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Hardware Technology

Ionic Winds Chilling Your Computer 89

Iddo Genuth writes to mention The Future of Things online magazine is reporting that Kronos Advanced Technologies in cooperation with Intel and the University of Washington claims to have developed a new type of ultra-thin, silent cooling technology for processors. The piece covers many of the cooling technologies currently available, how their new corona discharge cooler works, and a short interview with several of the key team members.
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Ionic Winds Chilling Your Computer

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  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:35PM (#17452038) Homepage
    Kronos Advanced Technologies in cooperation with Intel and the University of Washington claims to have developed a new type of ultra-thin, silent cooling technology for processors. The piece covers many of the cooling technologies currently available, how their new corona discharge cooler works

    Now that's what I call vaporware.
    • Re:double entendre (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:20PM (#17452476)
      Seconded. With so many physics inaccuracies in the 'overview' alone, one becomes dubious.

      Exibit A: "Modern heatsinks are incapable of effectively cooling high-end CPUs, not to mention high-end GPUs, without the assistance of a fan." Tell that to owners of Tuniq towers.

      B: "The most popular method for cooling modern computers is based on pushing air using fans. This method is sometimes combined with passive cooling,..." Sometimes? Anyone tried pointing a fan at a chip and praying recently?

      C: "Active cooling is much more efficient than passive cooling alone and is also relatively cheap." By what measure of efficiency? Not power consumption. I assume they mean efficacious.

      D: "Water has a higher specific heat capacity as well as better thermal conductivity relative to that of air (meaning water can transfer heat over greater distances more efficiently than air)". No, that's not what that means and the bogus interpretation isn't even accurate (never mind precise). Tell that to a jet engine exhaust. "higher specific heat capacity as well as better thermal conductivity" means it can soak up more heat per unit volume, and it can pull that heat from a smaller area than in the case of air. Physics 001.

      Then they describe what sounds like "point a fan at a chip and pray". Unless ionised gases have some miraculous thermal properties I have never heard of, how do they get around the surface area problem. Aha, from TFA, they're targeting mobile devices. So these things have pissant cooling power. Anyone else concerned about putting ionised gases (aka free radicals) near their face? Advertising bumph. Case closed. How sad.
      • Re:double entendre (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Xyrus ( 755017 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:36PM (#17453952) Journal
        There are some serious issues that need to be resolved before this thing can be used.

        The problem with electrostatics is that they have a tendency to charge any metallic object within their field.

        I took apart one the cheap $20 ionic air filter and did some experiments with electrostatic propulsion just for fun. It's not much above the 8KV range. However, put an aluminum can an inch or two away and touch it with a grounded metal object and you get a small spark from the aluminum can. So if you did have something like this in your machine, you better shield it so it doesn't inadvertently fry some other component.

        I can't imagine them implementing an ionic cooler at too much less than 8KV. At 1 KV, you're not going to get anything as far as ionic wind goes. My guess is that they wouldn't use anything less than 5KV.

        You also have to make sure that all the ions get neutralized, or you'd end up with objects being charged again.

        You'd also have to be mindful of dust collection (which ionic breeze machines do exceptionally well) and be in a relatively stable environment.

        To maximize ionic wind, you need the electron source to be on the verge of arcing to the anode (arcing kills the breeze). Unfortunately, this is dependant on many factors including air pressure, humidity, temperature, etc. So they would probably play it safe and set it back a bit to prevent arcing. Of course this lowers the wind, which means they need to use a higher voltage to acheive the same effect.

        I'm not saying it is impossible, but it's also not a walk in the park either. Electrostatics and computer components don't play well together. And given the power of most modern day cpu fans, you're going to need a lot more than a mere 5-8 KV ionic wind to achieve the same cooling effect.

        Now if they were talking about electrohydrodynamics using water, that's a little different. Basically, you can use electrohydrodynamics to pump water in a liquid cooling system without needing any moving parts. The concept is very similar to using an ionic breeze, only this time the medium is water. Since you have a denser medium, you can generate more force using electostatics (you can knock more electrons free as there are more in the immediate area).

        You still run into the problem of high voltage and shielding, but a liquid cooled system without any moving parts sounds pretty interesting to me.

        • "Now if they were talking about electrohydrodynamics using water, that's a little different. Basically, you can use electrohydrodynamics to pump water in a liquid cooling system without needing any moving parts."

          I believe someone makes a product what does something similar using a low-temperature fusable metal, like Galinstan. Except that it uses basic electromagnetics rather than electrostatic.

