Cooler Master’s ”kinetic” engine turns rotating heatsink into a fan

Way back in 2011, we posted an article on an innovative cooler that used a rotating hunk of metal as both a heatsink and fan. Designed by Sandia National Laboratories, the "air bearing heat exchanger" promised better efficiency and lower noise levels. Sandia was looking into licensing options at the time, and it seems to have found some, because Cooler Master has partnered with a company called CoolChip Technologies on a seemingly identical approach. Scott caught up with the spinning wonder at CES yesterday.

Dubbed the Kinetic Cooling Engine, this contraption rotates a finned heatsink on top of a thin cushion of air. It's claimed to offer 50% better cooling than traditional solutions at half the size and, more importantly, with "significantly lower noise levels." Scott saw a demo of the cooler versus a laptop-style blower, and he reports that the new solution was "silent" compared to the "noisy whine" of the blower.

With relatively compact proportions, the Kinetic Cooling Engine has intriguing potential for mobile and small-form-factor systems. A server-oriented version is also in development, but we're told that consumer derivatives are coming first.

One of Cooler Master's desktop prototypes surrounds the spinning heatsink with a ringed radiator that hooks into the base via heatpipes. Cooling duties are split between the radiator and heatsink, and because the latter generates its own airflow, there's no need for a separate fan. Despite the extra radiator, the cooler remains relatively compact—and much shorter than typical air towers.

Cooler Master might want to add some sort of grill to prevent errant fingers from being shredded by the heatsink, though. Getting nicked by plastic fan blades doesn't feel nice, and I imagine those metal fins do a lot more damage when spinning at high speed.

We don't have firm details on pricing or availability, but Cooler Master is aiming to be cost-competitive with existing solutions. If you want to learn more about the technology, check out this Sandia whitepaper (PDF), which explains the approach in great detail—and with a lot of math.

Comments closed
    • Mat3
    • 5 years ago

    What’s taking so long to get this past the prototype stage? It’s been four years since they introduced it in 2011 and the core design hasn’t really changed..

      • VincentHanna
      • 5 years ago

      [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWQZNXEKkaU#t=313[/url<]

    • maxxcool
    • 5 years ago

    I love how Cooler Master’s “me too” demo looks like 4 cut up empty cans of beer and the top of my lawnmower …

    • Srsly_Bro
    • 5 years ago

    From Article:
    [quote<] Cooler Master might want to add some sort of grill to prevent errant fingers from being shredded by the heatsink, though. Getting nicked by plastic fan blades doesn't feel nice, and I imagine those metal fins do a lot more damage when spinning at high speed. [/quote<] From [url<]http://www.frostytech.com/articleview.cfm?articleID=2722[/url<] "Sandia Cooler: Air Bearing Heatsink Prototype - 2014 update" [quote<]Danger Danger! The 150-gram, 2500-rpm, rotating aluminum heat-sink-impeller must be a safety hazard. Actually, you can run your fingers along (the aluminum fins) while it is operating at several thousand rpm and nothing happens. Note the backward swept orientation of the fins. It's like running your hand along a picket fence. In the production unit, some type of screen/grill would be incorporated. [/quote<] According to the Sandia, and the design of the rotating heatsink, fingers will be safe from unintended removal!

    • Krogoth
    • 5 years ago

    [url<]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v248/Krogoth255/GoldenOrb_zpse22ab2f5.jpg[/url<] Son?

    • tipoo
    • 5 years ago

    How much power does that take to push? Will it require different pins than regular fans?

      • UberGerbil
      • 5 years ago

      A bit like a hard drive, most of the work will be getting it started. Once it’s spinning it shouldn’t require much juice (if it does, something is wearing out pretty quick).

        • Meadows
        • 5 years ago

        I’ll just wait for SSD coolers then.

    • sluggo
    • 5 years ago

    The implications for the air conditioning market are pretty significant. The author calculates a potential savings of some 5% of the US electrical load devoted to AC, heat pumps, and refrigeration.

    • UnfriendlyFire
    • 5 years ago

    I suppose you could tape dust-filters over that fan to keep it clean and and your hands and wires free from danger.

