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Data Storage Upgrades Hardware

WD Builds High-Capacity, Helium-Filled HDDs 356

Posted by timothy
from the it-slices-it-dices-it-sings-in-falsetto dept.
Lucas123 writes "Western Digital subsidiary HGST today announced that after 10 years of development it is preparing to release 3.5-in data center-class HDDs that are hermetically sealed with helium inside. The helium reduces drag and wind turbulence created by the spinning platters, all but eliminating track misregistration that has become a major issue to increasing drive density in recent years. Because of that, HGST will be able to add two more platters along with increasing the tracks per inch, which results in a 40% capacity increase. The drives will also use 23% less power because of the reduction of friction on the spindle. HGST said the new seven-platter helium drives will weigh 29% less per terabyte of capacity that today's five-platter drives. In other words, a seven-platter helium disk will weigh 690 grams, the same as today's five-platter drives."
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WD Builds High-Capacity, Helium-Filled HDDs

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  • Why not a vacuum (Score:5, Informative)

    by suso (153703) * on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:28PM (#41328431) Homepage Journal

    Those of you wondering why they don't just use a vacuum inside the drive. Hard drive heads ride on a cusion of air (or in this case, a gas of some kind) so that they don't crash against the drive.

  • Disaster (Score:3, Funny)

    by darkpixel2k (623900) <aaron@heyaaron.com> on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:31PM (#41328455) Homepage
    Just imagine something like this [youtube.com] with a huge 'WD' logo on the side inside your computer.
  • by mhajicek (1582795) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:31PM (#41328461)
    New Helium filled drives weigh less!
  • So that is where all the Helium has gone...
    • Re:This explains it! (Score:5, Informative)

      by slashmydots (2189826) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:34PM (#41328527)
      In case anyone didn't get that, there's a worldwide helium shortage at the moment.
      • Re:This explains it! (Score:5, Informative)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:56PM (#41328823) Journal

        Likely to be a permanent condition.

        Helium is light enough that it doesn't persist very well in the atmosphere(unlike the heavier noble gasses, that you can just distill out if the price gets high enough to pay for the energy needed), and it is only replenished quite slowly by alpha decay of assorted radioactives in the crust.

        The only significant source is natural gas wells in proximity to suitable minerals over geologic time and equipped to capture the helium when the product is brought to the surface.

        • Re:This explains it! (Score:4, Informative)

          by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:16PM (#41329659)

          "Likely to be a permanent condition."

          Well, you can thank the U.S. government for that.

          We used to have the world's largest helium supply, by far, in the U.S. Strategic Helium Reserve, until the government decided to do away with it just a few years ago.

          And now there is a shortage. Imagine that.

      • If there is a shortage why are they still selling helium filled balloons at dollar tree for a dollar? All those balloons will eventually pop and the helium will be lost into outer space.
        • Re:This explains it! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by glueball (232492) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @06:15PM (#41329041)

          Liquid Helium sell for $8.00/L on the wholesale quantity market.
          It is still very, very cheap.

          Last fill on my MRI machine was 800L due to cold head failure. Lucky me I have a service policy, but still, that's a big use of Helium. I would not worry about your Helium balloon.

          Bill
           

  • But the cost? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sandytaru (1158959) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:32PM (#41328479) Journal
    Is this going to be cheaper than SSD? The price point for solid state finally reached where platter drives were about ten years ago (a dollar or less a gig) and I installed one on my system just last week as my OS drive. Also, are these going to be significantly faster than the standard five platter density drives? Frankly, weight only matters in tablets, phones, and laptops. I'm not aware of any crushing weight problems in the steel server racks...
    • by oji-sama (1151023)
      Drives with more platters in them usually have better price to storage capacity ratio. And the density can be increased. I would not be surprised if these were cheaper (relatively) than the current server HDDs. Probably not significantly faster though.
    • Re:But the cost? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tough Love (215404) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:46PM (#41328689)

      Is this going to be cheaper than SSD?

