Are helium hard drives worth it?

Helium hard drives are hard disk drives that are filled with helium gas instead of air. They work similarly to traditional hard drives but have key differences in their internal design and components. Helium is used instead of air because of its lower density, which reduces drag resistance on the spinning disk platters inside the drive. This allows the drive’s internal components to operate more efficiently and with less turbulence.

The main benefits of using helium instead of air in hard drives are:

  • Lower aerodynamic drag allows the platters to spin faster while using less power (according to the Western Digital blog post on helium hard drives at
  • Reduced turbulence allows the drive heads to operate more accurately and reliably
  • Better thermal conductivity helps dissipate heat more efficiently

Overall, helium drives aim to provide higher capacity, better performance, lower power consumption, and improved reliability compared to traditional air-filled drives. However, they also come at a higher price point due to more complex manufacturing.


One of the main benefits of helium hard drives is their increased storage capacity compared to traditional air-filled drives. As explained on the Western Digital blog, “Helium has one-seventh the density of air. So when helium replaces air inside a hard drive, there is less resistance on the spinning disk platter and its read/write head.” This allows manufacturers to pack the drive with more platters and heads while maintaining the same overall size, significantly increasing capacity (Western Digital).

In addition to higher capacity, helium drives provide faster read/write speeds. The reduced drag allows the drive’s platters to spin faster and the arms to move quicker across the disks. Drivesavers notes that this improved speed is anywhere from 10-50% faster than traditional drives (Drivesavers).

Helium drives also benefit from lower power consumption, thanks again to the reduced turbulence and friction inside the drive. The helium environment allows the motors to operate more efficiently and limits excess energy expenditure. According to Recovery Squad, helium drives can consume up to 23% less power than air-filled models (Recovery Squad).


While helium hard drives do offer some potential benefits, there are also some significant downsides to consider:

Higher cost – Helium hard drives tend to cost significantly more than traditional air-filled hard drives. The hermetically sealed design and use of helium adds complexity and cost to the manufacturing process.

Limited supply of helium – Helium is a finite natural resource that is in relatively short supply globally. Ramping up production of helium drives could put strain on global helium reserves if adoption becomes widespread. [1]

Potential for leaks/failures – The hermetic sealing required for helium drives is complex. If the seal fails, the helium leaks out and the performance benefits are lost. Some studies have shown higher failure rates for helium drives compared to traditional drives. [2]

Use Cases

Helium hard drives are especially useful in data centers and servers where density, power efficiency, capacity, and reliability are critical. They provide significant advantages in high performance computing applications as well.

Data centers and servers benefit greatly from helium hard drives. The low turbulence of spinning disks in helium allows the drives to be packed more densely, increasing storage capacity per rack while reducing power consumption due to less drag and friction (Explained: Helium Hard Drives). This improves energy efficiency and lowers operating costs. Data centers using helium drives can store significantly more data per square foot.

High performance computing (HPC) applications like scientific modeling, climate research, and financial analysis require fast, reliable access to enormous datasets. Helium drives excel in these use cases by providing higher capacities in a smaller footprint along with lower failure rates. Their improved reliability allows helium drives to handle the rigorous demands of nearline applications. HPC systems leverage helium hard drives to efficiently store and access the massive volumes of data they generate (A New Use for Helium – The Helium Hard Drive).

Helium Supply

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the global reserves of helium were approximately 53 billion standard cubic meters as of January 2021 [1]. The United States has the largest helium reserves in the world at over 8.5 billion cubic meters, accounting for about 16% of the global reserves [2].

However, helium demand has been increasing steadily over the past few decades while supply has remained relatively flat. This is creating concern over potential helium shortages in the future. According to some estimates, if helium consumption continues to grow at current rates, the global reserves may be depleted within 20-40 years.

The supply-demand imbalance is exacerbated by the fact that helium is a non-renewable resource. Once helium reserves are depleted, new sources are difficult to find. Additionally, 75% of the world’s helium supply comes from just three countries – United States, Qatar and Algeria. This makes the global supply vulnerable to disruptions in these areas.

