Tiny "Sandia Coolers" Remove Computer Heat More Efficiently

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Computer rooms are noisy places. The small fans inside our servers not only generate a lot of noise, they consume a lot of energy as well. Now, Jeffrey Koplow, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratory has discovered that an insulating layer of air tends to cling to heat sinks, making conventional fans inefficient.

So Koplow came up with an entirely new design that exploits air and motion in different ways. In this approach, heat from the chip passes upward through a thin gap of air, which serves as a bearing for a spinning circular device with fins that acts as a heat sink as well as a fan. Air can’t form into a blocking boundary layer because it is thrown outward by centrifugal force, Koplow says. And the approach also reduces a build-up of dust that fouls many fans, he adds. Koplow estimates one of his “Sandia coolers,” as the lab is calling them, can match the performance of conventional cooling assemblies at one-tenth the size. They are also much quieter, he says.

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