      Yes, of course. Only a tiny amount of helium is used.

      Also, are these going to be significantly faster than the standard five platter density drives?

      As usual for density increases, transfer rate goes up, seek time is unchanged. Moving disks even further into the role formerly occupied by tape. Maybe the reduced friction (= less heat) could make 10K drives more practical, improving seek time but probably also being a boutique product squeezed between SSD and 72k disks, and thus expensive.

      • by vux984 (928602)

        seek time is unchanged

        Reduced friction and reduced turbulence might enable higher seek times.

        • by vux984 (928602) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:52PM (#41328759)

          Reduced friction and reduced turbulence might enable higher seek times.

          By higher I meant better, which in the case of seek times is of course lower.

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Reduced friction and reduced turbulence might enable higher seek times.

          Slightly faster seek times as there's less, err, air resistance that the heads have to oppose. Unfortuantely, they added two platters which means the seek arm has nearly 40% more mass. More mass means more inertia, which means the heads are harder to start and stop quickly, which probably more than compensates for the reduction due to air resistance. It could seek *slower*, too.

    • I'm not aware of any crushing weight problems in the steel server racks...

      For most server racks. probably not as there is a log of empty space in standard servers. Here at $WORK, we have a MAID array for archival storage. Since the drives in the unit only spin up (and get hot) when needed, the array contains many more drives than a standard disk array. This makes the unit quite heavy, and could overload the floor on some buildings. Luckily, this is on the first floor, so it won't come crashing through the ceiling.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Weight matters in the datacenter too... Drives are probably the densest component in a rack. A fully populated rack can easily weigh over 2000lbs (900KG for people who use a sane system of measurement). A well managed datacenter (and competent sysadmins) should include consideration of the structural load (on the building), point loads (particularly on raised floors), and weight in transit. After you've done a few datacenter moves, you begin to think of things like the weight limit on elevators, truck lift-

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:34PM (#41328523)

    These disks are great except when you replay audio files the vocalists sound like munchkins.

  • Scarce(r) resource (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:34PM (#41328529)

    What about the impending Helium shortage?

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/med-tech/why-is-there-a-helium-shortage-10031229

    • by XiaoMing (1574363)

      What about the impending Helium shortage?

      http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/med-tech/why-is-there-a-helium-shortage-10031229

      This is a much bigger issue/concern for MRIs that are cooled by liquid helium (remember, liquid takes up 1000x LESS space than gas, think of how much helium is needed to fill one of those).

      The tiny amount of gaseous helium needed to create one of these hard-drives will probably cost much less than the amount of material saved (7-platter drive costing 50% less than a 4-platter one according to TFA).

  • Done 40 years ago (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:34PM (#41328533)

    Helium was used as a lubricant in fixed head disk drives in the late 60's.
    They had to keep a tank of it attached since it is very difficult to keep it from leaking out.
    How, exactly, are they going to keep the Helium from leaking out?

    • Fear: a terror level warning of paisley is on the side of each one permanently ensuring the helium will never risk leaving.
    • Re:Done 40 years ago (Score:4, Informative)

      by wierd_w (1375923) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:49PM (#41328735)

      Good question. Helium atoms are so small that they can escape through tiny cracks between metal grain boundries in metals. Normal air does not. The only thing I can think is that they used some kind of penetrating sealant.

    • My best guess is that they'll have a low pressure sensor and a refill valve. A good seal should be good for several years, and topping back up on helium should be pretty trivial.

      Helium is cheap. Atleast, in the quantities that would be used in hard disks. If each drive leaks a cubic inch per year, and you have 50,000 drives, you're probably looking at a 4000-6000$ recharge cost per year, just for the raw gas. Small price to pay for increased capacity and decreased volume per unit of capacity per disk.

      • by EdIII (1114411) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @06:22PM (#41329101)

        Small price to pay for increased capacity and decreased volume per unit of capacity per disk.

