Western Digital's New Hard Drives Are Filled With Helium

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Storage is always getting cheaper and more capacious—but Western Digital has a plan to fill it with helium to make hard drives way more efficient than ever before.

If you could see inside a normal hard drive, you'd find it was a pretty brutal environment. The plates on which data are stored spin at incredibly high speed—thousands of revolutions per minute—and while you might not expect it, it's the drag from those plates spinning through the air inside the drive that limits the number that can be stacked together. Yup, just like air resistance stops vehicles going fast, it does the same to your data.

But instead of air, Western Digital is now creating hard drives that are filled with helium, reports All Things D. Lighter than air, helium cuts the drag forces right down, allowing the manufacturer to squeeze more plates inside. Indeed, it can now squeeze in five where previously it could only manage seven; the first drive to roll off the production line has a capacity of six terabytes, versus four for conventional drives, for instance. All Things D explains what that means:

Deploying 11 petabytes of storage using current drive technology requires 12 racks and 2,880 hard drives, and about 33 kilowatts of power to run them. With the new helium-based technology, you could do it with eight racks and 1,920 individual drives, and run them on 14 kilowatts.

Perhaps predictably, the first units won't be for consumers, but rather commercial enterprises. So, Netflix will be using them to store movies, and CERN to store experimental data. Then maybe, one day soon, you might have some helium in your hard drive, too. [All Things D]

Image by lkaestner under Creative Commons license