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Data Storage Hardware

6TB Helium-Filled Hard Drives Take Flight 297

Posted by samzenpus
from the building-it-better dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with some exciting news if you are a storage array manufacturer with a lot of money to spend on hard drives."HGST Monday announced that it's now shipping a helium-filled, 3.5-in hard disk drive with 50% more capacity than the current industry leading 4TB drives. The new drive uses 23% less power and is 38% lighter than the 4TB drives. Without changing the height, the new 6TB Ultrastar He6 enterprise-class hard drive crams seven disk platters into what was a five disk-platter, 4TB Ultrastar drive."
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6TB Helium-Filled Hard Drives Take Flight

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  • Helium Leaks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bfmorgan (839462) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:30AM (#45326475)
    Helium love to leak. How long will these have the He pressure they need to work?
    • Re:Helium Leaks (Score:5, Informative)

      by SternisheFan (2529412) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:38AM (#45326585)
      They do have a 5 year warranty.
      • by bob_super (3391281) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:55AM (#45326849)

        Can I call this planned obsolescence yet?

        I have drives much older than that, and I'm not worried that they are engineered to fail soon (they will, but not by design)

    • by Big Hairy Ian (1155547) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:40AM (#45326621)
      Now I know where to store all my high pitched MP3's :D
    • by tomxor (2379126) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:43AM (#45326655)

      They spent 10 years researching how to reliably seal it into an enclosure...

      Also it is not under the same requirements of a compressed gas canister. The whole point of using helium is for the advantages of it's fluid dynamics compared to a normal air mixture, that's why it's not pressurised.

      I've always wondered why they didn't just use a near vacuum enclosure, but i suppose it's much easier to not deal with pressure difference and use a super low resistance fluid instead at the same atmospheric pressure.

      • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:01PM (#45326935)

        They don't work in vacuum.

        Fluid interaction between spinning platter, gas and the heads creates an air bearing effect that holds the heads at a precisely determined (for a given linear velocity) height away from the disc. It's a stable system, so any slight vibration will be quickly compensated. Without a fluid filling, the heads would crash into the platter.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:24PM (#45327215)

          Without a fluid filling, the heads would crash into the platter.

          It seems the universal secret to success, whether you're throwing a ball or building a hard disk drive, is to bring the liquor out early and keep it comin'!

        • by hottoh (540941)
          Read "Weld to the platters".

          Mr. Bernoulli was on to something. ;)

          <quote><p>the heads would crash into the platter.</p></quote>
        • by Solandri (704621) on Monday November 04, 2013 @02:37PM (#45328879)

          They don't work in vacuum.

          That's true for a regular hard drive, but I'm not sure that's true in this case.

          e.g. A computer used at the ski resort in Mammoth Lakes experiences an air pressure about 25% less than sea level. So the volume of air inside the HDD enclosure wants to expand until it's 33% greater. With a regular HDD they just put in a filtered breathing hole to allow air in or out to equalize the pressure. This equalization is why the drive won't work in a near-vacuum.

          If they'd filled this with helium, I can think of two ways they're handling this expansion problem. They're either using a bladder with regular air inside, and the breathing hole goes to the bladder. That's the way we handled the problem in submersibles - oil compresses slightly more than water, so if you simply seal your thruster motors in an oil bath, the water pressure will crush them and cause the rotating parts to bind. Instead, you attach the oil reservoir to a flexible oil-filled bladder exposed to water. The bladder shrinks under pressure, equalizing the oil pressure inside the motor with the water pressure outside, without contaminating the motor with water.

          But since the HDD is bathed in a gas instead of a liquid, that wastes a lot of interior space - at least 33% if you want the drive to work at about 8000 ft, more if you want it to work higher. I'm not sure they have that much space available if they've crammed in 7 platters. So the other possibility is they've completely sealed the helium inside and the drive maintains the same internal pressure even at altitude.

          Either way, there's a minimum pressure below which the inside of the drive won't drop. In the latter case the pressure is constant. In the former case the minimum pressure is simply the pressure when the bladder is completely emptied of outside air - i.e. even in a vacuum there will still be pressure inside the drive. And if they're having to do that anyway, they'd be smart to make sure that low pressure was still sufficient to allow the drive to operate. That would make this drive the only (relatively) cheap large-capacity drive capable of being used in low ambient pressure applications which normally have to use flash storage or an SSD.

          • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday November 04, 2013 @05:16PM (#45330783)

            Very nice, insightful post, but not really what the parent posts were getting at. The original post that started the chain was something like "why don't they make the interior of the drive a vacuum rather than helium filled?" The answer was that the heads and the platters maintain proper distance using aerodynamic affects which wouldn't work if the drive were emptied of all air.

      • No Vacuum (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:01PM (#45326939)

        I've always wondered why they didn't just use a near vacuum enclosure

        The heads have to have air or some gas to make them "fly". In a vacuum, the heads grind the oxide off the platters.

      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:03PM (#45326971)

        I've always wondered why they didn't just use a near vacuum enclosure

        Because the head would crash. The head does not just magically float a few micrometers above the disk platter. There is no way that any machine could be build so precisely. Instead of floating, it flies. The head is shaped like a tiny airfoil, and it use the ground effect of the air/helium/whatever to maintain the proper distance from the platter. This would not work in a vacuum.

