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by Mike Zazaian September 5, 2006 - 4:57am, 24 Comments

A University of Washington scientist harnesses age-old physics principals for use on modern processors, keeping clock speeds up and core temperatures down.

Ionic WindEver wonder what goes on inside those ionic hair brushes that Sharper Image sells for eight hundred dollars? Alexander Mamishev knows, and he’s created the first actually-useful product with the technology. Mamishev has designeda microscopic air conditioner intended for CPU cooling. Mamishev believes the technology operates around a simple precept, “The ions push the air. ” When air molecules are exposed to extreme electrical charges they are ionized and produce plasma. Ions then displace and move the air, a phenomenon known as corona discharge or ionic wind.

The air conditioner in question would be small enough to integrate into the core of a processor, its parts only 1/300th the width of a human hair. Dubbed a cooling chip, the technology consists of two parts, an emitter and a collector. The first part, the emitter, produces air flow by pushing the air with electric discharges, while the second part, the collector, collects the ions on the opposite side of the chip. Various voltages may also be applied to the chip to designate a specific degree of cooling.

Because processors generate such a tremendous amount of heat in even basic computing tasks, over-heating can become a limiting factor in terms of both hardware life-span and performance. Currently computers are mostly equipped with fans, which can be noisy and become less efficient with time. An alternative cooling method is a water-cooling system, but the risk of condensation or leaks keeps non-enthusiasts away. Lately passive and silent cooling has become a big fad, but heatsinks can only be so large in mobile applications. The ionic cooling chip seems a much needed step forward in a long-halted industry where efficient cooling means obnoxiously loud blower fans keeping you up at night.