        Until it is all gone, or $10k for a recharge instead of $1.

        There is a world wide helium shortage and a bunch of morons administrating the reserves. Average person just does not know, and why would they? We have been wasting it in balloons for most people's lives.

        Barring a massive increase in technology, it is a completely nonrenewable resource. Unless you look at it in geological time frames, and even then, the planet only has so much.

        By the time I retire MRI machines might cost several more times to operate just because of the helium costs alone....

        • Let's think about this another way.

          Let's say right now, that a hard disk costs $300 for a 3TB drive. And helium tech allows the same drive to be made, almost free, for a capacity of 4TB. That's probably $100 aditional value seen by the consumer.

          Right now if we say that the hard disk, with a good estimate, has about 10 cubic inches of 40 cubic inches of helium in the drive, and leaks 2 cubic inches per year.

          At current helium prices, the price for a cubic foot of helium as far as I know is about $5. So you're

    • How, exactly, are they going to keep the Helium from leaking out?

      Well, there was the whole thing about it being hermetically sealed...

      My guess is that they have this figured out.

    • Yes, I worked in some of those drives (I remember a "big" 10 meg drive) and the helium leakage will be a problem. But not for WD, only for the users. The helium will leak (the damn stuff is tiny and leaks out of anything ), but WD only needs to keep enough inside or the drive to last beyond the absurdly short warranty period. Then the drive self destructs. Good for WD if they manage to keep creating a market for new drives, bad for the customer.
  • You'll sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks!

  • by fm6 (162816)

    Yet another way to use up a nonrenewable resource [dailymail.co.uk].

    • We should save the helium for more critical applications, such as filling up balloons and talking like Munchkins.
  • Not the first (Score:5, Informative)

    by dsgrntlxmply (610492) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:47PM (#41328705)
    These drives are not the first. Circa 1969, Digital Development Corporation of San Diego sold a line of head-per-track disks that used a helium atmosphere. A typical unit took around 24 inches vertical height in a 19-inch rack. Given the difficulties of sealing anything against helium leakage, these drives required a small helium cylinder and pressure regulator to maintain a small positive pressure within the enclosure, and had a pop-off valve to vent excess pressure. The electronics consisted of about a dozen circuit cards built with discrete transistors. The capacities of these units were amusingly small by modern standards: the first one that I had direct experience with, held something like 128K bytes.
  • by Ron Bennett (14590) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:52PM (#41328765) Homepage

    Sure helium could improve performance and be beneficial for some uses, but anyone buying these need to ask what happens when the helium inevitably leaks out...

    To me it looks another example of planned obsolescence at work. Though, perhaps, WD will take the razor blade approach and sell helium refill kits.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:58PM (#41328853)

      anyone buying these need to ask what happens when the helium inevitably leaks out...

      No worries; when the balloon attached to the side is half-full you know it's time to replace the drive and then find a child to give the balloon to.

      Or if you are not in a hurry take the drive in to any Party Center USA store for a free refill.

  • This drive's weight and its mass will be different due to the buoyancy of the helium in a sealed container. I wonder if the drives contain 690 grams of mass, or if their weight is the same as a non-buoyant 690-gram object (i.e. 6.77 newtons at sea level on Earth). The implication seems to be that the helium-filled drives contain more than 690 grams of mass, but weigh the same as a 690-gram object.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @06:04PM (#41328937) Homepage Journal
    Brings about a whole new meaning to keeping your data "in the cloud," doesn't it?


    OK, so that didn't sound as funny as I thought it would...there's a joke in there somewhere, dammit.
  • by pjwhite (18503) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @06:45PM (#41329341) Homepage

    Another advantage of using a drive filled with helium is better thermal conductivity than air (0.142 vs 0.024) . The heat generated by the inner workings of the drive will be conducted to the outer case, keeping the inside cooler.

  • by jd2112 (1535857) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:55PM (#41329983)
    All of my music files sound like they were recorded by Alvin and the Chipmunks.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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