LONDON – A line of helium-filled, 3.5-inch format hard disk drives is likely to elevate Western Digital Corp. to the top of the enterprise disk drive market, predicts market researcher IHS.
Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, now a Western Digital subsidiary, announced last year that would introduce 3.5-inch format hard disk drives (HDDs) filled with helium gas in 2013. IHS expects the HDDs to be rolled out in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Western Digital had a 45 percent share of shipments, compared to rival Seagate Technology’s 48 percent, in the third quarter of 2012. It's market share has been rising, IHS said. "Helium-filled HDDs could propel Western Digital to the top enterprise HDD spot, dethroning Seagate in the process," said analyst Fang Zhang. "Western Digital says helium-filled HDDs can reduce power consumption — an issue of concern for enterprise HDD users — by more than 20 percent. And helium-filled HDDs can advance drive capacity by another 25 to 50 percent, without increasing platter density or drive thickness."
Helium-filled HDDs are beneficial in several ways. The density of helium is one-seventh that of air, reducing drag on the spinning disk stack and on the arms which position heads over data tracks, thereby reducing energy consumption. The scheme also allows disks to be placed closer together, with seven disks able to occupy the space of five. The more efficient thermal conduction of helium, compared with air, also means drives will run cooler and emit less noise.
A disadvantage is that the drives must remain sealed. Leakage of air in to, and helium out of, the drive could result in premature failure.
IHS estimates the market for helium-filled HDDs will climb from zero in 2012 to more than 100 million units by 2016. At the same time, technological hurdles and patent issues could delay the introduction of alternative technologies by Western Digital's rivals, Seagate and Toshiba.
Helium-filled drives were demonstrated by Western Digital at an investor event in Irvine, Calif., in 2012. Comparison of the power consumption between a helium-filled drive and an equivalent air-filled drive showed a reduction in power consumption of 23 percent. In addition to consuming less power, the drive operates at temperatures 4 degrees C less than conventional drives.
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