back to article WTF is solid state active cooling? We’ve just seen it working on a mini PC

A US upstart has developed a solid-state active cooling device not much bigger than an SD card that uses a variety of exotic technologies to suck heat out of small enclosed spaces. Solid state what? And isn’t solid state stuff usually a source of heat? To unpack this, meet Frore Systems, manufacturer of said solid state active …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    inspired by methods used to cool the leading edges of jet engine components

    Always looks good on the advertising...

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: inspired by methods used to cool the leading edges of jet engine components

      "(and cheekily refers to that improvement a "Frore’s Law")"

      Unless this term has been approved by TheReg Soviet, it is not valid in this context.

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: inspired by methods used to cool the leading edges of jet engine components

      Good thing the insides of PC's are so clean so no dust can clog it up.

      Reminds me of the Pixtronix shutter display of 15 years ago. https://www.technologyreview.com/2010/06/22/202550/startup-aims-for-perfect-pixels/

    3. Kris Sweeney

      Re: inspired by methods used to cool the leading edges of jet engine components

      My first thought reading the article was that this sounds very similar to what Airing (http://www.fundairing.com/) have been trying to do with their CPAP microblowers and may be a very good reason to be cagey about the technology.

  2. jmch Silver badge
    Boffin

    Noise??

    Is it less noisy than a fan for the same cooling power? That at least could be a handy win

    1. mark l 2 Silver badge

      Re: Noise??

      I saw a video by LTT on this yesterday, and he said although its less noisy than a traditional fan, the noise on the laptop that had been retro fitted with one of these coolers was more high pitched, so in Linus opinion was more noticeable if less loud.

      Apparently the company said that in purpose built devices they can turn cooler nozzle to reduce the noise though.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Noise??

      Useful Youtube video review in this article.

      https://www.cnx-software.com/2023/05/23/zotac-pi430aj-pico-mini-pc-features-airjet-solid-state-active-cooling-chips/

      I expect the sound can be tuned, just like jet exhaust on modern quiet jets.

    3. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Noise??

      > Is it less noisy than a fan

      Article mentioned "ultrasonic frequency" (fancy way to say "ultrasound"), which means it will probably have high-pitched harmonics, but most annoyingly, any dogs in the neighborhood will go crazy...

      Gotta love the marketing naming though. It's a very clever and innovative fan system, but "solid state"?

      1. Cybersaber

        Re: Noise??

        Yeah, this isn't really solid state. There are moving parts, as well as the moving air itself being part of the system.

        Sounds like a lot of marketing hot air.

        1. MrBanana

          Re: Noise??

          I think they would like you to say a lot of cold air.

          1. Cybersaber

            Re: Noise??

            The device's purpose is to take cold air, and heat it by conduction. More simply put, the idea is to pump as much heat OUT of the chip, and put it INTO the air as possible. If the air coming out is cold, this is a bad thing.

  3. Steve D
    Holmes

    "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

    The article states "Frore is confident it can defeat dust". This is the key here as the very small air channels will be very prone to clogging by dust and fluff. If their solution is to use a filter, then the system is only any good until the filter gets clogged.

    The conventional ways of keeping dust and other airborne contamination out of forced air cooling systems are filters, or a sealed primary system that relies on heatpumps, air con or heat exchangers to exhaust the heat. If Frore have a way around that, then that is a really interesting technology, but I suspect they do not.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

      Their system has a "blow backwards" mode, so their paper filters can be cleaned out by the cooling system itself.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

        "Their system has a "blow backwards" mode, so their paper filters can be cleaned out by the cooling system itself."

        The problem is that doesn't work 100% and the filter gets clogged from both sides.

        When I worked in a machine shop, I built a PC for the owner with liquid cooling that had an external fan and air filter. The mist in the air from machine coolant would oil up the dust and coat the internals of a PC to a point where only complete disassembly and ultrasonic cleaning would do the job, ie: throw it away and buy another. A similar thing happened in a wood shop I managed, but that was solved by putting the PC for the CNC router in an enclosure feed with filtered air coming through a really big filter that got changed regularly.