          The liquid metal is in an aluminum tube with a thin plastic layer on the inside, and has a small current run thro
        • Charged particles! Computers! Together at laszxxz#@`.; NO CARRIER
        • I've been told for years that static electicity is the killer of small electronic components. Now they are proposing putting an electrostatic discharger smack dab on the motherboard? You could say the same for water cooling but at least that is a self contained system. I agree with you, it doesn't sound so appealing. One arcing event and it is all over.
      • And last but not least :

        I really think that charged ions (tautology used for emphasis) are the best thing to have around inside an electrically sensitive device like a computer (you know, all this "ground your-self by touching the metal case before opening and manipulating electronic components" stuff).

        Not to mention that ions can stick and accumulate, both clogging faster the computer with dust, and doing bad effects on the computer users' lung health.

        No thanks. I'll stick to watercooling / heat pipes / bo
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kadin2048 ( 468275 )
      It's really not.

      Have you ever seen one of those Ionic Breeze air filters from The Sharper Image? They use the same principles, except that one of the plates is rather large, in order to attract dust out of the air and adhere to it.

      They move quite a bit of air; it's enough to blow a candle flame over 45 degrees. So it makes sense that you could use one as a "no moving parts" fan, if you wanted to.

      Calling it a "corona discharge cooler" sounds cool, but really it's not much more sophisticated than an air filte
    • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @03:36AM (#17455354)
      A corona discharge cooler sounds more like something designed to keep beer cold instead. Either that or regulating body temperature by drinking a lot of Mexican beer and urinating.
  • by udderly ( 890305 ) * on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:38PM (#17452074)
    The piece covers many of the cooling technologies currently available, how their new corona discharge cooler works, and a short interview with several of the key team members.

    I sure hope that they remember to remove the lime first.
  • dupe? (Score:3, Informative)

    by radicalnerd ( 930674 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:48PM (#17452166)
    I don't understand how this device, which uses an "electrostatic fluid accelerator," is different from this [] "electrostatic precipitator."
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Penguinshit ( 591885 )

      The Kronos device is to be the same size as the CPU.

      From TFA: Current prototypes have an active region of several cubic millimeters, and we are working to reduce that. However, the size of the device is going to be related to the heat dissipation requirements and size of the heat source. In some applications it is possible that the size of the device would have a similar footprint of the chip to be cooled and a height of only several millimeters.

  • hmm (Score:3, Informative)

    by Swimport ( 1034164 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:50PM (#17452186) Homepage
    Sounds a lot like this: .aspx []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:51PM (#17452194)
    According to TFA this technology makes use of a huge amount of ions (apparently ozone O3 and NOx) which are toxic! []
  • by Anonymous Coward
    no need to worry about spewing a bunch of ionized air particles all over the place. []

    • Matter of scale (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kelson ( 129150 ) *
      While ionizing "air cleaners" can produce enough ozone to cause problems, those are intended to move air and particles around an entire room. This only needs to move enough air to cool a small processor. I'd be more worried about the effect on plastic or rubber components inside the computer.
      • by LilGuy ( 150110 )
        If I had mod points parents and gp would be modded interesting and informative :)
  • by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:55PM (#17452232)
    Where are the numbers? How much heat does it dissipate? Everything is vague: "it can cool modern cpus" okay, well, I can run a modern CPU at 100MHZ if I want and then it won't require any cooling. An article like this without any specifics is hardly Slashdot material. This is regular news material, if that.
  • Snakeoil, Mostly (Score:4, Informative)

    by Total_Wimp ( 564548 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:00PM (#17452280)
    There is no special cooling effect being harnessed that's any more complicated than blowing on your soup. All this does is move air. If the comparison of various air purifiers I read is at all accurate, it doesn't even do that very well (Ionic Breezes faired poorly due to poor air flow).

    This does have a place in mobile computing because fans have pretty strict size and shape limitations. Also, silence is golden to many. Other than that, a fan and heatsink should offer far superior performance.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

      This does have a place in mobile computing because fans have pretty strict size and shape limitations. Also, silence is golden to many. Other than that, a fan and heatsink should offer far superior performance.

      It's also desirable for its low power consumption; he claims it uses 0.1W. A good CPU cooler can easily draw 3W and is likely to draw at least 1.5W - most seem to be rated at 2W or higher. A laptop CPU fan should still be around .5 W at minimum, and lots of them are higher. This not only removes a

      • Per what volume of air? Fans can move a very large volume of air for that 3W.