Some experts argue that recycling and conservation efforts could help extend existing helium reserves. But increased production may be necessary to meet growing global demand, especially in technology, aerospace, medicine and other industries that rely heavily on this rare gas.


While helium-filled hard drives offer higher storage capacities, other new hard drive technologies are emerging as alternatives. Western Digital has developed an air-filled hard drive using energy-assisted magnetic recording that provides 10TB of storage while being cheaper and faster than equivalent helium drives.

Solid state drives (SSDs) are also growing in capacity and becoming more affordable. SSDs provide much faster read/write speeds and better reliability than traditional hard drives. Though SSD capacities are currently lower than helium drives, prices continue to drop rapidly. For use cases needing fast access to data, SSDs may be a superior alternative despite lower total storage.

Cost Analysis

The upfront cost of helium-filled hard drives is higher than traditional air-filled drives. According to Disk Prices (US), a 14TB helium drive costs around $309, while a similar air-filled drive is $279. However, helium drives have a lower cost per gigabyte over their lifetime.

According to Backblaze, today we can get 16TB hard drives for an average of $0.014 per gigabyte. Helium drives achieve a lower cost per gigabyte due to their higher storage density. This allows data centers and businesses to maximize storage capacity and minimize long-term costs.

While helium drives have a higher upfront cost, their total cost of ownership is lower over time thanks to a reduced cost per terabyte. This makes them an attractive option for high-capacity, cold storage use cases where longevity is a priority.


Helium-filled hard drives have similar or better reliability compared to traditional air-filled drives. According to user reports on forums like Reddit and Linus Tech Tips, helium drives often last 5 years or longer without issue, meeting or exceeding their warranty periods (source). In fact, many users have had helium drives operate reliably for over 7 years.

Failure rates appear comparable for helium and air drives. The hermetically sealed helium environment reduces turbulence and resistance on the spinning platters, lowering operating temperatures and internal stresses. This helps maintain drive reliability and extends lifespan. However, helium slowly leaks over time, which could theoretically impact long-term reliability after 5+ years. But in practice, this does not seem to be a major issue based on user reports.

Overall, the real-world failure rates for helium drives are no worse than traditional air-filled HDDs. The hermetically sealed design does not appear to introduce any new points of failure. As long as the seal remains intact, helium drives operate reliably and often outlast their warranties.

Adoption Trends

Helium hard drives have seen rapid adoption in data centers over the past few years, though overall hard disk drive shipments have been declining. According to research by Markwide (, the market for helium drives reached over $2 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 15% from 2023 to 2030. The key driver of this growth is the demand from hyperscale data centers that require ever higher storage capacities in a limited footprint.

Some of the largest cloud computing companies like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, and Tencent Cloud have already widely adopted helium drives for their storage infrastructure. This has helped drive down the cost per TB for cloud storage providers. According to Secure Data Recovery (, over 90% of newly deployed drives at major cloud data centers are helium-filled. Overall, Markwide projects helium drives will account for 65% of data center hard drive shipments by 2025.

While helium allows packing more platters into a 3.5” hard drive enclosure, there are physical limits to how many platters can fit. As a result, industry experts like AnandTech ( believe data centers will continue adopting helium drives until ~60TB capacities are reached. Beyond that, new technologies like HAMR will be required to continue increasing capacities.


When analyzing the pros and cons of helium hard drives, we can see there are benefits like lower weight, noise, heat output, and power consumption compared to traditional HDDs. However, helium drives also have notable downsides like higher cost, shorter lifespan, and supply chain risks. For most average consumers, traditional HDDs or SSDs remain the better option, though helium drives can still be a good choice for large-scale data center deployments where low power usage, high capacities, and density matter more than absolute lowest cost per TB.

For enterprises and cloud providers seeking massive storage capacities, helium drives are worth considering if power and space savings justify the premium expense over air-filled HDDs. Individual users and small businesses are likely better off sticking with SSDs or traditional HDDs. Helium drives seem most compelling for high-capacity, cold storage use cases where access speed is less important.