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Power Hardware

MSI Develops a Heat-Driven Cooler 173

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.
V!NCENT tips us to a write-up about an addition to MSI's Ecolution motherboard which harvests heat from the chipset to power a fan. The device is based on a Stirling engine. The heat from the chipset expands a trapped gas, which pushes against a piston to generate power. The article contains a YouTube video of how the device works. According to MSI, the device has 70% efficiency.
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MSI Develops a Heat-Driven Cooler

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:20PM (#22616422)
    otherwise all that waste heat would be wasted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PMBjornerud (947233)
      If you want to remove that waste heat before it burns the chip to a cinder, then yes, you probably want some degree of efficiency.
      • by adolf (21054)
        Why? Does the waste heat of the Stirling engine hate CPUs and automatically flow back to the chip?

        Of course not. It's dissipated by the Stirling engine.

        It could be 1% efficient, as long as the engine has enough cooling capacity to handle its own waste heat.

  • Pff (Score:5, Funny)

    by illegibledotorg (1123239) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:22PM (#22616428)
    MSI just threw this together so that their lead engineer could finish his bitchin' Steampunk case mod.
    • by peragrin (659227)
      what other reason would there be?

      though things like this should be used more often. a low power heat pump to supply extra power. A few extra watts come in handy.

      Can you imagine an Acer laptop that can partially recharge the battery while it's running? Or at the very least power the secondary fans.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Aye on the steampunk. The engine could power a small hand-wound dynamo that heats up the boiler for the steam effect you need for those "special" web sites. Don't forget the three colour LED's you need to light the steam.

      Efficient? Sorry, what's that? Yes, I know we're just re-using heat that would otherwise be wasted, but we'd be getting multidimensional cool...

  • So ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by LordKaT (619540) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:23PM (#22616434) Homepage Journal
    It has to heat itself to ... cool ... itself? Goddamnit, I hate recursion.
    • by t35t0r (751958)
      It has to heat itself to ... cool ... itself? Goddamnit, I hate recursion.

      Yes because if it wasn't heating it wouldn't need to be cooled. This is great, I wonder why it hadn't been developed earlier. Depending on the CPU and the dissipation created by the heatsink the fan doesn't need to go more than 2500rpm.
    • ...stands for Ecolution can only leverage unrealistically tailored internal operating nature.

      (I hope not. I just wanted to give LordKaT extra recursion nightmares for fun.)

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:24PM (#22616442)
    Because I thought to get 70% efficiency there would have to be a couple of thousand degrees C difference between the hot and cold sides. Or have AMD decided laptops are not their core market for the next generation of chips?

     
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dreamchaser (49529)
      Efficiency is just a matter of how much of the input energy is turned into some kind of practical work, in this case spinning a fan. That being said I'd be surprised if they were as high as 70%. Sounds like eco-friendly (note the name of the motherboard) marketing to me. Still, a neat idea.
      • by Naughty Bob (1004174) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:34PM (#22616500)

        That being said I'd be surprised if they were as high as 70%
        Prepare to keep those eyebrows exactly where they are- The 70% refers to the transfer of heat energy to air pressure 'power' within the piston. It's still impressive, but the +70% claim relates only to one step of the process.
        • Yes I just finally read TFA just now. It *is* just marketing speak.
        • So, basically, 70% of the heat from the chip heats up the air in the piston and increases the pressure, and 30% of it goes into the heatpipes, then the radiator to be dispersed into the air by the fan moved by the other 70% (of which most will probably just radiate away anyway, and only about 10% of the power will actually get to move the fan)?

          What we really need is some information about how hot different power chips get when cooled by this thing. e.g. degrees C / Watt, and how this compares to a purely pa
      • by cnettel (836611)
        The point of the grandparent was that thermodynamics defines the maximum theoretical efficiency of a Stirling engine (or any design), when the "low-temperature" side is at room temperature. When close to absolute zero, the maximum efficiency can be quite a bit higher with a low temperature difference, assuming you ignore the exotic cooling needed to get there in the first place.
    • by BoChen456 (1099463) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:34PM (#22616502)

      I suspect 70% efficiency means they can reach 70% of the theoretical limit maximum at these temperatures. The theoretical limit for heat reservoirs of 55C and 25C is about 10% http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnot_heat_engine#Carnot.27s_theorem [wikipedia.org].

      So really this fan can convert up to 7% of the waste heat. This doesn't sound very impressive, but as long as it provides a little bit of convection it'll be better than passive cooling.

