Western Digital has started to ship its new HGST Ultrastar Hs14 hard drives, promoted as being suitable for cloud datacenters and for hyperscale developments. The capacity increase from its predecessor, the Ultrastar Ha10, from 10TB to 14 TB offers a significant performance improvement. The new 14 TB HDD is based on shingled magnetic recording technology, which is a system that naturally focuses more on sequential write performance. These drives will only be available with host management, which means it will not be available to general consumers, but only to select customers of HGST. 

The HGST Ultrastar Hs14 relies on Western Digital’s fourth-generation HelioSeal enterprise platform which integrates eight platters and features various internal components specially designed for such hard drives. The new helium-filled HDD has a 7200 RPM spindle speed, a 512 MB cache. and numerous enhancements when it comes to reliability and durability of the drive. As with other HGST enterprise-class HDDs, the Ultrastar Hs14 is rated for 2.5 million hours MTBF and comes with a five-year warranty.

Unlike the Ultrastar He12, which is based on the same fourth-gen HelioSeal platform, the Ultrastar Hs14 uses shingled magnetic recording (SMR) and thus has a number of peculiarities when it comes to re-writing. As described numerous times here at AnandTech, HDDs featuring SMR increase their bit density by recording new magnetic tracks and partly overlapping the previously recorded tracks in a 'shingle' fashion. This process is usually suitable for sequential writes, but as multiple tracks need to be adjusted when re-writes occur, this will slow down the rewriting process

Unlike its rival Seagate, Western Digital does not incorporate any special features into the SMR-based HDDs that mitigate peculiarities of the recording technology, but requires their hosts to manage writing process on such drives. This naturally reduces addressable market of such HDDs to a relatively limited number of companies who run cloud and hyperscale datacenters and which can optimize their software for particular hardware. When it comes to the HGST Ultrastar Hs14, Western Digital explicitly says that the drive was designed specifically for sequential write environments, such as archives and content delivery networks: basically data that is not updated frequently (if at all).

The Ultrastar Hs14 drive comes with 1.75 TB platters and therefore can offer a significantly higher sustained transfer rate than its predecessor, the Ultrastar Ha10, which relied on 1.42 TB platters. Meanwhile, the improvements offered by the Hs14 vs. the Ha10 are not limited to higher areal density.

First off, the Ultrastar Hs14 comes with a 512 MB DRAM buffer for indirection table management, which is double the size of the Ha10. For sustained performance, HGST claims that the new Ultrastar Hs14 drive offers 233 MB/s read/write performance, which is a 48% increase over the Ha10 when it comes to reads and nearly 3.5x increase when it comes to writes (note that the areal density of the Hs14 increased by 24%). The manufacturer does not want to share all of its secrets but claims that with its first-gen host-managed SMR drive it had to make a tradeoff between performance and reliability which resulted in a rather low read and write speeds. In particular, the Ultrastar Ha10 performs 100% read verify of previous track after all write commands to ensure that the previous tracks was not destroyed at sequential write (due to a narrower track than a conventional PMR HDD). Therefore each write operation requires several revolutions to complete. The company called this tech “Write Verify”. Meanwhile, the new Ultrastar Hs14 no longer does 100% verification, but only does read verify a previous track when the drive sees a failure at write command. So, if there are no write failures, the drive moves to next track write and therefore has an improved write performance (and since it does not have to perform a read operation, its read speeds are also higher). The company calls the new tech “Intelligent Write Verify”. Since the Ultrastar Hs14 works differently than the predecessor, the new drive also reduces average read seek time to 7.7 ms, down from 8.5 ms in case of its predecessor.

With the new Ultrastar Hs14 design characteristics, the company is shipping with an MTBF of 2.5 million hours at sustained performance levels that people expect from enterprise-class drives. Operating power consumption of the Ultrastar Hs14 (SATA) was reduced to 6.4 W, down from 7.6 W in case of the Ultrastar Ha10.

HGST Ultrastar Hs14 General Specifications
Capacity 14 TB
RPM 7200 RPM
Interface SATA 6 Gbps SAS 12 Gbps
DRAM Cache 512 MB
Format: Sector Sizes 4Kn: 4096
512e: 512
4Kn: 4096, 4112, 4160, 4224
512e: 512, 520, 528
Helium-Filling Yes
Areal Density 1034 Gbit/inch2
Sustained Transfer Rate 233 MB/s
Average Latency 4.16 ms
Seek Time (read/write) 7.7/12 ms
Acoustics 2.0/3.6 Bels
Power Rating Idle 5.2 W 6.2 W
Operating 6.4 W 8.3 W
MTBF 2.5 million hours
Warranty 5 Years

Since the HGST Ultrastar Hs14 HDDs are aimed at customers with software optimized for SMR, the first clients to be interested in the new drives will be operators of cloud and hyperscale datacenters who already run the Ultrastar Ha10 hard drives. For them, the new drives open up an opportunity to increase their storage capacity by 40% without increasing their power consumption, without expanding the footprint of the datacenter, and changing other hardware.

