If there’s one part of a PC that doesn’t get enough love, it’s the fan. These small plastic spinning pieces cost almost nothing and keep hundreds or thousands of dollars of advanced technology from cooking itself.
The only time anyone talks about a computer’s fans is when we notice them doing their jobs. “I can’t go on YouTube without them winding up, making a bunch of noise!”
For many, these fans are becoming increasingly unnecessary. Chips built for phones, tablets and even some laptops are designed to use small enough amounts of power than they can dissipate heat without blowing a bunch of air all over everything.
But for users who demand power — gamers, video editors and the like — fans are still a reality that has to be dealt with every day.
CoolChip Technologies is working to redesign fans to be less of a nuisance. While there are alternatives (like liquid cooling) for those who simply cannot stand the presence of fans, CoolChip’s work doesn’t require significantly changing a machine’s internal layout.
In a presentation at Highway1’s demo day, founder CoolChip founder William Sanchez claimed that the company’s fans are half the size and achieve 35-40 percent greater thermal performance than traditional PC fans. That’s impressive, but not something that most consumers would be aware of or care about. But when Sanchez put a mic next to one his startup’s fans and then a more traditional unit, there was a stark difference: The CoolChip fans appeared to be silent and you could definitely hear the regular fan; both were removing the same amount of heat.
Among PC gamers, this could be huge. An enthusiast’s gaming rig typically has one CPU and one to four graphics cards, each of which generate enough heat to warrant one of CoolChip’s fans. Anyone with a PC built for maxing out their games or software would notice the noise reduction from switching to fans this quiet.
Apparently I’m not the only one to notice that. Onstage, Sanchez noted that CoolChip has partnered with Cooler Master to bring its technology to market as aftermarket add-ons early next year, and Microsoft consulted with the startup to make quieter fans for the Xbox One games console, as well as an upcoming unannounced Xbox (likely an Xbox One Slim).
Then there’s the enterprise and infrastructure market. At a Facebook, Google, or Amazon data center, replacing hundreds or thousands of fans with ones using ~35 percent less power could yield significant cost savings. As data centers move from big PC processors to large networks of ARM chips, there will likely be even more individual chips to keep cool.
That opportunity is likely what drew the attention of Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, which invested $500,000 back in 2012. For a quick look at the actual fans getting everyone excited, check out this prototype video CoolChips posted late last year: