Seagate has started volume shipments of its first helium-filled hard drives. They were announced earlier this year. The new HDDs are available to all interested parties, which means that Seagate’s biggest customers have already evaluated and validated them. Volume shipments of the 8 TB and 10 TB helium-filled hard drives will help Seagate to improve its financial results and margins, since the new HDDs will be amongst the most expensive drives in the company’s lineup.

Brand New Platform

The Seagate Enterprise Capacity 3.5 helium-filled hard drive is based on the company’s brand-new hermetically-sealed platform featuring fourteen heads and seven perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) platters with up to 1.43 TB capacity each. Seagate claims that the new HDD platform is based on a special wide-weld hermetically sealed drive enclosure with a design based on a multi-step forging process. Besides that, it uses a motor attached to both top and bottom covers, in order to better handle vibrations and maximize reliability. Sensors for humidity, temperature and helium pressure ensure that the helium-filled drive is always being monitored for reliable operation.

Seagate has incorporated PowerChoice and PowerBalance technologies in the new drives. PowerChoice helps datacenter operators to manage power consumption during idle time by either reducing spindle speed, or even stopping disks completely, after an admin-defined interval of idle time. Meanwhile, PowerBalance technology helps the administrators to balance the power consumption and IOPS (input/output operations per second) performance of hard drives prior to installation.

The Enterprise Capacity 3.5" helium hard drive sports a 256 MB multi-segmented cache. The platters rotate at 7200 revolutions per minute (RPM). The host interface is SATA 3.2 (6 Gbps), and supports hot-plugging.

Seagate claims that its multi-segmented cache helps the Enterprise Capacity 3.5 (Helium) HDD to improve performance compared to its predecessors and rivals and enables burst transfer rates at up to 600 MB/s (for small chunks of data, of course). The company does not reveal many details about its new caching algorithms, but 256 MB of memory is still a rather huge buffer.

Lineup and Performance Numbers

Seagate will offer multiple versions of its Enterprise Capacity 3.5" Helium HDDs, including models with 8 TB capacity, 4K and 512e sectors as well as self-encrypting (SED) options.

Lineup of Seagate's Enterprise Capacity 3.5" Helium HDDs with SATA Interface
  Standard 4KN Standard 512e Self-Encrypting 4KN (SED) Self-Encrypting 512e (SED)
10 TB Capacity ST10000NM0006 ST10000NM0016  ST10000NM0056 ST10000NM0046
8 TB Capacity ST8000NM0006  ST8000NM0016 ST8000NM0056 ST8000NM0046

Seagate declares fairly high performance numbers for its Enterprise Capacity 3.5" Helium HDDs: 243 or 254 MB/s maximum sustained transfer rate as well as 4.16 ms average latency, which is higher than the numbers listed by competing drives from HGST and Western Digital.

Comparison of Helium-Filled HDDs
  Seagate Enterpise Capacity
HGST Ultrastar He10
WD Gold
Capacity 10 TB 8 TB
RPM 7200 RPM
Interface SATA 6 Gbps
DRAM Cache 256 MB 128 MB
Maximum Sustained Transfer Rate 243 MB/s
254 MB/s
225 MB/s
249 MB/s
205 MB/s
Average Latency 4.16 ms unknown
Rated Workload (Drive Writes Per Day) 0.189 unknown 0.189
Equivalent of 550 TB of Writes per Year unknown Equivalent of 550 TB of Writes per Year
Acoustics Idle 28 - 30 dBA 20 - 36 dBA 20 dBA
Seek 32 - 34 dBA unknown 36 dBA
Power Rating Idle 4.5 W 5 W 5.10 W
Random Write 6.5 W 6.8 W 7.4 W
Random Read 8.5W 6.8 W 7.4 W
MTBF 2.5 million hours
Warranty 5 Years
Price $695 at Amazon unknown $629

Usage of helium inside a hard drive helps to reduce the drag force acting on the spinning disk stack and lower the fluid flow forces affecting the disks and the heads. As a result, HDD makers can install up to seven platters into a standard drive and also use lower-power motors and mechanics. This reduces the power consumption of the HDDs. For example, power consumption of Seagate’s 10 TB hard drive is actually lower than power consumption of the company’s 8 TB drive for nearline applications (8.5 W per drive vs. 10.4 W per drive).

