HGST, a subsidiary of Western Digital, has today begun shipping Ultrastar He6 – the world’s first helium-filled hard drive.

Pumping hermetically sealed enclosures full of inert gas dramatically reduces the turbulence caused by the spinning disk, making it possible to put more platters into a single hard drive to increase capacity.

Thanks to this technology, Ultrastar He6 can offer 6TB of storage in a classic 3.5in form factor – more than any other hard drive currently on the market. The first Helium-filled HDDs are primarily aimed at the enterprise and data centre applications.

Up until now, traditional hard drives were mostly growing capacity by increasing areal density – putting more tracks onto a magnetic disk platter. However, according to IDC, areal density growth rates are expected to continue at a rate of less than 20 percent per year all the way to 2016.

Ultrasttar He6Meanwhile, mobile devices, Internet services, social media and business applications, corporate, cloud and big data customers all need to store ever increasing amounts of data.

Helium is one-seventh the density of air, and using it inside a hermetically sealed hard drive helps lower resistance, with more disks able to spin for longer while requiring less power.

Until recently, the engineers had issues with keeping helium inside for the lifetime of the drive, since atoms of the inert gas are so incredibly small they will leak through the smallest of gaps. HGST, formerly a Hitachi division, claimed to have solved this in September 2012, with technology it calls HelioSeal, which HGST says is now ready to cost-effectively manufacture new drives in high volumes.