NEC pumps water-cooled PCs

Who needs fans? NEC says its piezoelectric pump will keep cool water flowing through notebooks, desktops and servers. It promises less noise and greater cooling power.

Japanese electronics firm NEC has announced a water-cooling system for notebooks, desktops and servers that promises less noise and greater cooling power compared with standard air-cooling.

It is hoping to make its water-cooling module a de facto standard within the computer industry when it is licensed to manufacturers in two years' time, said the company.

NEC's move comes several months after rival maker Hitachi announced commercial sales in Japan of a water-cooled notebook, the Flora 270W NW4 Silent Model. According to Hitachi's Japanese Web site, this notebook appears to have been discontinued.

NEC claims several improvements on it water-cooling system. The firm states that their fanless water-cooling system is the slimmest ever made, thanks to the use of a more powerful piezoelectric pump and improved non-permeable materials which prevent evaporation, thus reducing the volume of water required. Using the system only adds 5 mm to the overall thickness of the notebook, according to NEC.

The demand for powerful laptops with desktop features is growing, with consumers unwilling to sacrifice power for portability. However, machines with fast processors also face the problem of increased heat, and the conventional solution of installing ever more powerful fans and larger metal heat spreaders is reaching the limits of feasibility. Water cooling has been touted as one solution, but the problems of leakage, reliability and bulk have required research to overcome.

"NEC's water-cooling module system the pump can be driven with 5 volts of direct voltage. As a result it is easy to install in all IT equipment. This product is suitable not only for use in notebook PCs, but also in servers and desktop computers," said the statement.

"It is expected that it will be positioned as a core technology for spreading water-cooling systems in IT equipment," it said.

The water-cooling module uses a piezoelectric pump to drive the hot liquid from a plate attached to the processor through an aluminum radiation sheet that dissipates the heat.

"Through optimized design of the radiation plate and the ingenuity of the coolant passage configuration below the CPU attached area, a cooling performance of 80W (2 times that of conventional systems) is realized," said the company. The noise level has also been kept at a low 30 db level.

In January this year, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories said he created technology to disperse the heat generated within laptop computers more efficiently than today's cooling systems. Sandia's Mike Rightley said he has developed tiny liquid-filled pipes that shift heat to the edge of the computer where air fins or a tiny fan can disperse it into the air. Current heat pipes are relatively bulky, analysts say, but this one is extremely fine-grained, allowing the tube to be a self-powered mechanism.