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Western Digital unveils 6TB, helium-filled hard drive

  • A stack of platters and the read / write arms that pull data off of them in an ordinary hard drive. New helium-filled models from Western Digital pack in more platters yet draw less power.Western Digital

  • Western Digital

  • New helium-filled hard disk drives from Western Digital pack in more platters yet draw less power.Western Digital

Western Digital had a problem: ordinary air.

Modern hard drives store data on five metal platters that spin at up to 15,000 revolutions per minute, so fast in fact that drag from the tiny amount of air they whistle through is a problem. But at one-seventh the density of air, helium provides far less resistance for those spinning disks, letting the company pack in more disks that require less power and therefore cost less to operate.

The company on Monday unveiled a 6 terabyte hard disk called the Ultrastar He6 that packs seven platters of data filled goodness into the space usually filled by five. The company says these helium-filled hard disks are the future.

"Our mainstream helium platform will serve as the future building block for new products and technologies moving forward. This is a huge feat, and we are gratified by the support of our customers in the development of this platform," said Brendan Collins, vice president of product marketing, for the company.

Netflix appears to agree.

“We serve billions of hours of streaming video per quarter to over 40 million subscribers,” said David Fullagar, director of content delivery architecture at Netflix. “The high storage density and lower power usage of the Ultrastar He6 hard drives allow us to continue with that goal, and create a great customer experience.”

The new drive consumes 23 percent less power when idle, and it runs quieter. (It weighs less too, of course -- fully 50 grams less, the company said.) The drives are hermetically sealed to keep the helium in, something the company said was an engineering challenge.