      • If you'd do a bit of reading the mystery is gone.

        HDD heads require an gas (air) cushion to function properly. Bernoulli principle is what it is called.

        <quote><p>I've always wondered why they didn't just use a near vacuum enclosure</p></quote>
      • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:44PM (#45327513) Homepage

        They cant, hard drive absolutely rely on the Bernoulli principle to fly the heads, you have to have an atmosphere inside the drive for them to work.

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:41PM (#45327459) Homepage

      about 24 hours longer than the warranty.

    • Yea, nothing new here. Back in the mid 1970's I had a big 10 meg helium filled hard drive where I worked. Had it's own helium tank on it and the pressure gauge had to be checked regularly because helium can pretty much get through anything. That was a drive that was priced in the six figures, I doubt if WD is going to be doing any better even several decades later on a drive that costs a few hundred bucks and doesn't even have an extra helium tank. They more likely than not are counting on the leaking as a
  • Great... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    another way to squander our helium reserves :s

    • Re:Great... (Score:4, Funny)

      by bobbied (2522392) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:51AM (#45326779)

      Well, we could use just plain H. Wouldn't Hydrogen be better? After all it's lighter. It could make a drive failure a bit more obvious and fun...

      (Sarcastic grin)

      • Re:Great... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:02PM (#45326953)

        It's also even harder to contain than helium - and that's quite an achievement. Hydrogen is quite happy to leak through solid metal, given a bit of time. The atoms are so small, they fit *between* the atoms of a metal, and in the spaces between crystal grains.

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Which makes me wonder WHY He and not Xenon or another far easier to contain gas. Honestly they would get a better Bernoulli effect off of heaver non reactive gas inside.

          • Re:Great... (Score:5, Informative)

            by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday November 04, 2013 @01:05PM (#45327799)

            Which makes me wonder WHY He and not Xenon or another far easier to contain gas.

            Xenon makes no sense whatsoever. It is heavier and infinitely more expensive than air. It is also a poor heat conductor, which is why it is sometimes used in sealed triple pane windows. It would be a terrible choice.

            The point of using helium is that it is light, has low viscosity, high thermal conductivity, and is cheap enough to use in party balloons. Hydrogen is better on all these counts, but leaks more easily, can chemically react with some lubricants, and causes metals to become brittle. The only reason to even consider using any other heavier gas, would be if even helium leaked too much. But apparently they have that problem licked. So helium wins.

            • Re:Great... (Score:4, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04, 2013 @03:08PM (#45329295)

              " but leaks more easily"

              No it does not. Helium is mono-atomic and has the smallest atomic radius of the mono-atomic gasses. This is why it leaks more than anything.

              Hydrogen may be the smallest di-atomic molecule.

        • by LoRdTAW (99712)

          ... and you also get hydrogen embrittlement. Which means that over time the metal parts become brittle and subject to fracture. That is why gas or flux shielding is so important in welding. The water in the air separates in the arc and the hydrogen gets embedded into the weld pool weakening it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)
        Hydrogen easily permeates the crystal lattice of many metals, often causes them to become brittle (or otherwise changing their mechanical and dynamic properties), and easily passes through the tiniest microfractures. I don't see a way of manufacturing a reliable hydrogen-filled hard drive under these conditions.
      • by Plazmid (1132467)

        Except that hydrogen can do some [a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_damage#Shatter_cracks.2C_flakes.2C_fish-eyes_and_micro_perforations"]rather nasty things to metals[/a].

        Although, hard drives don't get very hot or experience high stresses, so it might not effect it.

    • Re:Great... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ericloewe (2129490) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:53PM (#45327631)

      We're talking about small quantities. Think of how many drives you could fill with one balloon's worth of Helium.

      But yes, I get seriously pissed off when I see precious helium that could've been used as a coolant for superconductive magnets (and HDD filler, it seems) being used to fill balloons. If you must absolutely have a stupid floating balloon or massive balloon parade, use hydrogen. When something happens, people will be so scared (even though a large hydrogen fire in an open space or a small one indoors aren't particularly dangerous by fire standards) they'll never want a balloon again unless it's filled with air.

      Sure, it might ruin little Jimmy's birthday party, but a spectacular hydrogen fire is mostly spectacular and is not a waste of Helium.

      If you ever participate in the usage of Helium you will probably be partly responsible for the day when:

      a) An MRI cannot operate because its superconductive electromagnet is not superconductive because it's not cool enough - liquid Helium cools it. (Yes, there are permanent magnet MRIs, but from what I've heard, most powerful MRIs use superconductive electromagnets).

      b) A particle accelerator cannot operate because its superconductive electromagnets aren't being cooled by liquid helium.

      Compared to those, lower capacity HDDs are a nuisance and not having floating balloons is a miniscule price to pay.

    • Re:Great... (Score:5, Informative)

      by danlip (737336) on Monday November 04, 2013 @01:09PM (#45327867)

      This is not squandering, this is a good use and a great example of why we should not be squandering our helium reserves. And you could probably make a 100 drives for the amount of helium in 1 birthday balloon (the open space in a drive is a rather small percentage of the drive, which in turn is much smaller than a balloon).

  • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:31AM (#45326495) Homepage Journal

    Finally a real cloud drive!

  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:32AM (#45326517)

    Here is a relevant portion FTA on what the helium actually DOES (unfortunately not mentioned in the summary):

    At one-seventh the density of air, helium produces less drag on the moving components of a drive - the spinning disk platters and actuator arms -- which translates into less friction and lower operating temperatures.

    The helium-drives run at four to five degrees cooler than today's 7200rpm drives, HGST stated.

    • Wow so how much could we fit on a vacuum drive?
      • Last I heard, hard drive heads flew over the disk surface on a thin film of air. It's hard to see that working in a vacuum.

    • by pla (258480)
      At one-seventh the density of air, helium produces less drag on the moving components of a drive - the spinning disk platters and actuator arms -- which translates into less friction and lower operating temperatures.

      Or even better, a vacuum of 0.147psi has one-one-hundredth the density of air. Both a vacuum and filling it with helium require making the drive air tight; and at least with 3.5" drives, they have an impressively strong frame that could certainly withstand a modest vacuum. Or better yet, do
    • by Deadstick (535032)

      Why use helium to get a low density when vacuum has a density of zip point diddley and is easier to contain than helium?

  • by Thud457 (234763) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:33AM (#45326527) Homepage Journal
    all the MP3 sound like The Chipmunks.
  • The message would of course be delivered by Melissa Rauch:

    "I was so tired of having to vacuum around Howard's RAID drives. Now we just keep them on the ceiling!"

  • by Robotbeat (461248) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:36AM (#45326567) Journal

    Helium tends to like to leak out of things. One has to wonder if the power consumption and reliability and speed of the drives will worsen after, say, a decade deployed in the field as the helium gradually is replaced by air. I suppose that has the added benefit for the hard drive manufacturer of a pretty firm drop-dead (or at least significantly reduced performance) date.

    But the increased complexity of the technical approach, i.e. cramming more platters (and using fancy technical tricks like using helium) versus just increasing platter areal density, portends an end to the incredibly fast reduction in storage costs over the last three decades.

    Another option may be to operate the devices in a soft vacuum (back-filled with a little bit of helium, perhaps). That may further reduce drag. However, I believe the heads rely on an air cushion in order to avoid contact with the platters, so there would be a limit to this.

    • by sjames (1099) on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:49AM (#45326757) Homepage

      Depending on the seal, the drives likely will end up in a soft vacuum as the helium diffuses out but air cannot diffuse in as quickly. That might cause a head crash or it might cause a heating problem for internal components. Helium is a decent thermal conductor.

    • "portends an end to the incredibly fast reduction in storage costs over the last three decades."

      Disagree, it's just taking a turn you're not looking at. Solid state has just really started to take off in the mainstream. As the years go on, it will continue to get faster, cheaper, and more reliable. In a couple short years, we've already broken the $1/gig barrier.

      After that... Well, it's hard to tell. Many consumers are already running out of things to store on their computers. Heck, I'm in basically the sam

      • by Robotbeat (461248)

        "portends an end to the incredibly fast reduction in storage costs over the last three decades."

        Disagree, it's just taking a turn you're not looking at. Solid state has just really started to take off in the mainstream. As the years go on, it will continue to get faster, cheaper, and more reliable. In a couple short years, we've already broken the $1/gig barrier.

        After that... Well, it's hard to tell. Many consumers are already running out of things to store on their computers. Heck, I'm in basically the same boat. Even corporations are getting comfortable "big data" setups for reasonable prices. I wonder how much longer until our storage systems get "big enough" for all but the most intense scientific and global data-mining applications...

        For a while in the 1990s and 2000s, disk capacity was getting cheaper and denser faster than transistors were. Going to solid-state would mean a slowing of the rate of storage cost reduction (though there was already a slow-down exacerbated partially by that huge Thailand flood), not an increase. Besides, there are some big problems with scaling down the cell size in NAND flash while keeping the same error rate. If a significantly new technology doesn't rescue flash, we could be looking at an end to rapid c

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 04, 2013 @11:37AM (#45326583)

    And helium. Shut up I'm telling you how it works.

  • So when they say "shipping" do they mean they mailed themselves a demonstration model? They haven't announced the price yet.

    Wake me up when you can order them from NewEgg.

    (Though the technology is interesting.)

  • by LongearedBat (1665481) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:15PM (#45327113)

    I know more discs actually do make a difference, but it did remind me of this...

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/fuck-everything-were-doing-five-blades,11056/ [theonion.com]

  • by Tim12s (209786)

    My First thought....A clown running around with helium filled disks... brain:WTF.

  • With all that helium leaking in the server room.
  • If He is such a good idea, why not pure nitrogen? Lot cheaper than He.

    Race cars use pure nitrogen for tires. It's a tiny bit lighter, it's less corrosive, and less thermodynamically expansive. Although, that would've killed James Bond-- there's a scene where the bad guys dump his car into a lake with him in it, and he survives by breathing the air from the tires.

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