Sandia National Lab Starts Licensing Out Super Quiet, Hyper-Efficient CPU Cooler

Brad Chacos

Think your CPU cooler kicks ass? Some of the top minds in the country disagree. Researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories have been working on a novel new design for a rapidly spinning cooler, one that they say is up to 30 percent more efficient than traditional models AND virtually silent in typical use cases. Sounds crazy ambitious? Apparently, it isn't; Sandia's already looking to license the technology out to electronics suppliers, and one unidentified CPU cooling company has already hopped on the bandwagon.

Sandia's cooler basically consists of two parts: a disk-shaped heat spreader with vertical cooling fins, positioned on top of a stationary base plate that touches the CPU and acts as a heat sink. The bottom of the finned spreader is flat, as is the top of the heat sink. A gap of less than 0.001-inches separates the two, and during operation the top disk spins at a rate of 2,000 RPM.

Being at such close range and spinning so fast creates, essentially, a self-regulating "hydrodynamic gas bearing," which lets the cooler negate the thin layer of stagnant air -- known as the boundary layer -- that locks in a lot heat in traditional sink-plus-fan CPU cooling methods. In fact, the heat takes on almost liquid properties in Sandia's method and transfers between the heat sink and the cooling fins very, very efficiently.

As the cooler spins, its shape draws air down into the "eye" of the hardware, which is then quickly pushed out radially through its curved fins, keeping everything cool. The shape and spin of the cooler benefits this stage two-fold; it pumps air very, very well, and any dust that tries to settle on it gets blown out just as fast.

If that's a bit too technical for your blood, check out the video above, in which creator Jeffrey Koplow shows off the cooler in action and provides a solid description of how it works. It's a lot easier to grasp if you watch it, trust me. A lot more information can be found in a whitepaper on the Sandia National Laboratory website .

Sandia hopes the cooler's design will scale up and take off in a number of industries, including (obviously) PC uses, solid state lighting, HVAC, automotive and large appliances. Which CPU cooling company do you think licensed the technology?

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