        I don't see this little thingy being useful in either scenario. I honestly don't take my main production computer outside for a good blow job frequently enough. When I do, there's a cloud of fine dust and cat hair that could trigger an air quality warning and environmental fine.

    2. ssharwood

      Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

      There’s a dust filter in place rated to last for years

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

        Given the size of that thing I'd say that's only plausible if it reverses direction every so often.

        Dust, er, sucks..

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

          Which it does (reverse direction that is)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

        This...and they are high static pressure, so you don't need massive grills for air to be pulled in, they can pull air through tinier cracks...e.g. between seams, through gaps in port cut outs etc.

        I don't think dust will be as big of an issue with these as with a typical fan.

        Theoretically, these things could probably do a lot to indirectly cool other components in your machine as well as the thing it's attached to.

        I haven't seen any videos of these things yet, but I have seen similar mechanisms in play in industrial settings and they can have a pretty significant wider cooling effect because of the sheer amount of air they pull in and thus over the components between it and where the air gets in.

      3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

        James Dyson enters the room with a fan that never loses suction and a lifetime filter that never needs replacement. *

        * Suction and filter excluded from warranty. View the support guide for periodic maintenance to restore suction and replace lifetime filter.

    3. Robin 12

      Re: "Frore is confident it can defeat dust": More details please.

      Yes, dust in a dry atmosphere, what can go wrong? Where I live, I used to fix items that engineers stated didn't have to worry about dust. Even shocked one of these smart guys when I pulled about 200ml of dust out of his "don't worry" pieces of equipment in his presence. The fans were supposed to just blow the dust through the system. We even sealed equipment that were never designed to be sealed since dust was getting into them. It was a local mod that saved many man hours of work.

      Any moving air with the fine dust just causes static and then the dust becomes like glue and forced air won't remove it. I will pass.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Frore is being cagey about the tech inside the AirJet, so caveat emptor.

    tech inside is NASA-grade purified vacuumised cavity lattice, 4-D-interspaced with hypressured fissure of low-density / high-stability oxygenised sub-atomic, and aerogenically-enhanced compound thingies, in a few words ;)

    1. Dizzy Dwarf

      Re: Frore is being cagey about the tech inside the AirJet, so caveat emptor.

      Ah, so like that unidirectional oxygen-free copper. I have that in my hi-fi speaker cables.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Frore is being cagey about the tech inside the AirJet, so caveat emptor.

      TAKE MY MONEY!!! TAKE MY MONEY!!!

      1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

        Futurama - Quote

        I thought the proper quote was, "Shut up and take my money!"

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnB1TgxgwEA

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They won't be able to market this.

    Any reference or search for vibrating devices will be blocked by company web policies..

    :)

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: They won't be able to market this.

      Especially when they cool things down...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They won't be able to market this.

      Make sure to ask for a push-pull configuration, not blow-suck.

      1. TimMaher Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: “blow-suck”

        Suck Samantha, SUCK! Blow is just a figure of speech!

        Mine’s the one with the damp tissues in the pocket.

        1. Dizzy Dwarf

          Re: “blow-suck”

          Not really a job either.

          More like a suck-hobby.

          1. David 132 Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: “blow-suck”

            Ah, you’ve seen that Oglaf strip, too :)

            1. Dizzy Dwarf

              Re: “blow-suck”

              Yep :)

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: “blow-suck”

            If it was a job, my wife would be happy for the maid to do it.

    3. mpi Silver badge

      Re: They won't be able to market this.

      "Hey, you have a minute?"

      "Sure, wassup"?

      "Oh, just going over the acquisition forms you filled out...mind telling me, what those 'vibrating devices to keep the heat under control' are exactly?"

      "Ummm..."

      "SECURITYYYYYYYY!"

      1. david 12 Silver badge

        Re: They won't be able to market this.

        are exactlly

        but but - they're for hot laptops --

  6. TeeCee Gold badge
    Coat

    Frore execs wouldn’t tell The Register what the membranes are made of...

    Well it's got to be something old, dull and boring then. They'd be trumpeting it from the rooftops if it were something cool and zeitgeisty like, say, graphene.

