Tiny ionic wind engines to cool computers?

Internet News

It falls in the don't-hold-your-breath news category, but the BBC reports that a collaboration between Purdue University and Intel has resulted in the development of...

"...a prototype device that creates a 'breeze' made up of charged particles, or ions, to cool computer chips. The 'ionic wind', the scientists say, will help to manage the heat generated by increasingly powerful, yet ever-shrinking devices. Conventional cooling technologies using fans are limited because they can suffer from air-flow problems. As the spinning blades waft air over a chip, the molecules nearest to the chip can get stuck and remain stationary, hindering the cooling effect. But the new experimental wind engine employs a different strategy.

"The prototype, which is attached to a mock computer chip, works by shifting charged particles from one end of the device to the other. As a voltage is applied to the ionic engine, positively charged particles (ions) are produced, and are dragged towards a negatively charged wire (a cathode), forcing constant air movement.

"The researchers said that when it was used in conjunction with a conventional fan, air molecules, rather than getting stuck, were dragged across the chip's surface boosting cooling. The team said the device increased the cooling rate from a conventional fan by up to 250%.

"Professor Suresh Garimella, from Purdue University who is a co-author of the paper, said: 'Other experimental cooling-enhancement approaches might give you a 40% or a 50% improvement. A 250% improvement is quite unusual.'

"The researchers now need to miniaturise their prototype, making it 100 times smaller than its current size, which is a few millimetres. Professor Garimella said that this would be crucial for applying the technology to the latest computers and consumer electronics. If miniaturisation is successful, the team expects the device to be introduced into products within the next three years."

How does this relate to quiet computing? Presumably, with such cooling efficiency, much less airflow (meaning reduced fan speed and noise) will be needed from to achieve adequate cooling.