Currently, 3.5” hard drives top out at 4TB (4000GB) of capacity each, and the popularity of things like cloud storage and Facebook have lead data centres to demand more. Drive manufacturers, hitting a limit of five platters per drive, now have two routes to even higher capacities: up the platter density, or start building drives with exotic materials.
HGST, formerly Hitachi, has chosen the latter with its new Ultrastar HE6. Filled with helium, the balloon-like HDDs offer an impressive 6TB of storage per drive and a host of improvements over its fresh air-breathing counterparts.
Doesn't look like much, does it?
In HGST's words, helium “reduces the turbulence caused by the spinning disk[s], cuts power consumption and results in a lower temperature within the disk drive.” Indeed, while HGST's existing 4TB Ultrastar 7K4000 contains five platters, the Ultrastar HE6 contains seven, despite being touted to consume 23% less power, run 30% quieter, and operate four degrees cooler.
It's worth mentioning, though, that HGST doesn't list a rotational speed for the HE6. I expect it to match the 7K4000, which runs at 7200 RPM.
All the magic happens on the inside
HGST will offer the new Ultrastars in both SATA and SAS 6Gbps trim and, despite being new technology, will ship with five-year warranties and 2,000,000 hour MTBF (mean time before failure) ratings. In fact, HGST seems to trust helium enough to designate it as “the future building block” for future cold storage (rarely accessed truckloads of data) products; and heat-assisted recording technology (HAMR) and shingled magnetic recording (SMR) – technologies that will allow drives way bigger than 6TB.
Those are some lofty goals, especially considering the fact that helium – surprise! – is a declining resource. Some sources have predicted less than 50 years remaining for earth's natural stocks of the stuff, and mass-produced helium HDDs are starting right here with HGST's Ultrastar HE6. So, you can be sure to expect some pretty high prices on these drives, or at least on their eventual successors, once they hit the market.