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Western Digital Corp.’s upcoming line of high-efficiency and super-capacity helium-filled hard disk drives (HDD) could elevate the company to the top of the enterprise HDD space, according to IHS iSuppli, a leading market tracker.

WD to Gain Presence on Enterprise HDD Market

A perennial runner-up in the enterprise HDD market, Western Digital continued to hold the No. 2 spot during the third quarter of 2012, the latest period for which figures are available. Western Digital had a 45% share of shipments, compared to Seagate Technology’s 48%. Western Digital’s portion of the market had been steadily increasing in the last few quarters as it assiduously courted the enterprise trade, which demands higher-performance hard disk drives than HDDs for the consumer market.

The enterprise HDD rankings could change, however, after helium HDDs are introduced by WD's HGST division into the market, an event projected to occur in the final quarter of 2013.

“Helium HDDs could propel Western Digital to the top enterprise HDD spot, dethroning Seagate in the process. Western Digital says helium-filled HDDs can reduce power consumption – an issue of concern for enterprise HDD users – by more than 20%. Helium-filled HDDs can advance drive capacity by another 25 to 50%, without increasing platter density or drive thickness,” said Fang Zhang, analyst for storage systems at IHS.

Helium Opens New Doors for HDD Industry

Current enterprise-class drives using perpendicular magnetic recording technology support up to 4TB in capacity since they can only include four 1TB platters. Helium can extend that to 5TB or even 6TB. The weight or thickness of current HDD products can also be reduced by approximately 30% by stacking platters closer together.

The density of helium is one-seventh that of air, which means dramatically less drag force acting on the spinning disk stack inside hard disk drives so that mechanical power into the motor is substantially reduced. The lower helium density also means that the fluid flow forces buffeting the disks and the arms, which position the heads over the data tracks, are substantially reduced allowing for disks to be placed closer together (i.e., seven disks in the same enclosure) and to place data tracks closer together (i.e., allowing continued scaling in data density). The lower shear forces and more efficient thermal conduction of helium also mean the drive will run cooler and will emit less acoustic noise.

Other HDD manufacturers – Seagate and Toshiba – could also develop their own scaling technologies to compete with helium filled offerings. In fact, Seagate has been exploring sealed drives tech for years now. A potential obstacle to large-scale production is cost, owing to the complexity of the manufacturing process. But costs could come down with the continued involvement of major HDD and component manufacturers.

Helium-filled drives are projected to create new opportunities for the HDD industry by increasing drive capacity before next-generation technologies, like heat-assisted magnetic recording, become available.

Projections show the market for helium-filled drives will climb from virtually zero in 2012 to more than 100 million units in 2016, especially if the high costs of production are brought down.

Tags: HDD, WD, Western Digital, HGST, Seagate, Toshiba, Business


Comments currently: 8
Discussion started: 01/04/13 12:35:30 AM
Latest comment: 01/06/13 03:28:16 AM
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It's a shame you can't count on their consumer-class drives for shit.. (or Seagate's, or Hitachi's). 3 years and I've gone through all three brands.
1 0 [Posted by: siuol11  | Date: 01/04/13 12:35:30 AM]
- collapse thread

I've never had that experience. I still have my old Quantum HDD from 1994 loaded with Windows 3.1 that works perfectly.
0 0 [Posted by: fanboyslayer  | Date: 01/04/13 06:39:09 PM]

I doubt many in enterprise are going to buy into the helium joke.
0 1 [Posted by: beenthere  | Date: 01/04/13 10:18:18 AM]
- collapse thread

If the Cost:HDD storage space:power budgets ratios works out as a good gain, they will buy into it otherwise it wont take off. The research into helium and other low density inert gases is real science 100s of research materials published on it.

In enterprise today, outright speed is not priority, power budgets and procurement budgets take importance.
1 0 [Posted by: vanakkuty  | Date: 01/05/13 04:31:46 AM]


iT IS RISKY with Helium . If your HDD gets damaged a bit, how would you recover your data ? Helium have to be kept tightened there
0 0 [Posted by: tbaracu  | Date: 01/05/13 06:35:00 AM]
- collapse thread

Good Question.

If there is a helium leak and if its getting contaminated by outside air, the heat generation goes up along with power consumption by servo to do the same workloads.

That will be the cue for removal and recovery of the data before the drive looses all life.

S.M.A.R.T supports all this type of monitoring and advanced warning in drives today.
0 0 [Posted by: vanakkuty  | Date: 01/05/13 07:34:22 AM]

I was wondering is the helium mainly due to its capability to transfer heat or reduce the drag? If its for the last would a vacuum pumped casing noot be preferable? Or is it impossible to keep a vacuum in there for several years?
0 0 [Posted by: einheriar  | Date: 01/06/13 03:10:57 AM]
- collapse thread

Helium is used for its properties to reduce drag because of its lower density.

Vacuum means much heavier material to construct the casing/sealed structure. And ordinary vacuums out there with standard materials are not really at 'vacuum' its just a order or magnitude poorer in terms of quality of this vacuum due to existing contaminants from atmosphere locked in it.

The higher order vacuums that approach true vacuum like conditions are order of magnitudes much thicker and powered by cryogenic pumps in concert with mechanical vacuum pumps. The order of vacuum pressure will be like 1x10E-6 Torr.

This picture shows a chamber that can achieve these close to ideal vacuum environments. We use them for CVDs (chemical vapor deposition)
0 0 [Posted by: vanakkuty  | Date: 01/06/13 03:28:16 AM]


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