by Christopher Lindquist

Cool running – Low-Heat Laptops

Mar 01, 20032 mins

You won’t Be able to use your laptop as a portable coffee warmer anymore, if technology from Sandia National Laboratories goes mainstream.

The lab has created a technique that could replace the standard, functional, but not terribly efficient, metal heat sinks currently used to extract damaging warmth from computer chips. While the sinks do their job of protecting the computer, much of the heat ends up dispersed into the local surroundings?most likely the users desk, or worse, their lap. And those small fans whirring away inside laptop housings just don’t do much to boost the comfort level.

The Sandia technology uses small (less than hair-thickness) copper “wicks” to transport methanol?and waste heat?from one area of a computer to another, where it can be dispersed more efficiently, comfortably and compactly than with heat sinks. According to Sandia, the technique has another advantage as well?it will allow for even hotter chips, meaning faster processors and more dense designs. Of interest to the military (to whom small moving parts are a potentially life-threatening annoyance), the system can even work without a fan, dispersing the piped heat instead through cooling fins as the methanol condenses from hot vapor to cool liquid and begins its return trip to the processor.

Making use of the technology will require minimal design work on the part of computer makers, according to the lab. Sandia has intentionally created the system to fit inside the existing form factor already in use by standard heat-sink cooling. In the future, however, the web of hair-thick pipes could be directed in any direction the manufacturer deems most appropriate.

As of this writing, Sandia was in the process of licensing the technology to a startup company that plans to market products to the consumer laptop space. No release date has been announced, but when it comes, we may all be a little cooler.