before it was acquired by Western Digital last year, next year expects to become the first manufacturer to make helium-filled hard drives available on a commercial basis, said Brendan Collins, vice president of product marketing for the Irvine, Calif.-based company.

"It's our biggest technological innovation in the last eight years," Collins said. "We've been filling hard drives with air forever."


[Related: Western Digital Plans $4.3B Buy Of Hitachi GST]

Collins said that replacing the air inside a hard drive with helium is key to developing hard-drive capacity beyond the five-platter, 3-TB to 4-TB capacity models now coming to market.

The drag caused at the edge of a disk spinning at high speeds in air causes the drives to use more power to spin the disks and requires a certain space between the disks to account for vibrations in the heads and disks from the turbulence.

"At some point in the next two to three years, you can't push the capacity in air," Collins said. "We will need to migrate to a new platform. We can go to a smaller form factor where there is no flutter. But that would double the cost per GB."

Instead, HGST developed the ability to seal helium in the drives in place of air, he said.

Because helium has only one-seventh the density of air, spinning disks generate much less drag force in helium, which results in a lower power consumption, HGST said. The lower turbulence also significantly reduces the amount of space needed for the heads and platters, resulting in the ability to build drives with more platters in the same space as today's air-filled drives, the company said.

"With helium, we can cram seven platters in the same space as five platters today," Collins said. "So capacity rises by 40 percent. At the same time, this cuts the energy needed to run the drive by 23 percent."

NEXT: Advantages Of Helium In Hard Drives Well Known

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