      • The question is, is it more efficient than heat pipes? Since they also are heat engines (with no moving parts! sort of), but they're a LOT quieter and more flexible (literally!) than fans.
      • by ozbird (127571)
        It would be even more efficient if they peeled off the MSI stickers that are restricting airflow from the fan through the radiator.
      • by ShakaUVM (157947)
        Thank you -- my dad is always harping on me about how waste heat from CPUs can be converted into energy, and doesn't understand the Carnot efficiency in a system with a very small delta-T would be very low.
    • You're absolutely correct that an ideal Carnot engine would have to have about a thousand degrees if it rejects heat to room temperature.

      Typically what's done in these cases is to compare the efficiency of the engine to the Carnot efficiency. So the claim of 70% efficiency really means that the engine is 70% as efficient as a Carnot engine at the temperatures it operates between. The real efficiency then is n_carnot*n_engine. Their real efficiency claim is therefore probably closer to 4.9%.

      But that's not
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vellmont (569020) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:29PM (#22616466) Homepage
    A fan can't draw much more than a few watts. What's the point? It seems like a complicated array of technology just to save a few watts of power. You'd be better off buying a more efficient power supply if you wanted to be "green".
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by VGPowerlord (621254) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:33PM (#22616496)

      A fan can't draw much more than a few watts. What's the point? It seems like a complicated array of technology just to save a few watts of power. You'd be better off buying a more efficient power supply if you wanted to be "green".

      That makes the assumption that you can't do both. Why wouldn't you be able to do both?
      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @02:12PM (#22616712) Homepage Journal
        That mechanism looks like a lot of complexity and cost to save what probably amounts to a single watt. How much more energy would it take to make that over a one watt fan? Not only that, a large passive heat sink would probably do even better, nothing to break and it would just use existing air flow. I've yet to own a computer that has or needs a fan just for the chipset, not necessarily through trying, it's not really that necessary to have.
      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by moderatorrater (1095745) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @02:17PM (#22616740)

        That makes the assumption that you can't do both. Why wouldn't you be able to do both?
        You can do both, but his point is that if you're looking at the efficiency of your dollar, you'd be better buying something else that'll save you more power than this fan will. Buy a better power supply, new monitor, more power efficient CPU, better light bulbs, etc. For the amount of energy saved, it's likely that there's quite a long list of things that could save more energy for your dollar, and since you (presumably) have a finite amount of money, it'd be better to buy one of those things than this fan.
        • That makes the assumption that you can't do both. Why wouldn't you be able to do both?

          You can do both, but his point is that if you're looking at the efficiency of your dollar, you'd be better buying something else that'll save you more power than this fan will. Buy a better power supply, new monitor, more power efficient CPU, better light bulbs, etc. For the amount of energy saved, it's likely that there's quite a long list of things that could save more energy for your dollar, and since you (presumably) have a finite amount of money, it'd be better to buy one of those things than this fan.

          The finite amount of money idea is ridiculous when you suggest buying more expenseive goods instead. A new monitor is going to cost more of your precious money than this fan. What you're doing is simply dimissing something new and different and rationalising this with incoherent aarguments, such as demonstrated by your suggestion to save money by spending more money.

          Furthermore, you did not answer the question: Why can't you do both?
          Why, with your monetary ressources sufficient to buy a new graphics card,

      • That makes the assumption that you can't do both. Why wouldn't you be able to do both?

        Because eventually the cost will hit the point where it exceeds what it would cost you in productivity/performance to just use a less power hungry computer.
      • by jarek (2469)
        because we can be quite sure that the energy saved during the lifetime of this device will not add up to the energy required to make it.
        At 1W, the energy saved would amount to 8.8kWh per year or somewhere in the vicinity of $1-$2 (I guess, since I don't live in the US).
      • I think a PSU-powered fan would be very much necessary still. It's unclear what they're measuring when they say "efficient" but if this means it can't remove 100% of the heat that exists, then it's only going to slow the rate of warming, not eliminate, stabilise, or control it.
    • Well, for one thing, with no extra complexity or power input of any kind you could have a fan that automatically speeds up as the CPU gets hotter. Not to mention that, by definition, the conversion of some of the heat into mechanical energy sucks up some of the heat.

      -:sigma.SB

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by billcopc (196330)
      True, fans don't draw much power, but they do fail quite regularly due to the electric motor wearing out, or the motherboard's fan power going dead. As a system builder I see those problems all the time. A self-powered non-electric fan would get rid of both those failure scenarios. It's not like your PC is going to stop producing heat all of a sudden - at least not while its powered on and working.
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        True, fans don't draw much power, but they do fail quite regularly due to the electric motor wearing out, or the motherboard's fan power going dead. As a system builder I see those problems all the time.

