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12TB Helium-Filled Hard Drive

Every time you buy a hard drive, you probably think it's plenty of space. Why would you ever need more? Inevitably, you end up in the red again a year or two later. Files just keep getting bigger with all these 4K videos and cameras with a zillion megapixels. Western Digital has come through on its promise late last year to release a 12TB hard drive. It's headed to retailers now, but better prepare yourself for sticker shock.

The new drive is being released under Western Digital's HGST brand, which is more business-oriented than the mainline WD brand. It's known as the HGST Ultrastar He12, one of the company's helium-filled drives. The last drive in this series had a capacity of 10TB, and another is already on the road map that has 14TB of storage. This measly 12TB version has eight platters with an average data density of 864Gbits/square inch. It spins at 7200RPM, and comes in both SATA and SAS (used mostly in servers) versions. Again, HGST focuses on business products, and SAS has a data transfer speed of 12Gbps, double that of SATA3.

The increase in spinning drive capacity was beginning to taper off a few years back, but then WD started filling them with helium. That sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it makes a big difference when you have all these tightly packed moving parts to contend with. According to Western Digital, the lower density of helium (one-seventh that of air) reduces friction and vibration. That makes a high-density, eight-platter design possible. Technically, helium could be used to spin fewer platters at higher speeds, but it's unlikely such drives would be competitive with SSDs.

The 12TB HGST Ultrastar He12 includes support for Instant Secure Erase (ISE) and Self-Encrypting Drive (SED), and it comes with a five-year warranty. The company says the annual failure rate is only 0.35 percent, so it's unlikely you'd have to take advantage of the warranty at all.

WD is no longer the only company doing helium drives — Seagate has released several helium-filled HDDs, including its own newly announced 12TB model. There's no ship date for this drive, but it'll probably be out in a few months. Not that Western Digital is particularly forthcoming, either. While it confirms the new 12TB drives are heading out to distributors, there's no pricing information.

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