HGST's helium-filled hard drive to ship this year

Helium-filled hard drives are really happening. After working on the technology for more than six years, HGST is finally ready to roll out the first commercial implementation. X-bit labs got the word straight from Western Digital CEO Stephen Milligan. (Remember, Western Digital owns HGST.) Milligan said the first helium-filled drive will be available to "a select group of customers" this year. Although quantities will be limited initially, the drive will reportedly ship for revenue.

Helium has a much lower density than air, which translates to less resistance for the rotating platters. The noble gas also reduces the fluid-flow forces between the platters and drive arms, allowing those internal components to be squished even closer together. Right now, 3.5" hard drives are limited to five platters. The first helium-filled model will pack seven spinning discs.

HGST's high-capacity hard drives currently have 800GB per platter, so the HeHDD should offer at least 5.5TB of total capacity. If the drive uses terabyte platters, we could be looking at a 7TB offering.

In addition to facilitating higher capacities, pumping drives full of helium reduces power consumption and operating temperatures. HGST has demonstrated a 23% reduction in power draw and a 4°C drop in drive temperature compared to a standard HDD. Those declines should appeal to folks running high-density servers, which is why helium-filled drives will target enterprise customers first.

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