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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  • peevee - Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - link

    "Why are these drives still using 512-bit (emulated) sectors?"

    Exactly. It is ridiculous. Almost all space is used by files well over 1MB in size.
  • ddriver - Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - link

    FFS 15% capacity boost is not worth turning the product into garbage by incorporating SMR.
  • takeshi7 - Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - link

    Depends on the use case.
  • mode_13h - Saturday, November 4, 2017 - link

    I'm with you... sort of.

    You see, it still does random writes a fair bit better than tape. So, if that's the alternative, I'd have SMR in a heartbeat.
  • CaedenV - Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - link

    So... basically you get awesome storage capacity, but major software issues and poor write performance due to SMR?

    Still, a single HDD that is larger than my whole RAID array... that is pretty awesome.
  • ddriver - Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - link

    Or you can avoid all the cr@p and just get the 12 TB model adoy ;)

    Although I'd personally avoid the HE line and get an array of the 6 tb ultrastar 7k6000 for its reliability and durability.
  • StevoLincolnite - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    The Helium is what really turns me off.
    Being a super light element it will leak over time.

    Hoping that eventually we will have non-SMR, non-Helium, up-to 4 platters 8-10 terabyte drives at an affordable price, need to upgrade my limiting 5x 4TB external drives.
    I would prefer Western Digital drives... I was turned off by Deathstars years ago... Samsung spun off it's drive business... And Seagate would have to pay me to use their drives.
  • Foeketijn - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    I'm quite sure WD/HGST/Seagate took the annoying habit from He to escape into account. So far I am impressed by the low energy consumption. And haven't heard of any He harddrive high outage rate. I have one so far and the next would definitely be He again.
  • Manch - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    They both approach it differently but I know Seagate uses wrought aluminum/forged casings to minimize permeability where as WD uses a cast aluminum vacuum molded with a bonding agent used to create a coating. Then there are multiple other coatings, high pressure bonding/seals, using lasers to weld them. Also the drives are at atmo to prevent the forcing of He in or out. They wont leak anything for at least 5yrs. Pressurizing them would force the He into microscopic cracks which would then enlarge and push out. A vacuum would have the opposite effect pulling gases in. Equilibrium prevents this and eases the burden on the seals. The key tech is the casings and the lack of defects in the mold/forgings.

    Ultimately He is a stop gap for other tech. MAMR will help with densities but He is the only answer to the platter issues while maintaining the given 3.5 format for now.

    He research has been happening since the 60's
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    That's why they've spent >10 years of R&D before they introduced He filled drives into the market.

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