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    So this solid state cooling system is, in fact, an air-cooled system with a solid but essentially mechanical heat pump. I was expecting some sort of Peltier effect device such as those I used in the '70s & '80s. Even though they were solid state devices they were only heat pumps and they still needed water cooling to back them up.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Ye cannae break the laws of physics

      I suppose every cooling system is a heat pump of some kind, moving heat from the place you don't want it to somewhere else.

      The questions are efficiency and whether they can actually work against a gradient - moving heat from a cool place to a hot place - or only from a hot place to a cool place.

      A Peltier can work against a gradient and has no moving parts.

      This one is just a fancy fan.

      It's only interesting if it's quieter or longer-lived than a traditional fan of around the same size.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ye cannae break the laws of physics

        Or performs better. I don't think there are *any* traditional fans with similar measurements, so this is automatically better.

    2. lullabyman

      Those peltiers are hugely inefficient. It needed a big fan and heatsink to work, and the energy consumption of the setup was huge (thus necessitating the cooling system so that it would remove the heat it created as well as the heat it transfered).

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        ISTR reviews of using Peltier coolers sandwiched between the CPU and a large heat-sink back in the days of 486 CPUs when people wanted silent cooling but CPUs were reaching the stage of requiring fans. There was enough extra benefit that DX2/66 or DX4/100 could still operate fanless with an added Peltier. I often wondered why they seemed to disappear from the market but the explanation of the poor efficiency explains it. There was a small window of opportunity for small amount of additional cooling before they became too inefficient to be viable inside a PC.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "ISTR reviews of using Peltier coolers sandwiched between the CPU and a large heat-sink back in the days of 486 CPUs when people wanted silent cooling but CPUs were reaching the stage of requiring fans."

          Back in the days of the first Macs there was a chimney you could fit on the top that would increase airflow velocity through the case. Heat became an issue with clamp-on upgrades and people not wanting to bodge a fan onto the back of the case. I never got one and haven't seen any for ages. I have a stack of those older Macs and would love to find one.

    3. steelpillow Silver badge

      Waiter! There's a mosquito in my wine!

      I remember Peltier devices being sold to put in a kitchen drawer to turn it into a wine cooler.

      That didn't seem to go well.

      A Peltier equivalent that whines like a mosquito and clogs with dust/grease/small children seems a step backwards to me.

  8. Binraider Silver badge

    Cursory googling indicates that Intel had a patent on comparable technology that only recently expired.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Patent

      That stopped a company I worked for about 10 years ago.

      That and the fact it whined like a banshee and even with the exotic materials (metals based and ceramics based) we were using it didn't move enough air to be useful over about 15W in a PMC format.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        Re: Patent

        The Zotac industrial computers shipping with these things (on display at computex now) are of that order of magnitude of power output.

        They do have a hacked samsung laptop on display, similarly modified and performing better than a stock cooler though, so there's something in the idea. Gamersnexus did some decent coverage of it, recommended.

  9. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    "the air flow is transformed into high velocity pulsating jets"

    So a Jacuzzi for CPUs?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the air flow is transformed into high velocity pulsating jets"

      Only if they make a water cooler based on this tech. :D

  10. NanoMeter

    Cool...

    but please report back when it works on desktop CPUs.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Cool...

      Desktop PCs?

      I would of thought 1U servers would be the £ primary target for something smaller than a traditional Xeon cpu cooler.

      My quick we search indicates the cooler needs to move 92 watts from a xeon at circa 3 GHz. So that would indicate a Xeon will need an array of circa 18 of these.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Cool...

      If I’ve read this article correctly, a Xeon cpu potentially needs an array of 18 of these. Also with that amount of heat the exhaust needs to be ducted out of the cabinet.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Cool...

        Article referring to:

        https://www.intel.co.uk/content/www/uk/en/support/articles/000006710/processors/intel-xeon-processors.html

  11. mpi Silver badge

    "Vibrating Membranes..."

    Sorry, a little confused here...isn't the meaning of "solid state" that something has no moving parts?

    And isn't vibration a form of movement?

    I am not a material scientist, so maybe there is something I don't get about this. If anyone wants to enlighten me, I'm all ears.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: "Vibrating Membranes..."

      "isn't the meaning of "solid state" that something has no moving parts?"

