HGST's Ultrastar He6 squeezes 6TB into helium-filled internals

— 10:22 AM on November 4, 2013

It's official. HGST has formally announced its first helium-filled hard drive. The Ultrastar He6 squeezes 6TB inside a hermetically sealed case that conforms to the standard 3.5" form factor. Although the drive is targeted at datacenters and enterprise applications, HGST is also working on a "mainstream helium platform" that will presumably serve as the basis for consumer products.

Why pump hard drives full of helium? Because the gas is seven times lighter than air. It reduces the resistance for the internal components and cuts down on the turbulence caused by the spinning platters. The drive platters can be placed closer together as a result, allowing the Ultrastar He6 to squeeze seven platters into the same amount of space as traditional five-platter models.

The current crop of five-platter HDDs tops out at 4TB, so the He6 provides a 50% boost in storage capacity. Despite that increase, it's actually 50 grams lighter than a comparable 4TB drive. HGST also says the Ultrastar He6 consumes 23% less power and runs 4-5°C cooler than its 4TB competition.

The product page is light on details, but the Ultrastar's HUS726060ALS6xx model numbers hint at a 7,200-RPM spindle speed. Performance specifications aren't provided. However, we know that the drive has a two-million-hour MTBF rating, which is pretty standard for enterprise fare. HGST covers the Ultrastar with a five-year warranty.

Right now, HGST is pushing the Ultrastar's ability to increase storage densities and lower operating costs for datacenters. The helium tech appears to be a big part of the company's plans moving forward, as well. HGST says this will be the "main platform" for next-gen recording technologies like shingled and heat-assisted magnetic recording. Interestingly, the press release also mentions the seal drive's suitability for liquid-cooled servers—the sort where components are completely submerged. Oooh.

At least initially, the Ultrastar He6 will be available only to a "select group of customers." HGST has been working with HP, Netflix, Huawei, CERN, Green Revolution Cooling, Code42, and "some of the world’s largest social media and search companies," and those folks probably have first dibs. I'm curious to see how long it takes the helium tech to roll out for the rest of us, especially in consumer-oriented products.

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