Helium-filled hard drives have hit a new milestone with the first 10TB drive that uses conventional recording methods.
The Ultrastar He10, from Western Digital subsidiary HGST, is not the first 10TB helium drive. (That honor already went to HGST over the summer.) Still, it’s the only helium drive of this size to use perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), which has been the standard recording technology for hard drives for the last decade.
HGST’s earlier 10TB drive used shingled magnetic recording (SMR), in which magnetic tracks overlap to increase capacity. The downside of SMR is that there’s very little guard space between tracks, so rewriting data becomes a much longer process as adjacent tracks may also need to be rewritten. For this reason, SMR is better-suited for cold storage, rather than routine recording.
PMR has a downside as well, in that it’s approaching the upper bounds of potential capacity. Still, HGST has pulled off an impressive feat, cramming seven platters into a standard 1-inch drive. Helium drives from rival Seagate top out at 8 TB. Both companies have been investing in a new technology, called heat-assisted magnetic recording, which allows for much higher capacities and is better-suited for everyday use, but these drives won’t start showing up until next year at the earliest.
As with HGST’s earlier helium drives, the Ultrastar He10 is aimed squarely at enterprise and server use. Ars Technica speculates that the price tag will be around $800.
Why this matters: Compared to air, helium isn’t as dense, so there’s less drag on the drive’s moving parts. The lower level of friction, combined with hermetic seals that keep out contaminates and humidity, allows these drives to run much cooler than a conventional HDD, reducing energy costs. They’re ideal for use in servers, where energy savings and low temperatures are crucial. While the direct impact on consumers will be minimal, the greater capacity could still benefit the cloud services we increasingly rely on.