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HGST boosts hard drives with helium filling

HGST boosts hard drives with helium filling

HGST's helium-filled hard drives pack seven platters where only five were previously available for a 40 per cent boost in capacity.

HGST, the once-and-former-initialism now owned by Western Digital, has announced a product which has a novel way of increasing storage capacity: a helium-filled hard drive.

Developed for the enterprise market, the helium-filled drives pack seven platters into a standard 3.5in form factor. With most large-capacity drives only managing five, that's a 40 per cent boost in storage space - potentially turning a high-end 4TB drive into a 5.6TB behemoth.

Hitachi's drive uses helium to lower the drag acting on the disks. With a density one-seventh that of air - which, incidentally, is the reason helium balloons float - the drag on the spinning platters is greatly reduced, meaning the motor draws less power and generates less heat. The fluid flow forces which buffet the disks and head-positioning arm are also reduced, allowing the platters to be placed closer together - hence the jump from five platters to seven.

Finally, the helium works to conduct heat away from the various components more efficiently than air, making the drive run cooler by some four degrees Celsius, according to HGST's prototype testing.

Not everyone is likely to be pleased by HGST's use of helium, however. The gas is becoming a scare commodity, and its frequent use in medical applications means spare helium for balloons, storage products and making people sound like they're auditioning for a place in the Lollipop Guild of Munchinktown is hard to come by and a potentially frivolous waste of a dwindling resource.

Despite this, HGST has declared that it will be launching the helium-filled drives to market in 2013, initially concentrating on the enterprise and data-centre market. Formal specifications and pricing are expected to be released closer to that time.

42 Comments

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Risky 14th September 2012, 11:36 Quote
I think the volume of Helium used in a HDD will be pretty trivial compared to other uses. This is an impressive development.
Griffter 14th September 2012, 11:41 Quote
will the helium not leak out in time? think its a gimmick that will work for now. not the future
Tangster 14th September 2012, 11:47 Quote
I would prefer if helium was used for MRI scanner and the like. Of course, places like CERN should help, I can't imagine it's impossible to reuse or recapture some of the helium they use each year.
BLC 14th September 2012, 12:09 Quote
Will it make my computer lighter? :p

In all seriousness though, this:
Quote:
Not everyone is likely to be pleased by HGST's use of helium, however. The gas is becoming a scare commodity, and its frequent use in medical applications means spare helium for balloons, storage products and making people sound like they're auditioning for a place in the Lollipop Guild of Munchinktown is hard to come by and a potentially frivolous waste of a dwindling resource.

is exactly how I feel about it. Call it a trivial amount if you wish, but helium really is that important.

It always makes me cringe when the other half drags me into Hobbycraft and I see dirty great tanks of helium sitting behind the counter; espeically when you know that it'll be used to inflate balloons which will end up either getting popped, being thrown out or have the helium sucked out of them by people who want to sound like their testicles are being squeezed. Of course I've done all of the above in the past, but I've come to learn just how precious helium is. If you want a silly squeaky voice then just ask someone to actually squeeze your testicles.

As for storage solutions, we've got to find a better way than squeezing incremental improvements out of what is essentially technology from decades ago.
casey_cole 14th September 2012, 12:32 Quote
How has it taken this long for a company to do this? It's pretty simple, fundamental fluid dynamics...
Action_Parsnip 14th September 2012, 13:57 Quote
Lol @ The Save The Helium Foundation above

Won't someone think of the children!!
BLC 14th September 2012, 14:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Action_Parsnip
Lol @ The Save The Helium Foundation above

Won't someone think of the children!!

B******s to the children and their party balloons. Or perhaps you'd prefer a world without MRI scanners or scientific research.

My mother always taught me to engage your brain before your mouth (or in this case, fingers). Here's a starter for you.
Guinevere 14th September 2012, 15:00 Quote
Even before reading the article I was thinking "Yet another stupid waste of helium".

We've got (best estimates) between 25 and 30 years worth of helium resource left, and like any such estimate I would imagine the depletion will only accelerate as we use more and more of it each year.

It's sad that the second most abundant element in the universe can't hang around on this planet as we can put it to such wonderful uses (Like Up! - that was real right?).

Maybe one day we'll be harvesting helium from off-world sources but the way we over consume every precious resource we can get our grubby mits on I sometimes wonder if we'll be able to keep our society around long enough to get that far.
Goty 14th September 2012, 15:48 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by casey_cole
It's pretty simple, fundamental fluid dynamics...

Yeeeaaaaaah.... there's no such thing.
Nexxo 14th September 2012, 15:54 Quote
Nope, not at all.
BLC 14th September 2012, 16:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
Nope, not at all.

What the hell did I just (attempt to) read?
metarinka 14th September 2012, 16:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tangster
I would prefer if helium was used for MRI scanner and the like. Of course, places like CERN should help, I can't imagine it's impossible to reuse or recapture some of the helium they use each year.

actually it is impossible to reclaim once it escapes into the atmosphere, as it has the second lowest density of any gas, it rises to the top of the atmosphere and is blown away by solar winds and radiation. There's in-process helium reclimation for industrial processes that use it a lot, but it's rather expensive to reclaim on a small scale.