        • Well, that's a good point, but as you may have noticed if you did in fact read the whole comment, I'm giving a very lowball estimate of 0.5W for the laptop CPU fans just to keep my estimates nice and low and safe. Even if you end up using the same total power consumption - I honestly don't know what that really looks like, because these guys aren't handing out numbers yet. Even if it's the same displacement of air watt for watt, eliminating the moving parts and the fan noise are highly desirable aspects of
      • he claims it uses 0.1W

        IMHO, this sounds very (too) low. He has to have some kind of flyback converter generating somewhere from 1kV to 8kV (from the article), and my guess is that it is at the higher end of that range. Now, in order to make this anywhere near safe, it probably has to be designed with semi-insulators rather than insulators (don't want people getting shocks after it is turned off), so even if the corona discharge has minimal current, the losses will be significant. Also, the flyback converter

      • That 0.1W was for cooling one square centimetre of some unspecified material at an unspecified temperature by some unspecified amount. That's simply not enough information to say anything at all about the cooling performance, certainly not enough to compare it to some other cooling system. You at least need to know what it was cooling, how hot it was and how much it was cooled by. Other relevant details (air temperature, pressure and humidity; material being cooled...) would be ideal, but we can make reaso

    • I think this is all a misplacement of money and engineering work.

      I generally don't hear my notebook's fans, unless I put my ears up to it, and maybe a little bit if I have it maxed out. Said notebook, with fans set to run at 2000RPM, is for my intents, close enough to silent that I wouldn't argue about it. It is also cool enough to use on my lap for long periods of time.

      Even my workstation's cooling is sufficiently quiet for me, much quieter than most consumer desktops. Just spend a little bit of time an
      • Even with a 120mm fan in its front, a 92 in back, one for the power supply, one on the cpu, one on the GPU and one on the north bridge, my desktop (actually floortop) system only generates a soothing hum. I actually like hearing a little hum from it, like starting up an engine.

        The CD/DVD units produce more noise when powering up than any other part of my system.
    • Snakeoil, Mostly.... hmmm, wait a second. That's it! put the computer in snake oil to keep it cool! That will work even better than cooking oil. []
  • So it's basically an Ionic Breeze for your computer?
    • All I want to know... is do you get a free Ionic Breeze Quadra with the purchase of this from the Sharper Image?
  • by TheSexican ( 796334 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:10PM (#17452382)
    Won't it get quite dusty in there?
    • Yes - the cooling unit is a few millimetres deep by about the size of the cpu, but the extractor fan and assembly requires a full sized cabinet for housing.

  • Ozone? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AVIDJockey ( 816640 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:18PM (#17452462)
    Wouldn't this increase the amount of ozone in the immediate vicinity? It's probably not as bad as an Ionic Breeze in that regard, but put dozens or hundreds of these things in an office space or computer lab and it wouldn't exactly be the healthiest breathing environment.
  • Ozone (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:18PM (#17452464)
    I have worked with tesla coils for years, I can tell you this is like begging for a headache! That thing would make a nice amount of ozone, and what does ozone do to living things and metals boys and girls?
  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:20PM (#17452472) Homepage Journal
    This story doesn't pass the smell test.

    First, for corona discharge to occur at all requires thousands of volts of energy. Basically enough to leap off the conductor -- and into the semiconductor. This is easily several times the amount of voltage needed to fry any VLSI chip.

    Second, the amount of airflow generated by corona discharge is infinitesimal, especially given the amount of energy required to get it to happen at all. Some simple thermal models will tell you how much air you have to displace in order to remove a given amount of heat, and you'll see that you're never going to get that kind of volume moved via corona discharge.

    Maybe there have been some new discoveries since I last played with static electricity. But personally I think someone's shoveling bovine offal.


    • TFA says they will use 1-8kv.. which is thousands of volts.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by asuffield ( 111848 )
      First, for corona discharge to occur at all requires thousands of volts of energy.

      Buuu! Energy is not measured in volts. Attempts at debunking things while failing to make basic electrical sense are not impressive. Try harder next time.
      • by ewhac ( 5844 )

        Energy is not measured in volts. Attempts at debunking things while failing to make basic electrical sense are not impressive. Try harder next time.

        Okay, fine, Jack Sarfatti. Corona discharge requires thousands of volts, period. The actual energy involved is quite low, since the Amperes, and therefore resultant Power, is quite small. And, as we all know, Energy is Power multiplied by Time, so...

        But the original thrust of my objection remains: Getting thousands of volts near expensive semiconductors

        • by ewhac ( 5844 )

          And, as we all know, Energy is Power multiplied by Time, so...

          Okay, so clearly I had difficulty in Physics 101. That doesn't change the fact that an errant high voltage discharge will turn your shiny Intel Core Duo into a useless, if well-machined, piece of sand...

