Just when you thought we might be getting on top of notebook cooling, Sandy Bridge and Intel's "ultrabook" initiative came along. Heatpipes and low-profile fans make a difference, but I'm still not comfortable with the idea of components hitting 80-90°C under load, even if they're rated for such high temperatures.
Which is why I'm excited about GE Global Research's dual-piezoelectric cooling jet technology.
Instead of a fan, two flexible plates are connected together and a current passed through them. This causes the plates to vibrate incredibly quickly, forcing air to flow through the gap caused by motion. As principal engineer Dr Seyed Saddoughi explains, GE took a page out of nature's book when coming up with the design:
"[The DCJ] is based on the idea of your lungs. Basically they contract and expand and as that happens air is sucked in through your nose and out through your mouth. So we copied that to create a synthetic jet.
He goes on to explain that they wanted the design to be usable "in-situ", so it could be easily positioned wherever it's needed, or to replace current technologies with little effort.
To demonstrate this flexibility, the engineers picked up a "state-of-the-art ultrabook laptop" — some model of a Lenovo Thinkpad. It's then cracked open and the cooling fan replaced with a DCJ. Because of the DCJ's thin profile, there was "a lot of space left over" in the Z dimension, or height in this case. According to ZDNet, the cooler is just 3mm thick — even the most compact fans in current ultrabooks look fat in comparison.
Sadly, no benchmarks or temperature readings are taken to prove the technology's effectiveness, but the notebook does boot up without issue. Replacing the fan didn't appear to be a complex task, so hopefully we'll see more empirical data in the near future.
That said, the video does show the piezoelectric coolers actually cooling something. Six devices are set up to bring the temperature down on a piece of aircraft chassis. The video shows it plummeting from 80°C to a nicer 40°C and the speed at which it is accomplished is remarkable.
Notebook cooling hasn't really gone much of anywhere in recent times, so seeing advancements like this demonstrated and not just talked about with the words "in five years" bandied around is encouraging.