While there is not an immediate shortage or lack of supply, it is going to be a long-term issue. As a welder we use helium by the truckload, and don't quite know what we'll do when it's gone.
23RO_UK 14th September 2012, 16:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tangster
I would prefer if helium was used for MRI scanner and the like...

+1 to that ^^^
metarinka 14th September 2012, 16:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Griffter
will the helium not leak out in time? think its a gimmick that will work for now. not the future

Yes helium has a non-zero leak rate which is a function of what material the container is made out off and how thick it is. The leak rates for an all metal container are very low, but not zero, especially porous aluminum.

Gimmick? hard to say, you may just need a fill port and a once yearly filling of the drive. Takes away all the practicality though.
metarinka 14th September 2012, 16:55 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by 23RO_UK
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tangster
I would prefer if helium was used for MRI scanner and the like...

+1 to that ^^^

biggest use for helium is industrial chemical processing, second biggest user is welding. everything else is far behind in terms of amount required
Krikkit 14th September 2012, 16:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by BLC
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
Nope, not at all.

What the hell did I just (attempt to) read?

A large slice of awesome, that's what. :D
Risky 14th September 2012, 16:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
biggest use for helium is industrial chemical processing, second biggest user is welding. everything else is far behind in terms of amount required

Exactly. I suspect targeting this as a waste of helium is like worrying about global warming due to standby LEDs.
themassau 14th September 2012, 18:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tangster
I would prefer if helium was used for MRI scanner and the like. Of course, places like CERN should help, I can't imagine it's impossible to reuse or recapture some of the helium they use each year.

didn't they use a closed loop whit heat pumps to cool the magnets so no helium leaks out. they are not going to use it like the really useless OC competition. liquid nitrogen ok, liquid helium not or at least till we can do nuclear fusion.
Sloth 14th September 2012, 19:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Risky
Exactly. I suspect targeting this as a waste of helium is like worrying about global warming due to standby LEDs.
After reading this, and the helium thread in Serious, I can't help but feel the same. It's a very small volume of space being filled with helium and while this technology could potentially be used in a massive amount of hard drives I strongly doubt it's the best place to start looking for helium waste. Enterprise storage is an important part of our modern world, seems well worth the relatively small impact this would have on helium supplies.
b1candy 14th September 2012, 19:51 Quote
A single modern MRI or NMR machine at most would lose a litre per day.

The issue with Helium is that the US decided to sell off all its stock (90%+ of the world supply) by 2015. That drove the price right down. If there were restrictions, I once read (YMMV) that a single balloon should cost £150 or so.

Bring on fusion quick. Then we'll have too much of the stuff.
Action_Parsnip 14th September 2012, 20:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by BLC
Quote:
Originally Posted by Action_Parsnip
Lol @ The Save The Helium Foundation above

Won't someone think of the children!!

B******s to the children and their party balloons. Or perhaps you'd prefer a world without MRI scanners or scientific research.

My mother always taught me to engage your brain before your mouth (or in this case, fingers). Here's a starter for you.

Do you honestly believe a single MRI machine won't get built for the want of helium with this hard drive on the market? ...If it the supply was that critical, you would see toy balloons at £25 a pop at the local fun fair.

Toodle pipski,

Parsnip
XXAOSICXX 14th September 2012, 21:48 Quote
"The gas is becoming a scare commodity" <- scarce?
kenco_uk 15th September 2012, 00:05 Quote
Will all my songs sound like those wretched chipmunks have destroyed them? I hope there's something in the warranty about that.
Guinevere 15th September 2012, 01:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Action_Parsnip
Do you honestly believe a single MRI machine won't get built for the want of helium with this hard drive on the market? ...If it the supply was that critical, you would see toy balloons at £25 a pop at the local fun fair.

The balloons at the fair are so 'cheap' because the US is selling off its helium stockpile! The "Helium Privatisation Act" decision to sell it off kept the price artificially low which meant it was deemed by many uneconomical to try and recycle some of the wastage. It was cheaper to just let it leak out and buy some more.

Helium is rare. We can't make any more of it. We can't catch it when it escapes.

At the moment we need it for our MRI scanners. We need it for radiation detectors. We need it for many industrial tasks. We even need it for our space ships... and Nasa wastes so much of the stuff it's quite sad really given how damn clever so many of them are.

Using up helium so we can all have fractionally faster hard drives is terrible. Not as bad as a silly helium balloon.

You have nobel prize winning boffins (famed for their helium 3 work) saying "helium is far too cheap and is not treated as a precious resource. It's being squandered."

Disclaimer1: sitting at my side is a 90% deflated helium balloon my daughter was bought about six months ago. I know I shouldn't have allowed my other half to buy the balloon but when all her friends were getting balloons what do you do.... you over-consume like everyone else.

Disclaimer2: My daughter has had an MRI and will have more. I'm thankful for our NHS (and the helium they have for cooling their MRI scanners). She has a hard life at times and I'd have to have a heart of pure ice to force her being the only one of her friends without a balloon.