          Here's more than you could have ever thought you wanted to know about Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) [], and why it's so bloody dangerous to get even as little as 100 volts near an unsuspecting chip.


        • Wow! A Jack Safartti reference. Feels like I'm on sci.math again. (Lots of stupid sci.physics posts got cross posted, especially from Aristotle Plutonium :-( )
  • The idea in the article doesn't seem to have much merit. However it gave me another idea. Buy one of these things [] and firmy attach it to the heat sink of the chip in question and it should work fine. In theory at least.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This isn't a very efficient way to move air. Air isn't a very effective coolant to begin with.

    Here's an idea! Use thermal currents! Just heat the air above the chip! That causes the air to expand, rise from the chip, and carries the heat away!

    High voltage. Dust magnet. Electrical noise producer. Snake oil. Forget it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I've thought about this as well.

      What if the CPU die was built on an open grid (like a gauze surface)
      Let the air come through from under the motherboard and straight through the middle.
    • I have a better idea. just get the Big Bad Wolf to huff and puff and cool your PC
  • According to Wikipedia, corona discharge is one method used by ozone generators []. Home air purifiers that use ozonolysis have been shown to cause unhealthy levels of ozone []. This device is a lot smaller than an air purifier designed to circulate air throughout an entire room. But still, I wonder how much ozone is actually generated by it.
  • why noone's used convection (hot air rises) ... Didn't the Mac G5 do this? I seem to recall that they have the case configured so that there are no fans, and the rising hot air pulls in cooler air in the bottom. as long as the vents at the top aren't covered, it should be fine.. right? Of course, I'm not a mac user, and my behemoth beside me sounds like a small aircraft. With 5 HDDs and 2 optical drives to power, I needed something with a little kick, and I must say that the quietest piece of equipment i
    • by leenks ( 906881 )
      The G4 cube did this. It didn't work very well though, partly because there was just too much heat for the small design, and partly because the vents were always blocked (how many desktop computers have you seen recently with nothing stacked on top of them?)

      Seagate do this with their latest external hard drives though, and it seems to work quite well (and they are nice and quiet too) - nut the near triangular shape makes balancing stuff on top quite hard :)

  • by Jonathan Walther ( 676089 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:00PM (#17452802) Homepage
    Back in 2002 when John Sokol was designing the first, and still the most efficient silent computer, we discussed the ionic air cooling. I think it was Bill Drury who first mentioned it. We put it off as a possible future direction to go. It didn't seem like it would be nearly as productive a direction as the thermal ground technology John developed. Time has proven John right; his thermal plane and thermal ground patents will revolutionize the computer industry fairly soon now. As a director of Nisvara, I can't reveal more than that at this time. But if you want a silent computer with no moving parts and even lower power consumption than these "coronal discharge" guys are claiming, get in touch with John Sokol.
  • Act now and get your FREE Bathroom Ionic Breeze!
  • Come on! TFA says "ionic wind" and "corona discharge"! There's got to be a B&B joke in there somewhere. Screw it, I'll do it myself.

    Huh, said wind.
    Yeah, and then you said discharge. hmmm...hmmm..
  • Corona discharge is the underlying principle behind ionisers. As far as I know, Jared Bouck [] came up with ionic cooling for a PC first, as reported on here [] a while ago. Perhaps the fact that it's the processor being cooled rather than the case that makes the difference, but Jared deserves a bit of credit if KAT, Intel and UW are claiming a "new type of cooling," because it looks more like natural evolution of an existing idea to me.
  • by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:47PM (#17453158)
    Those coolers will be used in the upcoming Neuronet Ethernet cards to be released later this year. Stay tuned.
  • I believe that if you ionize oxygen molecules you will create ozone (O3 instead of O2) due to lone electrons residing on the individual oxygen atoms of the ionized molecules(can anyone confirm this?) and the ionized nitrogen molecules would probably end up as N2O (laughing gas) or NOx. Why would you use such a method if it provides no inherent advantages over mechanical methods?
  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @10:41PM (#17453528)
    The article suggests anything mechnical is problematic, while anything electronic is not. This is completely untrue! I have some very silent, high-quality fans with 100.000h lifetime. Of course they are a bit more expensive, but not that more. Thats 11 years running continuously. The problem is not the fans. The problem is use of cheap, bad fans. I also doubt that thier soluton will reach 100.000h lifetime initially....

    The second thing is the statement about noise. First mechanical fans can be very silent. Second, much of the remaining noise will be from the airflow! They will have the same noise as well, and nothing can prevent that! For the same cooling effect, they do need the same airflow. There is no way around that.

