Hard Disk Drives – Bigger and Cheaper Than Ever – Thanks to Helium

Hard Disk Drives Are Now Available in 10TB and 12TB Capacities – For a Reasonable Cost

In the battle for maximum I/O performance Solid State Drives (SSD) have handily won the war, but spinning disk hard drive technology is far from dead – in fact, it’s better than ever. Thanks to new technology such as helium sealed hard drives, the capacities are higher than ever. And the costs are reasonable (considering the capacity). Mass storage has never been cheaper.

Here’s an example: the Western Digital Gold 10TB Datacenter Hard Disk Drive (WD101KRYZ) (Buy on Amazon) is a 3.5″ Form Factor drive with a standard SATA interface – compatible with most modern computers but boasts an astounding 10 TB (Terabytes) of capacity. That’s 10,000 Gigabytes. It’s a 7200 RPM drive, compatible with the well known SATA interface, which has been a universal standard for at least a dozen years, and is in the sub-$400 range.

There’s also a 12 TB (buy on Amazon) variety now – for those that really need a lot of storage space. Read on for our review of these amazing devices and our recommendation for the best hard drive for your needs.

Let’s take a look at some of these marvels of modern technology – and find out how this is accomplished.

WD Gold Vs WD Black – What’s the best hard drive?
Western Digital offers several lines of hard disk drives branded by color. Each type is targeted towards a specific use (and price point). How does the WD Gold compare vs the WD Black or the WD Green? Read on to find out.

  • WD Gold – Enterprise Datacenter usage – These are workhorse drives meant to be used by demanding workloads (around the clock) and designed to be highly reliable. 7200 RPM speed with 5 year warranty.
  • WD Black – Desktop usage but engineered for high performance, such as gaming. 7200 RPM speed, 5 year warranty.
  • WD Green – Reduced power consumption. Power saving technology also results in cooler running and quieter drives. Typically 5400 RPM speed.
  • WD Blue – Higher capacity, meant for Desktop usage. Speeds from 5400 RPM to 7200 RPM, depending on size.
  • WD Purple – Optimized for camera recording and surveillance systems. Available in high capacity, but not high performance.
  • WD Red – Meant for Network Attached Storage (NAS) usage in RAID arrays. Engineered to run cooler and to be running 24 x 7. High compatibility with popular NAS storage chassis. Typically 5400 RPM with 3 year warranty.

Given that the WD Black and WD Gold are very close in price-point, I’d generally recommend going with WD Gold for a general purpose high performance desktop.

High Capacity Courtesy Of HelioSeal Technology

The largest drives sold by Western Digital use HelioSeal Technology, their trademarked term for helium sealing. Sound exotic? It is, sort of. Far from bleeding edge tech, it is now in it’s 4th generation and has been shipped in over 15 million hard drives. Field-tested and proven – it enables high capacity, reliability, and power efficiency.

Why is helium sealing such a critical factor for performance and capacity? From the manufacturer (HGST): “This innovative technology hermetically seals the HDD and replaces the air inside with helium, which is one-seventh the density of air. The less-dense atmosphere resets the boundaries and challenges of conventional high-capacity HDDs, allowing for dramatic increases in efficiency, reliability and value.”

Further details on why helium makes all the difference:

  • More density – “The less dense atmosphere inside a HelioSeal HDD virtually eliminates turbulence, allowing read/write mechanisms to track more precisely and reliably over storage media, enabling higher recording densities.”
  • More platters – “Less internal turbulence also makes it possible to add more disks and heads to achieve even higher capacity per HDD. This is how HGST delivers industry-leading 8TB capacity and beyond in a seven-disk design.”
  • Less resistance – “Disks spin more easily in a helium-filled environment, resulting in less power usage—even with additional platters. Less power consumption means cooler operation and lower cooling requirements, reducing both energy costs and carbon footprint.”
  • Reducing the risk – “Many air-filled drives use a breather filter leading to reliability problems when used in environments with high levels of carbon in the air. This problem does not exist with sealed drives.”

But isn’t helium a rare element? Not much helium is required for hard drives – a standard tank can fill 10,000 hard drives. Helium party balloons are estimated to use 19% of all the available helium in a year, whereas hard drive production only uses 1%. Making high capacity, highly reliable data storage devices is probably a much better use of that helium.

Enterprise Reliability Too

The Western Digital Gold Edition is meant for datacenter usage. Concerned that all those extra platters means more failures? Not the case – the biggest drives are not more error prone than the smaller ones, in fact they’re even more robust. The 10TB and 12TB models boast a MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) of 2,500,000 hours or 25% more than the smaller drives. All models have a 5 year limited warranty as well.

How About The Cheaper Part?

OK, I said that hard drives were cheaper too, but how is a $400 Hard Drive considered cheap? By the measure of cost per Terabyte of storage. Is the 10 TB too rich for your blood? The sweet spot is the 6TB size, but there’s a size for every budget. Stepping up to the 8 TB size also gets you double the cache memory (256MB compared to 128MB).

The Best Of Both Worlds – Combining SSD and HDD

If you’re building a PC from scratch I recommend a moderately high capacity (256-512GB), fast SSD for the boot and OS drive, and a WD Gold edition Datacenter class hard drive for mass storage. The price is reasonable, and the performance and reliability is great.

For the OS/Boot drive, assuming you need a SATA interface, I recommend the Samsung EVO 850 SSD in 500 GB capacity. It’s a 2.5″ form factor SATA SSD. Part # MZ-75E500B/AM, but these other options are great too.

For the mass storage, I recommend the WD Gold edition Datacenter HDD of the capacity that meets your budget.

Helium facts

  • Helium is a chemical element with symbol He and atomic number 2 – The second lightest and the second most abundant element in the observable universe. Only Hydrogen (H) is lighter.
  • While abundant in the universe, there are only limited supplies on earth, because helium tends to easily escape from the atmosphere. It’s got the lowest boiling point of any element.
  • It’s an inert gas and is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-toxic. It’s perfectly safe as anyone who has ever inhaled helium from a party balloon can confirm.
  • Helium in liquid form is used in cryogenics – and particularly in cooling superconducting magnets, such as those used in MRI scanners.
  • Helium is found on Earth as part of natural gas deposits, having been created from natural radioactive decay within the earth’s crust. It is extracted for commercial purposes via fractional distillation.

Photo Credits

Some product photos and imagery on this page is property of the manufacturer, and provided by the manufacturer.

About the author

Timothy Platt

I'm an all around computer junkie, interested in many aspects of programming, operating systems, and enterprise IT technologies. I love Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows and I'm not particularly militant about any one over the other.