      'Solid state' originated as a descriptor for semiconductor electronic devices (transistors) as opposed to vacuum tubes (valves) -- (electrons travelling in a solid rather than through vacuum) -- so moving parts or not was not the issue. Nowadays as any word can mean almost anything you want, maybe 'no moving parts' applies. However, by both definitions a peltier heat pump would pass muster.

  12. wsm

    Nothing to see here

    It's probably just a 5 nanometer fan

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Nothing to see here

      That would be worth shouting about!

  13. carolinahomes
    Coat

    Too many doctors, not enough patience

    So we ought to cool our jets and shake the dust off before considering this a job well thought-out.

  14. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Tech like a hole

    It dissipates an additional 4.25 Watts at 85C in a slim laptop that had no cooling or fan, according to literature.

    4.25W at a 65C difference is passive cooling territory. That's comparable to a copper foil spreader, a thermally conductive pad to the case, or a small air hole.

    I don't think even an Asus ROG phone could use this fan. Cellphone makers would be very interested in active liquid heat spreaders that can be built into the phone back cheaply. One company claims they have a prototype.

  15. John Savard

    Done before?

    I think this kind of tiny membrane fan is new and unique.

    But when I saw the headline, I thought it was something that certainly has been done before: thermoelectric cooling.

    1. Scott 26

      Re: Done before?

      When I saw teh headline, I too thought I had read this before, and then I realise I had... in a SF short story.

  16. Nick Gisburne

    "Frore is being cagey about the tech inside the AirJet"

    So no patent then? Patents being freely available to view.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Someone upthread mentioned a recently expired Intel patent for something that seemed very similar. So, maybe it's no longer patentable, or maybe the fact Intels patent expired and we never saw a product, Intel maybe never solved the issues of making a functional device and so held back development for 20 years by sitting on it all that time. And maybe this new one does something special or unique and they've decided to go the "trade secret" route, at least initially but is probably built on what Intel patented and may not be patentable if not different enough. It may not be different at all, just this one seems to work, possibly thanks to better materials science or micro-scale engineering techniques, ie nothing new in terms patentability. Although this is the US, where almost anything appears to be patentable :-)

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        >” is probably built on what Intel patented and may not be patentable if not different enough.”

        Unless it is identical to the Intel patents, it will be patentable, if only because they have made it work with modern materials.

        Remember the Marconi radio patent didn’t contain anything “new” other than the way Marconi had put the parts together and tuned them.

        Suspect they are keeping quiet about the patents as there is probably an application “in the system”.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          " it will be patentable, if only because they have made it work with modern materials."

          Doubtful. I've been warned by a patent attorney that it's a real bugger to try and get a patent based mainly on new materials and not coming up with a new approach. Patents can be very expensive to get, but they are even more expensive to defend so the only point in getting one that's on the edge is if you do all of the work yourself getting one awarded to be able to put it on your brag sheet (resume). I have a couple of patents I'm proud of, but I have no means of enforcing them and they'll expire later this year and next anyway.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      According to the footer of the brochure (see link in article), patents are pending. Suspect the application(s) is not in the company name, hindering cursory seaches.

      A quick Google “ us patent application pulsating jets cooling” does not list any recent applications, however it does return a number of abandoned and active patents that seem to be relevant.

  17. HammerOn1024

    Does...

    peltier mean anything to you?

    Snore.

  18. jollyboyspecial Silver badge

    Solid State

    I always assumed that "solid state" meant that the the component was monolithic with no separate component parts or particularly moving parts. That being the case I would thing anything with vibrating membranes (ie moving parts) doesn't qualify as solid state.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone Remember Bull Electrical, Hove

    They used to have all manor of weird and ridiculously expensive to make and buy kit from the MoD and various of its suppliers off the auctions.

    One of those odds n sods in the various knick-knacks bargain bin was a piezo electric fan i picked up sometime around 1987-90 for about £5, whilst i was in the area on a call out.

    very bulky and with a 10cm long flexi paddle, something around 5 to 12v dc and it would move a noticeable breeze, enough for low powered kit that required no noise.

    Linus Sebastian had something similar on LTT a while back and quoted a current RRP of about $10k...

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