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Could helium in hard drives make performance go 'Up?'

It seems like a simple concept, but nobody has tried it before now.

Western Digital announced that it will be encasing a drive in helium as early as next year, which should boost performance and lower temperatures. A spokesperson for Hitachi, the Western Digital subsidiary that is making the new gear, told Computerworld that while they don’t know the specifics of what a helium drive would do, they expect to see performance gains.

Helium is a lot lighter than air. It’s why balloons filled with it rise to the ceiling. What Western Digital plans to do is hermetically seal the core of a hard drive in helium gas. This would, they estimate, reduce the drag and friction on the drive, enabling it to use 23 percent less power to operate. They expect that this design will allow them to increase the capacity of the drive by up to 40 percent without changing its size.

Western Digital seems to be using a lot of estimates at this point — the new drives aren’t expected out until at least next year — but doing the math based on those estimates shows that their standard, small 4 terabyte data center drives would be able to hold about 5.6 terabytes. So you get a big capacity increase and a cost decrease at the same time. spread across a large data center, that could add up.

Of course, if the drives are completely sealed, one wonders why they wouldn’t just use hydrogen, which is even lighter than helium. I suppose the possibility that a spark, however remote, could trigger a Hindenburg-like explosion on your desktop computer might keep most people from buying them. At least you could yell “Oh, the humanity!” as your data goes up in flames.

No, I guess helium is better. Instead of burning metal, we can imagine scenes from the cute Pixar movie Up!, only instead of floating the old man’s house with balloons, perhaps in the future we can pilot our strange craft with Hitachi hard drives.

Posted by John Breeden II on Sep 18, 2012 at 9:39 AM


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