Western Digital Planning to Launch 7-Platter, Helium Filled Hard Drives

Paul Lilly

Helium is the key to big capacity hard drives

As long as hard drive makers keep making technological advances, these mechanical devices will maintain a capacious advantage over their solid state brethren. Wondering what the next thing in HDD design is going to be? Try helium. Turns out that helium is useful for more than making funny sounding voices and filling up balloons -- it's also the key to building bigger capacity HDDs (and no, they don't float).

The density of helium is seven times less than air. By replacing air with helium in sealed drive platforms, HGST (Western Digital's subsidiary) is able to reduce drag force on the spinning disk stack, which in turn significantly reduces the mechanical power necessary to drive the motor. It also reduces the fluid flow forces buffeting the disks and arms, thereby allowing disks to be placed closer together.

That being the case, WD says the first helium filled hard drives will feature a 7-platter design, XBitLabs reports . These drives will come in enlarged capacities -- 5TB to 5.5TB -- to select customers by the end of the year. Mass production is still several quarters away.

While roadmaps are still being worked out, 6TB and 7TB drives could debut as early as next year. What's not so clear at this point is whether helium-filled hard drives will solely be targeted at enterprise customers, or if home consumers will benefit, too.

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