Damn well knew it! Seagate has helium drives in its labs

Spinner's analyst day revelation

Drives filled with lighter-than-air helium have slimmer platters

Seagate told analysts on Wednesday it is crafting its own helium-filled drives in its development labs, and is months away from shipping them as products.

Helium gas has lower friction than air, and HGST is using this gas inside its sealed He8 and He10 disk drive enclosures to provide 7-platter drives. The platters can be thinner than in air-filled drives because of the lower friction.

It has been blindingly obvious that Seagate is at a profound disadvantage if its drives have one fewer platter in the same standard-sized enclosure than HGST ones. Its engineers realized this, of course, and have been developing their own helium-filling technology, and overcoming the propensity of the gas to leak out of the smallest gaps.

Stifel Nicolaus MD Aaron Rakers was at the session and noted:

  • Seagate expects to launch sequential write/read performance high-cap enterprise HDDs going forward – likely a calendar 2016 story. Note "sequential" and not random.
  • Re HAMR: there is an issue of consistency in the antenna capabilities associated with the tip of the laser (i.e., floating 100s of atoms above the disk media consistently). It thinks HAMR commercialization, which will support +1.5TB/in2, will be toward the latter part of the 2016-2018 timeframe.
  • Seagate thinks it is at a point of inflection (ship rate jump) for hybrid HDD adoption because NAND used in the flash caches is more affordable.
  • It thinks flash pricing (3D NAND) will move to $0.15/GB while HDDs can move to sub-$0.01/GB.
  • Seagate believes it is likely that China's MOFCOM will permit the integration of Western Digital (WD) and HGST.
  • Seagate believes that the increased usage of data computation will ultimately result in increased storage, meaning demand for disk rises/stays high. ®

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