HGST ships first 6TB helium-filled hard drives

November 7, 2013 // 9:16 a.m.

Tags: #7stac #hamr #he6 #helioseal #helium #hgst #mechanical-hard-drive #mechanical-storage #sas #sata #western-digital

Hitachi has officially started shipping the first drive to feature a helium filling, a concept it first unveiled back in 2012 as a means to boost capacity by around 40 per cent compared to traditional mechanical drives.

Back in September 2012 HGST announced plans to boost performance and capacity of its enterprise-grade hard drives by filling them with helium rather than the filtered air normally used. The helium, the company claimed, worked to reduce the drag acting on the disk platters thanks to having a density just one-seventh that of air. Lower drag means a lower-power motor, less heat generation, and the ability to cram the platters closer together.

The latter is the real secret sauce in HGST's helium-filled hard drives: by shrinking the gap between platters, the company is able to fit seven platters into an admittedly chunky 3.5" form-factor. With traditional air-filled high-capacity drives having only five, that translates to a 40 per cent boost in storage space.

At the time, HGST claimed it would be launching the drives commercially some time in 2013 - a target date it has managed to hit with time to spare. The first helium-filled drive is now shipping to customers, the company has confirmed, with initial reactions proving positive indeed.

The Ultrastar He6, to give the drive its full name, packs 6TB of storage into a single 3.5" drive with a choice of SATA-III or SAS connectivity. As with the company's prototypes, this impressive capacity comes from seven individual platters - although the drive itself is, oddly, some 50g lighter than the air-filled five-platter 4TB Ultrastar 7K4000 at 640g. The platters spin at 7,200rpm, are backed by 64MB of cache memory, and are designed for application loads of under 550TB a year.

According to HGST, the helium filling - trademarked as HelioSeal, along with the trademark 7Stac for its seven-platter layout - leads to a 23 per cent drop in idle power and 49 per cent improvement in watts-per-terabyte compared to traditional five-platter drives. The company also plans to use the HelioSeal technology in its future heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) drives to further boost capacities.

Sadly, while HGST Japan announced the shipping of the drives late last week and the company's US arm followed suit earlier this week, neither have been yet willing to provide pricing - but with the enterprise market firmly in its sights, expect to pay a significant premium over existing 4TB models.

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