What are Helium Filled Hard Drives?

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

HGST, a subsidiary of Western Digital released the first commercially available helium filled HDD in 2013 called the 6TB Ultrastar He6 ¹. The technology was an innovation many years in the making. Research first started at IBM in the late 1990’s ².

HGST claimed this new offering lowered the total cost of ownership. Furthermore, when compared to SATA models of a 4TB Ultrastar 7K4000 the 6TB Ultrastar He6 boasted some impressive improvements. 23% lower idle power, 49% better Watts/TB, 30% quieter operation, 4ºC cooler operation, and 50g lighter weight ⁴. Compared to a typical air filled HDD a helium filled HDD improves on this design by lowering power consumption, running cooler and quieter, as well as clocking in at a lighter weight. Helium is roughly seven times lighter than air so it produces less drag which reduces the amount of energy needed to spin the platters by 20% typically. The other added benefit is increased storage capacity. The lower vibration and drag allows manufacturers to fit more platters which are also thinner into an HDD filled with helium.

That isn’t to say helium filled HDDs do not come without drawbacks. This mainly comes in the form of cost and quality expectations. Traditional HDDs are cheaper to manufacture as they do not need helium or a firmly sealed case. Helium has the smallest atoms out of any element and therefore requires a case that prevents leaking ³. The benefit in a sealed case does mean that dust and contaminants are also kept out which should increase longevity in the long term ⁵.

Currently we don’t have enough publicly available data to determine how reliable helium filled HDDs are and how they compare to traditional HDDs. Theoretically they should be more reliable but we don’t know if this will translate into real world reliability benefits ⁶. Helium filled HDDs are still the clear winner in data storage centers due to increased capacities and lower power consumption.

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Patrick E McCormack

Dad. Content Creator. Former CNC Machinist. Gym Fanatic. Aspiring Nurse.