For cloud datacenters, power consumption of HDDs is as important as their capacity. Increasing the capacity of the top-of-the-range hard drives from 8 TB to 10 TB automatically boosts total capacity per rack by 25% (which means an increase from 1920 TB to 2400 TB per standard rack that holds 240 drives). Going helium additionally reduces the power consumption of such a rack by up to 456 W. An increase of storage capacity amid reduction of power consumption not only maximizes data storage capacities of a particular facility, but also shrinks its total cost of ownership (TCO), an important metric for companies with multiple large datacenters.

Broad Availability, But No SAS Models Yet

It should be noted that when Seagate introduced its Enterprise Capacity 3.5" 10 TB HDD in January, the company announced models with Serial ATA 6 Gb/s and SAS 12 Gb/s interfaces, which were aimed at different environments. At present, Seagate only ships models with SATA interfaces, meaning that customers, who need SAS, may still be evaluating SAS drives, which will come to market later. By contrast, HGST offers different models of its 10 TB HDDs: with SATA and SAS interfaces.

While Seagate said that its 10 TB helium-filled HDDs are available from its distributors worldwide, it did not reveal their actual prices. Amazon currently sells the Seagate Enterprise Capacity 3.5" HDD 10TB (ST10000NM0016) for $695.98 (note that this is not an MSRP), which is far from affordable. Still, keep in mind that we talking about exclusive products based on a brand-new platform. Such HDDs make a lot of sense for datacenters, but, currently, not so much for desktops or NAS units.

Source: Seagate

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  • surfnaround - Friday, May 13, 2016 - link

    @boush ...

    Read up on dunning-kruger effect... boeush!

    One problem that you have not realized ... The cushion is caused by the platter spinning... Not by the drive head spinning...
    Your understanding of physics is limited to airplane wings, because what your have described is an airplane wing moving through air...
  • boeush - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    P.S. If I had a goal of preventing read/write heads from crashing into platters in a vacuum enclosure, I might look into giving both the heads and the platters a matched electrostatic charge (i.e. both positive, or both negative) so that they repel each other - and do so more strongly the closer they get. Only issue would be calibrating the charge strength against the magnetic field induced by charges in relative motion and the resistivity of the storage medium (so the stored data doesn't get mangled by the mere act of spinning the platter past the moving head.)
  • Azethoth - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    You are totally dazzling me with your HDD building prowess. Is there a twitter feed I can subscribe to? Are you going to start your own vacuum HDD company with auto erase as you read and write technology? Can I get shares now?
  • LeftSide - Friday, April 29, 2016 - link

    This is quite possible the dumbest thing, or most amusing thing I've read all week. All depending on whether you're trolling or not.
  • frostyfiredude - Friday, April 29, 2016 - link

    Ah brilliant, that would just recreate the original problem again, put some force on the disk in a lopsided manner then spin it. This time by using charges that conveniently erase disk sectors as the disk rotates. How many RPM will it take before that disk wobbles out of control or tears itself apart I wonder.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Friday, April 29, 2016 - link

    So, your HDD would constantly wipe itself. Fantastic job. What next, a car that has no wheels?
  • web2dot0 - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    You really think the engineers working for the company are that dense as not have thought about that? The hard drive industry have been around of decades. I think they know a thing or two about the intricacies of building a hard drive by now ....
  • webdoctors - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    A vacuum isn't the same as Helium. Its more than just the reduced drag of using Helium. Read in between the lines:

    "For cloud datacenters, power consumption of HDDs is as important as their capacity. "

    Helium makes things float, when the HDD gets lighter, the data center gets lighter. When the data center floats, where does it go? Into the clouds, BOOM! CLOUD data center!
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    Made my day!
  • Gigaplex - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    Helium is lighter than air, but is much heavier than a vacuum. A vacuum sealed drive would float better.

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