Stephen Shankland
November 4, 2013

There’s a new use in town for helium besides supercooling electromagnets at the Large Hadron Collider and making your voice sound freakishly high-pitched: improving the capacity and efficiency of hard drives.

Western Digital on Monday announced that its HGST subsidiary has begun shipping the new 6-terabyte Ultrastar He6 hard drive, a model that seals the spinning disk platters inside a hermetic chamber filled with helium instead of air.

Because helium has just one-seventh the density of air, using it reduces the turbulence caused by spinning disks and the heads that constantly move above them to read and write data. That, in turn, means lower power consumption and less waste heat in the data centers where these drives are designed to be used. Specifically, WD said the power used per terabyte drops 49 percent.

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