Pssssst! One word: Energy

GCN Insider | That's the word for the next decade or so ' cleaner, more efficient

Two infrared images show the cooling effect on computer processors of an experimental device that uses small ionic wind engines developed at Purdue University.

Birck Nanotechnology Center

The one piece of advice famously uttered in the 1967 movie 'The Graduate' was 'plastics.' If there's a word for the next decade or so, it could well be energy ' cleaner, more efficient energy. And that's as true for computers as it is for diesel rigs on the highways.

For computers, better energy technologies promise not only energy savings but also the ability to put more power into smaller packages. More efficient processors and cooling systems mean designers don't have to leave as much room inside cases for fans and air movement. That means smaller, lighter devices.

Researchers at Purdue University have just demonstrated a new technology that promises to dramatically improve processor cooling by employing tiny ionic wind engines. Indeed, the researchers, funded by Intel, report cooling-rate increases of as much as 250 percent.

Purdue's experimental cooling device works by generating ions ' or electrically charged atoms ' using positively charged anodes positioned about 10 millimeters above negatively charged cathodes.

When voltage is passed through the device, the negatively charged electrodes discharge electrons toward the positively charged anode. Along the way, the electrons collide with air molecules, producing positively charged ions that are then attracted back toward the electrodes, creating an ionic wind. This wind increases the airflow on the surface and underlying processor.

The researchers say they hope the new cooling technology can be introduced in computers within three years. The potential snag? The researchers need to find a way miniaturize the technology and make the system rugged enough.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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