The Sandia Cooler was hands-down one of the cleverest new bits of computer hardware we'd seen when it was introduced a year ago, and according to a new video posted by Sandia National Labs, the design has been refined to the point where it's been licensed out to electronics manufacturers keen to make a 30x more efficient CPU cooler.
There are two important stages to cooling a CPU: there's getting the heat from the CPU to the cooler, and then getting the heat from the cooler to somewhere else that's not the cooler or the CPU.
Traditionally, stage one involves applying a bunch of thermal paste to a heat exchanger, but the Sandia Cooler instead relies on what's called an air bearing that separates the CPU from the Cooler itself. As it spins at 2,000 RPM, the cooler is actually hovering just a thousandth of an inch from the CPU's integrated heat spreader, and in a gap that small, the air behaves more like a fluid than a gas, transmitting heat very efficiently.
Stage two, getting heat from the Cooler out to the environment, is much more straightforward. The thing has a bunch of fins to maximize surface area, and it's spinning very very fast. As it does, air is sucked down into the center of the Cooler, and then forced out radially through all the fins. The high speed minimizes the boundary layer of non-moving, insulating air that most fans have to deal with, and it also insures that the Cooler never gets dusty or dirty: it's simply moving too fast to get clogged up in there.
The upshot of all this is that the Sandia Cooler is some 30 times more efficient than a traditional cooling system. That's not 30 percent, that's like, it would take 30 traditional CPU coolers all running at once to provide the same level of cooling efficiency as the Sandia Cooler does by itself. It's also practically silent (even at 2000 RPM), is made up of a grand total of three parts, and you'll never have to worry about cleaning it.
Sanda says that they've licensed the technology to some unspecified company who's going to make a CPU cooler with it, and it's also looking into solid-state lighting and air conditioning applications. The design is still being refined to some extent, but a licensing deal means that it's a lot closer from moving from some laboratory into my PC, which I will then be able to absurdly overclock. Yay!
Don't miss the video below, which shows the Sandia Cooler in operation and gives you a sense of how it'll sound.