Toshiba announced that it is sampling its new helium-infused 14TB HDD to customers, thus taking the industry lead with the densest conventional hard drive on the market. The push for more HDD storage density has led us down the path of new recording techniques, such as Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR), but that leads to reduced performance, particularly with frequent random data accesses that occur with normal desktop operating systems.
Toshiba bucked that trend entirely and crammed 14TB of data into its new drive using Conventional Magnetic Recording (CMR), which is to say PMR without shingling. That means it will offer standard performance compared to other "normal" HDDs. The drive offers up to 260 MB/s a throughput, but performance specifications remain sparse.
The new series comes with both 14TB and 12TB disks that wield nine and eight platters, respectively. Toshiba also becomes the only company with a nine-platter drive with 18 heads. Each platter packs 1.56TB of data storage.
Competing HDD vendors (WD and Seagate) have used helium designs for several years, so Toshiba has largely been considered late to adopting a helium design. Toshiba fills the 3.5" drives with helium instead of air and uses a laser sealing process to contain the gas. The helium reduces internal air turbulence from the spinning disk. In turn, it reduces vibration and provides power, performance, and reliability advantages. It also allows the company to use thinner platters, which facilitates the additional ninth platter.
While Toshiba may be the last HDD vendor to market with a helium HDD, the company did it in style. The MG078ACA, which carries a tongue-twisting name because it is destined for the data center, currently weighs in as the densest HDD on the market using conventional recording techniques. That represents a 40% increase in density over Toshiba's previous-gen 10TB models.
“Toshiba’s first helium-sealed near line drive intercepts the market at a class-leading 14 TB capacity with CMR,” said John Chen, industry analyst at Trend Focus. “Its early time-to-market for this capacity positions the company well to meet the storage needs of large hyperscale and cloud companies. Additionally, the company’s choice of a 9-disk platform paves the way to achieving higher capacities in future product generations.”
The new HDD operates much like any other 7,200 RPM SATA HDD, so it is plug and play with existing infrastructure. It features a 256MiB cache and employs Toshiba's Persistent Write Cache (PWC) technology that ensures data in the cacheis persisted to the platters in the event of an unexpected power loss. Like most other nearline HDDs destined for data center operations, it carries a 550 total TB transferred per year workload restriction. It also comes with a five-year warranty and 2.5 million-hour MTBF.
Toshiba currently has 24% of the HDD market share according to Coughlin and Associates, which comes in third to Seagate (36%) and Western Digital (40%). The company has been surprisingly resilient and has clawed back market share over the last year. The addition of a class-leading 14TB model should help it gain even more market share over the coming year.
Of course, Western Digital and Seagate aren't sitting idly by. Western Digital has its MAMR (Magnetic Assisted Magnetic Recording), and Seagate has HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording) technologies on the cusp of release. Both technologies will provide far more density than just the addition of helium, and Toshiba will also move forward to a new recording technology in the coming years. However, the company remains secretive about its plans for its next-gen drives.
Considering Toshiba just leapfrogged the rest of the industry with the densest conventional hard drive, it might be worth the wait to find out. Toshiba's 14TB HDD is destined for the data center, but like all HDD vendors Toshiba makes consumer models based on the same underlying technology, so we should see hefty 14TB desktop models in the future.