Last point: Next time we're at the fair, I'm going to stop everyone I know from buying the balloons!


The 1996 act is a terrible bit of legislation
PingCrosby 15th September 2012, 06:58 Quote
I like the Platters, especially if they're on helium
PingCrosby 15th September 2012, 07:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
Quote:
Originally Posted by 23RO_UK
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tangster
I would prefer if helium was used for MRI scanner and the like...

+1 to that ^^^

biggest use for helium is industrial chemical processing, second biggest user is welding. everything else is far behind in terms of amount required

I thought the biggest use of helium was for students nights out
MrJay 15th September 2012, 08:38 Quote
Another case of plundering our resources for immediate gain.

' What we have drilled into our heads...your driving force in life is to maximize your own wealth. Therefore it is perfectly rational to maximize your own wealth and destroy the world in which your grandchildren live. Of course, its also pathological' - Noam Chomsky
Madness_3d 15th September 2012, 13:05 Quote
Helium leaks out and your drive fills up with air and burns out... Sounds great :D Surely they should just keep working on aerial density, or create a double height form factor drive with double the platters? Or perhaps have a lower density of air inside? Won't help the cooling but will still reduce drag
John_T 15th September 2012, 13:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by XXAOSICXX
"The gas is becoming a scare commodity" <- scarce?

Reading through the comments, I think maybe it was right first time...
Phil Rhodes 15th September 2012, 13:10 Quote
It's always been scarce, it was just easy to get hold of.

Helium is extremely common in the galaxy as a whole, because stars fuse hydrogen to create it. However, it's comparatively rare on earth. Mainly it's created here by nuclear synthesis, when (I think it's) lithium and boron isotopes break down. This happens incredibly slowly, so the only worthwhile places to actually obtain helium are natural gas reservoirs, where it collects over millions of years and is obtained by us as part of the purification steps. Of course, it's no secret that there's a problem with the availbility of natural gas.

But unfortunately it gets worse. You might think that we'd be enriching our atmosphere with helium which might conceivably be recovered in the same way that other rare atmospheric gases - such as xenon - are recovered. Unfortunately, being light, helium doesn't work that way: it rises to the top of the atmosphere and is lost into space.

So what we're doing now is going through a resource that has always been scarce, and throwing it overboard. This is not smart.
Cei 15th September 2012, 14:11 Quote
Yeah, instant boycott from me due to Helium use. They need to put the price up for ridiculous uses like this (and balloons).
SlowMotionSuicide 15th September 2012, 16:54 Quote
Color me educated - never knew we will be having helium crisis in near future. Shouldn't come as a suprise though, when you put some thought into it. My kid just got her last cartoon helium balloon, that's for sure.

It's about time we finally get over our Hindenburg-induced fear of hydrogen and really start utilizing it to a good effect. After all, given our case here it should work even better than helium, with an added bonus it won't slip out the casing as easily, thus crapping your drive.
Tangster 15th September 2012, 17:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by PingCrosby
I thought the biggest use of helium was for students nights out

I don't get it.
sb1991 16th September 2012, 16:53 Quote
****, dudes. Don't complain about the helium being used for hard drives, complain about the vast amounts being thrown away during natural gas extraction. It isn't that there isn't any helium left, the problem is that there's so much that it isn't economical to extract from natural gas. Once the US reserves have been sold off (which will happen soon enough), the price will go up and the gas companies will start producing it again.
edzieba 16th September 2012, 17:30 Quote
IIRC air-bearing drives have vent holes to equalise them with atmospheric pressure (so you don't end up with the casing distorted by the difference). Are companies going to have to tell HGST with the ambient pressure and temperature of their datacentres whenever they place an order?
Ross1 16th September 2012, 17:47 Quote
What about if it was used in a hard drive that stored MRI images? would that be more acceptable for you guys?
technogiant 16th September 2012, 21:57 Quote
If they would just hurry along and workout how to do fusion commercially to make energy then will will have an ample supply of helium......and energy.
Gradius 17th September 2012, 01:13 Quote
It will explodes!
Omnituens 17th September 2012, 08:16 Quote
Why not just pull a vacuum on them instead?
Gareth Halfacree 17th September 2012, 10:08 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Omnituens
Why not just pull a vacuum on them instead?
They'd overheat: a vacuum is a very effective thermal insulator. That's how a Thermos works, incidentally: a double-walled vessel with the liquid to be kept warm (or cool) in the middle, a wall, a vacuum, another wall.
benji2412 17th September 2012, 10:14 Quote
Sod it, fill it with hydrogen instead! That can't possibly go wrong!
Omnituens 18th September 2012, 07:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
They'd overheat: a vacuum is a very effective thermal insulator. That's how a Thermos works, incidentally: a double-walled vessel with the liquid to be kept warm (or cool) in the middle, a wall, a vacuum, another wall.
Yeah, 5 minutes after I posted I thought it might be heat related. Must be another way to dump the heat out.

Throw some carbon nanotubes in there and see what happens. Seems to improve everything else.
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