Too cool! Shrinking portable devices

Thanks to a new patented cooling technology, portable devices may get smaller without compromising their battery life

A San Francisco company has received two patents for technology that may help achieve the Holy Grail of portable devices: making something smaller while not decreasing its battery life.

Novel Concepts has registered the patents for a passive cooling technology called IsoSkin. It consists of two pieces of metal separated by about 500 microns -- less than the thickness of a credit card -- and partly filled with fluid in a vacuum, according to the company.

In most cases the fluid is just a few grams of water, depending on the size of the device. IsoSkin is meant to be built into the case of a device and take heat from a hot spot, such as the area near a processor, and transfer it to a cooler area.

"It essentially spreads heat and helps dissipate it," said Novel Concepts president Dan Thomas.

The cooling method is similar to that used in some notebook PCs, where a heat pipe is placed on a processor to spread the heat it generates. Novel Concepts' patents are for dissipating the heat across a thin plane rather than a pipe.

IsoSkin can be used to cool devices such as mobile phones and small plug-in hard drives for laptops. By reducing the need for heat sinks and fans, IsoSkin increases battery life and allows for smaller devices.

"Devices these days are getting too thin for fans, so IsoSkin can provide a case that can cool a device while not adding thickness," Thomas said.

Thomas said manufacturers are expressing interest, and he expects IsoSkin to be in prototype products within a year and in shipping products within two. He said he doesn't think it should cost more than the original covers for devices.

Novel Concepts is in the process of lining up manufacturing companies that can make cases that use IsoSkin. It's also been in talks with chip companies such as Intel and Transmeta.

Peter Liu, an engineer at chipmaker Transmeta, said Transmeta is evaluating IsoSkin and has found that it "could be potentially very helpful". He stopped short, however, of saying whether the company will use IsoSkin or endorse it to manufacturers of Transmeta-based products.

Novel Concepts was founded in 1995 and has developed, patented and sold cooling technologies.

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