Explained: Helium Hard Drives

Explained: Helium Hard Drives

While helium hard drives are not exactly designed to float in air, helium’s buoyant properties make it useful in storing more data in the same form factor. 

This is helium hard drives, explained. 

What is a helium hard drive?

A helium hard drive is a hard disk drive (HDD) with an internal enclosure that is filled and hermetically sealed with helium gas rather than oxygen.

Why fill a hard drive with helium?

When it comes to inflating for air buoyancy, helium, the second lightest element, is typically the choice gas over hydrogen as it is nonflammable. 

Filling a hard drive with helium creates a unique low-density environment where the internal hardware can operate more efficiently. Helium has about 1/7 the density of air, resulting in lower turbulence compared to air. Less friction requires less rigidity in platter thickness, allowing engineers to not only use thinner platters but also fit additional platters within each enclosure—resulting in greater capacity and greater speed. While the maximum number of platters that can currently fit in a standard air drive is six platters, the maximum in a helium drive is 10 platters.

What are the benefits of using helium in hard drives?

Along with significant capacity advantages and internal performance improvements, the use of helium hard drives can also yield more energy-efficient environments. Smaller vibrations between molecules generate less heat, meaning helium-filled drives can run cooler than air-filled hard drives and require less power and cooling. 

Another benefit of helium-filled hard drives is lower turbulence. Disks spinning in helium create significantly less noise. This less turbulent environment can culminate in a more reliable and stable disk operation.

Do helium hard drives leak?

The greatest challenge in developing a helium-filled hard drive was finding a way to seal helium within the enclosure. The chemical nature of this tiny element is to escape between heavier elements in its environment, making it very susceptible to slipping out of any container. The internal enclosure of today’s helium hard drives is hermetically sealed using sophisticated engineering and manufacturing techniques pioneered by Western Digital. The helium remains contained within the drive throughout its operational lifespan.

What is the impact of using helium hard drives?

The world’s first commercial helium hard drive was introduced in 2013 by HGST, now Western Digital. Since then, helium hard drives have found critical utility in powering high-volume data centers. Housing hundreds or thousands of servers, helium-sealed hard drives offer a more efficient solution for large-scale storage requirements, such as cloud storage. 

To learn more about helium hard drive technology, read about Western Digital’s HelioSeal® platform and how the first helium hard drive was invented.

Artwork by Cat Tervo

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