Performance Specifications of HGST Ultrastar Hs14 vs. Ultrastar Ha10
  Ultrastar Hs14 Ultrastar Ha10
Capacity 14 TB 10 TB
RPM 7200 RPM
Interface SATA 6 Gbps
DRAM Cache 512 MB 256 MB
Helium-Filling Yes
Areal Density 1034 Gbit/inch2 830 Gbit/inch2
Sustained Transfer Rate Read 233 MB/s 157 MB/s
Write 233 MB/s 68 MB/s
Average Latency 4.16 ms
Seek Time (read/write) 7.7/12 ms 8.5/? ms
Power Rating Idle 5.2 W 5.1 W
Operating 6.4 W 7.6 W
Power consumption efficiency at Idle 0.37 W/TB 0.57 W/TB
MTBF 2.5 million hours 2 million hours
Warranty 5 Years

Western Digital is currently sampling its HGST Ultrastar Hs14 with select OEMs and is qualifying them with customers. It will ship them commercially when its clients demand the new 14 TB HDDs. Regular consumers will not be able to buy the new Ultrastar Hs14 HDDs and will not be able to take advantage of it until mainstream operating systems learn how to 'host-manage' SMR drives. In the meantime, WD Gold drives of 12 TB and 10 TB capacities are available from retailers like Amazon and Newegg.

Related Reading

Source: Western Digital

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  • ddriver - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    I am sure a lot of that time was invested into how to utilize HE to increase profits. The presence of helium provides another, and very accurate means to control product durability.

    So by engineering the product to control the amount of leakage they can fine-tune then the product will go bad, which naturally needs to be as soon as the warranty period expires.

    Underbuilding other HDD components can often result in premature failures, which put a dent in the profits, as failures in the warranty period have to be replaced. In this regard, the controlled leakage of helium is a god-sent.

    It is still too early to tell, but I have a feeling that HE drives will be very good at dying shortly after the warranty expires. Thus all those drives that remain perfectly operational for years after their warranty period runs out can be eliminated, thus promoting more sales and more profits.

    You'd be surprised if you knew how much of the engineering goes not into making the product more durable, but into making it fail when it is most economically viable. All modern products come with multiple planned obsolescence fuses. For example, it was the sole motivation to promoting the "glass brick" phone design, as sealing the battery in a product extremely difficult to pry open and then put back together, guaranteeing that in 2 years of daily usage battery capacity will drop so low that most users would either make another purchase or pay for a ridiculously expensive "certified service replacement".
  • ZeDestructor - Saturday, November 4, 2017 - link

    Helium drives have been around since 2013 (HGST He6). Based on the few public reports we have, it looks like it's at least as reliable as an air-filled drive. Hardly surprising given that the main reason to go for Helium, namely reduced turbulence has directly beneficial effects to reliability and durability. The rest of the drive (heads, motor, platter design and materials) is identical to classic air-filled drives, the literal only difference being how many platters are packed in the chassis (5 max in air (aside from Seagate's one-off 6 platter), 7-8 max in helium).

    For your phone analogy, it's pretty crap tbh: all that a sealed battery does is make it a tad harder to open up for replacement, something a skilled (or even just patient) tech can handle fairly easily. Personally it's never been an issue for me though: I replace my phone due to insufficient specs well before the battery is worn out. I also haven't cracked any phone glass in 7 years of using phone with glass in em, 4 of those years being with phones with glass back too. That's with dozens of drops a year, onto everything from carpet to pavement, bitumen paved roads, gravel, concrete, marble, ceramic tiles and possibly worse.
  • ddriver - Sunday, November 5, 2017 - link

    Evidently, you lack the first grade math skills to put 2013 and 5 (years of warranty) together, to figure out whether or not helium drives come with a caveat will not be obvious before some time in 2018.

    Which would explain why you are such an avid advocate of the benefits of planned obsolescence. You know, I can change my phone's battery in about 15 seconds, no especial skill or patience required, just like that. And even thou it is 4 years old now and I use it for more stuff you would possibly use a PC for ever, I don't feel the slightest bit constrained by the specs. Maybe because I use it to do actual work, and not just for bragging rights.

    But good for you that you claim to haven't broken a glass brick phone in 7 years, although glass bricks weren't really a thing up until 3 years ago. Many people have broken them in their first week, on the first light drop, and guess what, warranty does not cover that, which explains the great amount of engineering that goes into making phones as brittle as possible.
  • mode_13h - Saturday, November 4, 2017 - link

    Seems unlikely. There are surely factors like temperature, airflow, and altitude that affect how quickly helium leaks out. They would need to engineer the drives to last the warranty period in the worst case combination of those factors, resulting in many drives that would last much longer.

    Next time, try a bigger piece of tin foil.
  • ddriver - Sunday, November 5, 2017 - link

    These drives come with operational ranges for altitude and temperature, and obviously, they'd test helium leakage in those ranges, adoy...

    Also, they include a specific return rate figures in the price of each drive they sell, so corner cases are covered. The bulk of those drives operate in a fairly predictable environments, which is where the endurance fuse will be targeted at.

    Next time try doing a little more thinking first.
  • mode_13h - Monday, November 6, 2017 - link

    Nah, brah. If there's an analysis that's lacking, I think it's yours.
  • xchaotic - Saturday, November 4, 2017 - link

    Can someone explain what does using Helium achieve? Why no other gas can be used, say Argon?
  • ZeDestructor - Saturday, November 4, 2017 - link

    Presumably Helium is the easiest/cheapest gas to obtain, and possibly advantageous from a molecular dynamics PoV (sorry, I'm no physicist, so I can't really go beyond speculation here).
  • amosbatto - Saturday, November 4, 2017 - link

    Less resistance and less turbulence from He than air, so you can pack in 7 or 8 platters, whereas air filled drives are limited to 5 platters. I assume that they chose helium over argon because helium is both lighter and cheaper than argon.
  • keith3000 - Saturday, November 4, 2017 - link

    I stopped reading as soon as I saw the phrase "shingled magnetic recording technology". Yes, I know they said the drives are "purpose built for sequential writes". I don't care. It's too slow and SMRT is just another level of complexity that will ultimately reduce reliability.

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