Intel unveils new cooling tech for ultrathin laptops

Keeping the outside of notebooks cool has been a challenge. Chipmaker's new technology will be licensed to customers so they can make "thinner and thinner laptops."

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

Updated on October 24 at 10:20 a.m. with corrected image of Intel laminar jet technology.

Intel wants a laptop to live up to its name.

A computer that sits comfortably, coolly on your lap. The world's largest chipmaker expects a crush of ultrathin laptops from PC makers in 2009 and unveiled cooling technology this week to make sure these svelte air-flow constrained designs stay cool.

To date, cooling technology has focused on keeping the internal components from getting too hot but not the outside of the computer, according to Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms Group, speaking at the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei this week. Eden's keynote was streamed from the event.

Intel uses laminar jet technology to cool a laptop's skin
Intel uses laminar jet technology to cool a laptop's skin (corrected image) Intel

"When you design a very thin system, cooling the skin is a very big challenge," said Eden. "If you put (a laptop) on your lap, it can feel very uncomfortable. Very hot." This is one of the biggest hurdles to designing an ultrathin laptop like the MacBook Air or HP Voodoo Envy 133.

If this problem isn't solved, laptops "can't be made thinner and thinner," he said.

Eden showed an animation of a jet engine to prove his point. The inside of a jet engine can get as hot as 1,000 degrees centigrade. But the jet engine's wall must be kept cool because it is connected to the wing where the fuel is. To keep the engine heat away from the wing, laminar air flow cooling is used.

A laminar flow occurs when a fluid--or air in this case--flows in parallel layers.

Intel demonstrated a system using the same laminar air flow technology to move the heat off a laptop's skin. "We are licensing it to our customers so they can keep making thinner and thinner laptops," Eden said.

Intel demonstrated laminar jet cooling at IDF.
Intel demonstrated laminar jet cooling at IDF. Intel

Intel also revisited the next-generation Calpella laptop platform (due in the second half of 2009) based on its Nehalem technology. Eden reiterated that the graphics and memory controller would be integrated onto the same piece of silicon as the processor.

He also discussed how additional transistors in Nehalem can switch cores on and off, depending on how processor-intensive the application is. This will be critical in a quad-core Calpella laptop to deliver acceptable battery life. (Eden intimated that Calpella quad-core laptops would be common.)

For instance, three of the cores can be shut down to save power when the user is doing tasks that don't require a lot of compute power. Then more cores can be turned on depending on the need.

This is done "automatically on the fly. It is transparent to the operating system," Eden said.

He also talked about "Hyperthreading" or simultaneous multithreading on Nehalem--the ability to run two program threads simultaneously per each core, doubling the number of threads and, Intel claims, obviating the need for eight cores. "We could have done eight cores. We know how to do it. But it would have been too hot," he said.

Eden showed a concept Calpella laptop on stage during his IDF keynote speech.