    Finally, who really wants to stick some high-voltage generator into a PC that consists mostly of parts very sensitive to high voltages?

    Side note: A completely passive heatsink can very well reach cooling performance comparable to current active CPU coolers. It will not even be more expensive. But it will be larger, e.g. 20cm x 20cm, and will need to be mounted on the outside of the case. This is routinely done with power semiconductors in, e.g., amplifiers. For a CPU, a heatpipe construction could be used. CPUs are actively cooled today, because it is cheaper with a cheap fan or it is completely acceptable in noise levels with a more expensive cooler.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Entirely true - but copper isn't all that cheap and is heavy. My little 600MHz fanless VIA thing at home gets around that by having a case that looks like two aluminium BBQ plates and it is still relatively heavy for a very small unit. Fans also move in air of a lower temperature when the ambient temperature around the hot components is high - but yes, most people forget that conduction moves heat more easily than convection and radiation.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      Most the noise from a properly working fan domes from theblades hitting the air, not from the sound of the moving air.
      YOu have a fan where the blades don't make any noise? sweet...linky please.
  • Well, looks like Sharper Image were way ahead of their time.
    And if you order within the next 20 minutes, they will give
    you a smaller Ionic chiller free for chilling your handheld

  • by John Sokol ( 109591 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:13PM (#17453766) Homepage Journal
    I spent 3 years from 2002 to 2005 working on a silent computing company, Nisvara. We had offices at NASA Ames, Moffet Field in Mountain View California. It seems like everyone loved what we had, Intel, Sun, ATI, HP, Siemens to name a few. None the less it ended up falling apart.

    It's now dead, as one of the people we invited in to help manage thought he would just declare himself the owner just a week before we were to get a $500K grant from the California Energy Commission. When he failed he just trashed the company realizing founders (including myself) were left with nothing. He even managed to get GoDaddy to take the domain out of my name with forged corperate papers, it's been wedged since...

    It really breaks my heart. We developed so many very cool prototypes and inventions for cooling computers.

    One was using the Ionic Breeze technique to provide just a slight air flow, but it increases the efficiency of the heat sink but a large amount. Problem that they fail to mention is the heatsink really attracts dust, just like the ionic breaze, so you need to get in there with a brush quite often.

    Below is a link to many of the prototypes I built. I don't have a photo of the ionic version, but it was just the desktop unit with the large aluminum heatsinks with a plastic duct/ shield was added and a set of fine wires was run across the bottom of the large aluminum heat sinks with -6000V DC on it.
    The aluminum heat sinks were grounded.

      Worked great, but you wouldn't' want to stick your finger in there.

    Also in the picture are water cooled prototypes, Carbon Fiber "bridges" that had a much higher thermal conductivity then copper and other misc stuff.

      I am planning to add many more photo's, papers, data and schematics and open source the designs at this point... []
  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @12:54AM (#17454576) Journal
    Igor, Joshua, Rich, and the whole crew at Kronos, over in Redmond. Good bunch of guys...

    They've got some innovative takes on the ionic drive, including keeping ozone production WAY down. Also, with proper panel design, you can get some wicked airflow - we were playing with a 12" x 12" x 7" thick multi-stage panel that would move 700 CFM. Yes, that really blows!

    One thing to remember is that the voltage required scales with distance. It's on the order of 5 kV/cm, so if you're down to a mm you "only need" 500V to make it work.

    And no, you don't want a discharge! Sparking is BAD. Corona effect is to be avoided - you want to operate just below that point, were you get good ion flow from emitter to collector, but no corona to generate ozone, or sparks.

    On the whole, if you ABSOLUTELY NEED zero moving parts, this is a good way to go. You can get high airflow AND dust filtration in a relatively compact form factor. But it's not cheap, and getting it UL certified isn't exactly the easiest (although it has been done for some products; I worked with them on a few new products and led their team in a couple of research projects).

  • This dude is using a modified ionic breeze to pump air at 325 CFM through his machine. (or so he claims). iew.aspx []
  • Technology Review had another article [] on this back in august. with the same image, in fact. and actually, it was here [] too.

    and recently i saw an episode of mythbusters where they used the same (i think) technology to create a hovering triangle thing. they were testing "anti-gravity" devices, and this was the only thing that surprised them. when they plugged it in, it shot up in the air. after some bewilderment, they realized it was ionizing the air and blowing it down, in turn causing thrust upwards.
  • Wait a second, I thought ions were supposed to short out electronics!

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky