Helium Drives and Data Recovery

This latest innovation in hard drive technology has taken years to perfect, but the new helium filled hard drives that have entered the market in recent years allow more data to be stored by exploiting the lightness of the gas. But what does this mean for data recovery?

Whenever you buy a hard drive, or select a hard drive for a computer, you will probably assume that’s all the storage capacity you’ll need – and then three years later it’s full to the brim with photos, videos and music. Files are getting bigger; photographs with an increasing number of megapixels are the norm, and 4K video is released as standard by media companies. We’re storing more and more of our lives on our hard drives, meaning hard drives need to get bigger. New technology is being developed, which has the potential to pose problems for data recovery.

Western Digital have rose to the challenge and released a 12TB hard drive. Released under the commercial-orientated brand HGST rather than WD, the Ultrastar He12 is one of the new helium filled drives. The hard disk drive has a whopping eight platters, each with an average density of 864Gbits/square inch. The drive comes in both SATA and SAS, and spins at 7200RPM, with a data transfer speed of 12Gbps.

Hard drive manufacturers have been experimenting with using helium in drives for decades, but creating an air manufacturing process that allows the drives to be airtight had proven tricky until fairly recently. The first hard drive to fit six terabytes of storage into a standard 3.5-inch hard drive container was HGST’s Ultrastar He6, which was the first helium-filled hard drive on the market in 2013. So why would manufacturers want to fill their hard drives with helium, what does this mean for the user, and perhaps more importantly, what implications does this have for data recovery?

As the increase in hard drive storage capacity started to hit a plateau a few years back, WD started experimenting by filling their hard drives with helium. But what does filling a hard drive with helium, and why not just fill it with air? Turbulence is one reason – platters spinning at vast speeds result I air turbulence, which can induce wobble and makes it difficult for the read/write heads to follow the data tracks on the magnetic platters accurately. Because helium is incredibly light – with only 15% the density of air – this turbulence is significantly reduced. In turn, this increases the amount of data per square inch of the platter’s surface. There’s also an energy saving aspect, too. The internal friction of hard drive motors is reduced by up to 25% in helium drives, which can reduce the drive’s temperature. The drives also run much more quietly. If you imagine a business that had dozens of these helium-filled drives, that could translate to a massive saving. The above two improvements also mean that storage capacity can be massively in increased; because there is less turbulence, more disks can be packed into the same space.

It’s not just Western Digital that have gotten in on the act – Seagate have also got a helium hard drive on the market. It isn’t hard to see why – you get smaller, quieter hard drives that can fit more data in the same space. But in terms of data recovery, there are even more benefits. The types of organisations that helium-filled drives are targeted at, i.e. large corporations, generally want to safeguard their data to a high degree. The reduced turbulence in helium-filled drives means that as well as read/write operations being smoother, the chances of a head crash are significantly reduced. Helium also has the tendency to escape, meaning the hard drives need to be hermetically sealed to prevent this. Conventional drives are already sealed a great deal, but helium-filled drives are even more secure against contaminants getting into the drive’s chassis – reducing the need for data recovery even further.

Data Recovery Specialists have the skills, knowledge and expertise to undertake data recovery from helium-filled hard disk drives - so get in touch now for a free data recovery diagnosis, file listing and no-obligation quote.

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