CPU Cooling - What's New??

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SUMMARY: What’s new?? Not much….

I woke up this morning in a reflective mood for some reason and I wanted to write about something that’s been nagging at me for a while – what’s new in CPU cooling??

The short answer is – not all that much.

For those of us that have been overclocking for a while, we pushed the envelope in ways that have become mainstream today:

  • Increasing fin surface area
  • Increasing airflow with high speed or multiple fan heatsinks
  • Using copper instead of aluminum
  • Water cooling
  • Phase change cooling (refrigeration and heat pipes)

  • TEC cooling

A few esoteric approaches, such as full immersion and liquid nitrogen, have been tried but will most likely never reach mainstream use.

What strikes me is that over the last few years, it’s been pretty much tinkering at the edges rather than “break through” technologies. No doubt the waterblocks in use today are far superior in design to the simple copper boxes of yesterday, but these designs did not yield quantum leaps in performance. There are some new designs coming out that will be incrementally better, but not by that much.

The cooling challenge certainly has escalated as CPU watt-densities have increased, so there’s no lack of need. So what gives?

One word – cost.

I’ve been playing with some esoteric materials and some look promising – but at what cost? The crux of the issue is that what’s available is good enough – tinkering at the edges will meet current needs for some time. Until there is a significant, orders-of-magnitude cost decreases in new materials and technologies, I doubt you’ll see CPU cooling solutions much different from what we have now.

As an aside, “what we have is good enough” typifies a lot of what we see on the computing scene currently – it’s almost as if we’re stuck in gear, and maybe that’s OK for now.

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