Hydrogenated amorphous silicon films were produced from silane/hydrogen and silane/helium gas mixtures by RF glow discharge. We examined the optical and electrical properties of films produced with these gas mixtures, at various RF power levels and silane fractions. Film quality was analyzed by measuring the dark and photoconductivity, optical band gap, and activation energy. Optical emission spectroscopy was also used as a diagnostic tool for studying the plasma during glow discharge depositions. Experimental results indicate that amorphous silicon films made from silane/helium mixtures exhibit improved optoelectronic properties, higher deposition rates, and higher emission intensity ratios (ISiH/IH) as compared to films produced from silane/hydrogen mixtures. In preparing films from silane/helium mixtures, the onset of dust/powder formation occurs at considerably higher RF powers as compared to silane/hydrogen, thus making this approach an attractive commercial option for depositing films at high rates.