        I've seen a lot of fan failures as well. The number one cause for them is bearing failure. Second is someone catching the wires on something (or having them loose where they rubbed). This would not address what I've seen as the number one cause of fan failure.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hakr89 (719001)
        The problem with the fan isn't that it's electric, it's that it's a moving part, and moving parts wear out. Usually when a fan dies, it's not the electric motor that's wearing out, it's the bearings. The fans use brushless motors where the coil wrapped around the armature magnetically opposes the permanent magnet built into the rotor(the fan part) causing it to rotate.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brushless_DC_electric_motor [wikipedia.org]
    • by Darthmalt (775250)
      At the moment I don't see this being as big deal for home users. However for server farms the savings could be worth the investment.
    • How about saving your CPU when your electric controlled fan on your server silently bites the dust while you're away on vacation or the like? I have to replace a minimum of 1 CPU fan every year at my house and sometimes "CPU fan" is replaced by "entire motherboard, memory, etc." because a fan failed and the CPU took everything with it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Or you could set the temp shutoff.

        Just saying.
        • Yeah, if it actually worked when needed, and if I didn't actually need the server up and running the entire time.
          • by Mike89 (1006497)

            Yeah, if it actually worked when needed, and if I didn't actually need the server up and running the entire time.
            Doesn't sound like your servers getting very good uptime now ;)
            • What in the world is that supposed to mean? I see your ;) but that doesn't help it make any sense either.
              • by Mike89 (1006497)

                What in the world is that supposed to mean? I see your ;) but that doesn't help it make any sense either.
                What I'm saying is that your server would've suffered worse downtime from cooking itself than just shutting itself down. If you're at the point where temperature shutdown wants to kick in, you've got bigger problems than some 'downtime' - you're going to have some regardless unless you get on it quick smart.
    • A fan can't draw much more than a few watts. What's the point? It seems like a complicated array of technology just to save a few watts of power.

      A fan needs a control system, sensors to judge the temperature of the processor, algorithms to tell it when to turn on and off.

      This thing is SO geeky and elegant, it will cool an advanced bit of digital processing technoogy with a very analogous 19th century steampunk-like device that uses the heat itself as power for the cooling process, instead of a sensor-processor-algorithm-power-fan circuit, it's directly sensor-fan, where the sensor is the power.

      If you can't see the point, well I pity you, and deman

      • by Vellmont (569020)

        If you can't see the point, well I pity you, and demand that you turn over your geek card and nerd badge, you poseur.

        I have neither, if that just means I sit around and think how cool my technology is. I'm really a pragmatist, not a technology for technology kind of guy. If it doesn't serve some greater purpose, or does what it does at a better price, why bother?

        Why couldn't one do "both"?

        Because, as someone else pointed out, we all have limited amounts of money. Spending a lot of money on a fancy fan to
        • as someone else pointed out, we all have limited amounts of money. Spending a lot of money on a fancy fan to save a few watts is a waste. If you were smart, you'd put that money towards something that gave you more bang/buck, like geo-thermal heat

          A heat driven processor cooling fan is orders of magnitude below geothermal devices in terms of monetary cost.
          If your concern was "limited amount of money", as you claim, you would not think of expenses costing vast amounts of money.

          Stop being contrarian for conflicts' sake.

          Energy efficiency doesn't end at the computer.

          According to you it does, since you would rather people increase their energy consumption by 4 watts rather than use this efficient device.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mickwd (196449) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @02:33PM (#22616832)
      "What's the point?"

      Maybe just because it's cool - in more ways than one.
    • Normal fans are prone to outages. This system may be a nice back up on that. As to how green it is, well, they would be better off getting all OSs to push systems to sleep.
    • by thsths (31372)

      It seems like a complicated array of technology just to save a few watts of power.
      It should not be complicated. A Stirling engine is a very simple machine, and it typically lasts a long time. Also you have an automatic temperature control, because it only runs when the chip is hot. So I think they may be on to something.

    • Frankly, the point is to sell a few mobo's based on a gimmick, because it's not any more green than most of their other boards.

      Green wise, This technology, if put in use on all the boards MSI made (In the thousands if not millions) and the power that was saved from each and every board (vs a cooling fan) was magically combined into one source, might save enough power vs a chipset fan to possibly power a single two story house at least and a 10 house block at most. When you factor in that most of MSI boards
    • but I do like the idea. Current thinking is 'there's too much heat in your box, therefore add another (heat generating) electrical component to help cool it. There's something nice about 'turning the heat on itself' - even ignoring the cooling effect of the fan, the stirling engine itself is using some of that excess energy just to power itself (and therefore cooling even without the fan).
    • A fan can't draw much more than a few watts. What's the point?

      Not mention, my desktop machine is already loud enough as it is, the last thing I want is some noisy piston-driven cooling device.
  • So, the Sterling engine runs on the temperature gradient between the chip and the ambient environment. It uses this energy to...do what...increase the gradient some more? By pulling in cooler air from outside the case I guess?

    Seems like it would work best when it's needed least, and vice-versa.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Informative)

      by maxwell demon (590494) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:44PM (#22616560) Journal
      No, it works best when the temperature difference between the CPU and the surrounding ist highest. Which usually is the case due to the CPU getting hotter.
    • I've never seen a cooling unit that did anything but exploit the temperature gradient. That's why there are fans blowing air from outside your case into it and why server rooms are kept so damn cold all the time. Since the CPU can perform well at temperatures well over room temperature, this usually works quite well.
  • It has to be hot for the fan to run, but the fan makes it cool, so.... huh? I can't seem to wrap my brain around this one.
    • by v1 (525388)
      anytime you use a sterling engine to harvest energy you have to be affecting the temperature on the cooler or the hotter side. Sterling engines have to have radiators for the cool side, and that in turn will heat up, causing a local increase in temperature. Large scale practical sterling engines use a source of coolness, such as running water, but there's nothing like that in a PC. I don't see this as cooling anything unless you are leading the radiator ou the back of the computer. Energy is always cons
      • by exploder (196936)
        The source of coolness is the air outside the case, circulated in by the fan?
        • by v1 (525388)
          but look at the fan. it's right there on the heat sink. If it was powering an exhaust fan I'd agree with you there, but it's not. It's blowing heat off the CPU and into the case, to do things like swirl around the "cool side" radiator of the engine, which is completely counterproductive. You don't want to heat up the cooler, that drops its efficiency greatly.

      • Re:Buh? (Score:5, Funny)

        by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Sunday March 02, 2008 @02:14PM (#22616718) Homepage
        Large scale practical sterling engines use a source of coolness

        That's why every MSI board will be sold with a life-size poster of The Fonz.
        • by srmalloy (263556)
          But it will be a head shot only, since you have to glue the picture to the inside of the case cover so that the Stirling engine can be exposed to the coolness. Putting the picture outside the case wouldn't help, since the case itself obstruct the flow of cool.
      • anytime you use a sterling engine to harvest energy you have to be affecting the temperature
        Yes, but they do it by getting in the way of heat flow from hot to cold. You'd be better off sticking a hunk of copper on there or a gorgon of heat pipes.
      • That's all I see this gimmic as, is just pushing the heat around.

        That's all any heatsink is doing!
        • by v1 (525388)
          A heat sink's main job is to speed up the process of getting heat removed from the component, and dumping it into the surrounding air. It does this by increasing the surface area of contact between the heat source and the cool source. (which is why they have all those fins, more surface area) From there, exhaust fans pull in cooler air and remove the air warmed by the heat sink. The more surface area they have to blow air across, the faster the heat is transferred from the sink to the air. The heat sink
  • by whit3 (318913) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:36PM (#22616518)
    The moving part is cute, of course, and gives a bit of visual
    tension to the apparatus you see through your peekaboo case.

    Still, it's a bit of a clunker compared to the old-tech way of
    making a no-moving-parts air pump powered by waste
    heat. I refer, of course, to the 'chimney'.
    • by snarkh (118018)

      Unfortunately, some people may not like a chimney attached to the motherboard of their computer, especially a laptop.
      • by adolf (21054)
        As long as we're being snarky:

        Like it or not, most people do have a chimney attached to their motherboard; it is sometimes referred to as a "tower case," but that's just a name. It's still a chimney.

        And: Unfortunately, this isn't a laptop part, you dolt.

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:40PM (#22616540) Homepage
    The idea of using a Stirling engine is actually not bad, but you may also be able to run peltier elements backwards, in which case you wouldn't get any mechanical problems related to moving parts.

    But even better would be if the energy loss could be decreased in the first place. Heat produced by a computer is actually only annoying.

    The Stirling engine [wikipedia.org] was invented by Reverend Dr. Robert Stirling.

    • Peltier modules are nowhere near as efficient as sterling engines. Using a peltier module, you would be lucky to get enough power to light a small LED from the typical chipset to atmosphere temperature differential. They work fine as heat pumps since you've already got a big sink strapped to the hot side, but when you start trying to use them the other way around - to generate power from a temperature differential - their inefficiency shows through.
  • Especially if it only uses waste heat to drive itself.

    How much waste heat can they get from a modern power-efficient CPU? Let's see the thermal dissipation:

    AMD Athlon x2 BE2300 or Inten Penryn. Both at about a few Watts at idle, and 60 (AMD)-90 (Penryn) Watts under load - so average let's say is 30W, assuming a box idles more.

    30Wx70% = 21W for a fan. That's PLENTY for moving a fan - if the CPU is doing work.

    However, at idle, you may only get 4 Watts if you're at 70%. However the fan speeds don't necessa
    • by Yetihehe (971185) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @02:12PM (#22616710)
      If it is idle, it is too cool to drive a fan. So fan does not cool it. If temperature raises too much, there is plenty energy for fan, so it cools the chip. What is so hard in understanding it?
      • by Wolfier (94144)
        The problem is, if it's idle, it's NOT too cool to drive a fan. Most computer's CPU fan still runs at a high enough RPM even when the CPU is idle.

        I don't think this setup can provide it if energy is not stored.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cnettel (836611)
          The main reason for this is wear and tear on fans. Bringing a DC motor to a total stop and starting it again is expensive. Heck, too many systems are delivered in a preconfigured case with no fan-speed adjustment at all. If the temperature is too low to drive the fan, it should not be needed. If that's not true, it's just as much of a problem at full speed as at idle.
        • by gordyf (23004)
          The problem is, if it's idle, it's NOT too cool to drive a fan.

          I think you just answered your own question, then.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by radl33t (900691)
      70% is a lie. A total conversion efficieny beyond 5% is probably thermodynamically impossible.
  • such as "desktop" CPUs. Why are these still being produced, when the "mobile" variants of the same models are much more efficient? For example, look at these two:

    http://processorfinder.intel.com/details.aspx?sSpec=SLA98 [intel.com]
    http://processorfinder.intel.com/details.aspx?sSpec=SLA49 [intel.com]

    Both of them are Core 2 Duos, 65 nm process, 2 GHz, 2 MB cache. But one of them is a "desktop" model, and I wonder what the hell it's doing to waste almost double the power of the "mobile" one.

    • There is also about a $100 price difference between those two chips. I imagine they are manufactured to different quality standards. The mobile chip probably has less leakage or something to that effect.
      • by TeknoHog (164938)

        There is also about a $100 price difference between those two chips. I imagine they are manufactured to different quality standards. The mobile chip probably has less leakage or something to that effect.

        Good point. But I'm still seeing problems. "Desktop" and "mobile" CPUs use different sockets, so you can't just invest in a "mobile" CPU to save power in your "desktop" motherboard. Common sense and standards would unify the two sockets, right? Just like you can invest in a fluorescent bulb to save energy in the long run, as it fits in the same socket as an incandescent bulb. Legislation in some countries is heading towards the banning of incandescent bulbs, so why not ban these space-heater CPUs?

        Inc

    • Why are these still being produced, when the "mobile" variants of the same models are much more efficient?

      The T7250 appears to be about twice the price of the E4400.
      I can get an E4400 for 129.00. Best I could find on a T7250 was 262.50

  • It's not that clear from the article how they are defining efficiency, but if they are claiming that they are converting 70% of heat energy into air flow energy, simple thermodynamics can tell you that that is bullshit. If you assume an ambient temperature of 300K, then you need a temperature of 1000K MINIMUM to achieve 70% energy conversion. The Carnot efficiency is 1-Tc/Th, which is the best efficiency possible for a heat engine. Typical heat engines are a fraction of that efficiency.
  • Maybe it's just me, but I was under the impression that you couldn't move any more heat by using waste heat for power than you could by letting the waste heat move passively across the gradient in the first place.
  • by jcr (53032)
    The hotter the chip gets, the faster the fan goes. Simple and elegant.

    -jcr

  • So, for anyone who knows about low temperature difference [wikipedia.org] stirling engines, they know that one cylinder engines are not self starting. This looks like a one cylinder engine, so you'd probably have to open up your computer and give it a spin to make sure it starts.

    I wonder how much power this actually dissipates. Most recent desktop processors I've seen need at least a 80mm fan running pretty fast or even a 10cm fan and shrouding. This is a gimmick. A cute gimmick but a gimmick nonetheless.

    Back at the t

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