      • Great_Big_Abyss
      • 5 years ago

      dust filters aren’t actually needed. As the entire heatsink itself spins, it keeps itself dust free.

      • tipoo
      • 5 years ago

      I think dust would not be more of an issue than regular fans, perhaps even less of one as spinning would throw away some dust.

      • Duct Tape Dude
      • 5 years ago

      Real pros just duct tape their whole hand. Duct tape doesn’t bleed. And if you do, you didn’t use enough.

        • entropy13
        • 5 years ago

        It’s safe to say you love the Mythbusters’ Duct Tape Specials .

    • DPete27
    • 5 years ago

    Wow, talk about blast from the past. I was under the assumption that this was just another one of those ideas that would never make production.

    • drfish
    • 5 years ago

    These guys haven’t been silent since 2011. I read [url=http://www.frostytech.com/articleview.cfm?articleID=2722<]this[/url<] earlier in the year. Pretty fascinating and I hope as good as it sounds.

      • ermo
      • 5 years ago

      [quote<]Pretty fascinating and I hope as good as it sounds.[/quote<] Well, according to damage it actually doesn't sound of much, so I kind of hope you're wrong?

    • S_D
    • 5 years ago

    I’d love to see how a full 15cm ‘tower’ version of that performs… , although you may need an extra bearing mount at the top of the ‘spindle’ to deal with the leverage on the spindle and the associated weight.

      • ludi
      • 5 years ago

      Probably not well. The stability of the air cushion and efficiency of heat transfer between the base and the sink both depend upon turbulence created by the high-speed rotation. As in all things that spin at high speed, smaller and lighter is better.

    • bthylafh
    • 5 years ago

    I’m curious about whether a user would feel gyroscopic forces.

      • chuckula
      • 5 years ago

      I think this thing would spin me right round… like a record baby right round.

        • maxxcool
        • 5 years ago

        OMG I’M 10YRS OLD AT THE SKATING RING AGAIN!

      • ermo
      • 5 years ago

      In a portable application you mean? Would be pretty cool actually!

    • Anovoca
    • 5 years ago

    Eek, better keep your cables tidy around that thing.

    • Wirko
    • 5 years ago

    Despite the name, the bearing at the center seems to be a common sleeve bearing. So this thing should be very silent … while it’s new. And loud as a siren later in its life.

      • Visigoth
      • 5 years ago

      How can you tell (serious question)?

        • ludi
        • 5 years ago

        Looking at the image where the two halves of the air bearing are shown, it appears the central shaft pushes up into, and rests, inside a simple sleeve.

        Sleeve bearings rely on low-friction contact between two smooth surfaces to stabilize a rotating mass, as compared to a roller bearing or ball bearing, where the rotating shaft is supported by other moving parts packed in grease. Here, it appears the sleeve bearing is not only used, but probably necessary to allow the shaft some “slip” so that the air bearing can stabilize itself.

        However, any loss of lubrication in the bearing and/or entry of foreign materials produces the shrieking and grinding sounds which, at high RPMs, turn into more of an angry whine.

          • Wirko
          • 5 years ago

          Loss of lubrication causes the bearing to wear out faster. After it’s worn out, the fan rotor is allowed to vibrate so it starts producing the dreaded whine and rumble.

          The air cushion, however, might dampen the vibration efficiently, so the fan might stay silent even if the sleeve bearing is worn out.

      • rds
      • 5 years ago

      If you read the article, you would know that the “air bearing” is the part between the 2 plates and not the motor bearings.

        • PainIs4ThaWeak1
        • 5 years ago

        He (Wirko) actually IS referring to the motor bearing(s).

    • meerkt
    • 5 years ago

    Interesting. What about decoupling the rotor/coils from the heatsink for cheaper replacements?

    But I’m still waiting for that membrane-based (speaker-like?) fan-replacement that was in the news years ago.

    • ozzuneoj
    • 5 years ago

    It looks interesting, that’s for sure.

    Considering that current and future desktop systems are moving toward smaller, cooler, quieter and more efficient, the only way a new design idea like this can take off is if it offers similar thermal and noise performance to larger coolers while requiring less overall space. Longevity and price are very important too, with recent systems being fast enough for many years of use without the need for upgrades.

    I still have a Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme from ~2008 on my 2500K at 4.2Ghz and it offers more than enough cooling capacity and is nearly silent with a 120mm Antec Tricool set to low. The only downside is size.

    I can see how it should save space to have the heatsink itself spin to move the air, without the need for a fan… but if its noisy or unreliable, no one will want them.

    Also… as someone who as suffered many terrible cuts\gashes while working on computers over the years and has some permanent scars to prove it , I really hope they can put a cover\shroud over this thing without ruining its performance. If not, they might as well call it the Cooler Master Meatgrinder.

    • Chrispy_
    • 5 years ago

    I remember reading about the Sandia National Labs variant

    Can’t remember if these air-bearings work well when mounted vertically, only ever saw them horizontal….

      • Duct Tape Dude
      • 5 years ago

      I read through the whitepaper for the same thing. They mention that contact won’t damage the pieces, but it still seems like starting/stopping the fan often enough has to wear something down. Eventually you’ll get grooves or similar from the friction. And what of dust?

      This tech is cool, I’m just skeptical of its resilience.

        • Chrispy_
        • 5 years ago

        Dust barely sticks to the rotating heatsink because it acts as a centrifuge and flings dust away.

        In a regular heatsink & fan, there’s always a lot of dust on the heatsink and very little on the fan. In this case, the heatsink *is* the fan so far less dust can actually stick.

          • Duct Tape Dude
          • 5 years ago

          Right, but I was thinking inevitably some dust may build up in the air bearing grooves, especially if the fan is constantly starting/stopping.
          I mean think of hard drives: they’ve got that little air filter and a closed case. This fan is much less delicate but it still lacks that luxury.

            • Chrispy_
            • 5 years ago

            It’s been a long time since I read the article but I’m pretty sure it’s a dust-tolerant design:

            They expect dust, the whole thing is unfiltered, dust really isn’t a problem and the velocities in the air bearing just mean that dusty air instead of clean air is used to float the spinning heatsink.

            I’ll wait to see reviews, but it certainly didn’t [i<]sound[/i<] like snake oil at the time....

            • Duct Tape Dude
            • 5 years ago

            Hm, perhaps you are right. I really want to know how well it tolerates being sideways. If it tolerates that well, I’ll totally review one!

    • NeelyCam
    • 5 years ago

    Heat sinks with mechanical failures… I would sort of prefer replacing the fan instead of the whole heat sink.

      • XTF
      • 5 years ago

      How does the contact / heat transfer between the base and the rotating part work?

        • chuckula
        • 5 years ago

        Fluid dynamics.

          • Chrispy_
          • 5 years ago

          F*ckin’ magnets. How do [i<]they[/i<] work?

            • PainIs4ThaWeak1
            • 5 years ago

            I thought I had put that darned song out of my head…. Thanks for reminding me, jerk. 😀 lol

            • NeelyCam
            • 5 years ago

            Song? I need a link

            • homerdog
            • 5 years ago

            [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-agl0pOQfs[/url<]

            • MadManOriginal
            • 5 years ago

            Magic everywhere in this bitch

            ROFL, wow those lyrics…

            • NeelyCam
            • 5 years ago

            Thanks…

        • nico1982
        • 5 years ago

        Conduction and radiation. The fun part is that even with the thin air cushion between the base and the fan/fins, this design is more efficient and dissipating heat because it removes the bottleneck of current fan design, that is the dead air on the static fins.

          • anotherengineer
          • 5 years ago

          If there is an air cushion, then there is convection also. Forced convection from the fan fins also 😉

            • nico1982
            • 5 years ago

            Argh, I meant convection but typed conduction.

      • willmore
      • 5 years ago

      That would be way worse than an HD headcrash. I can’t wait to see the failure modes for these guys. Some are destined to be spectacular.

        • PainIs4ThaWeak1
        • 5 years ago

        Develop a cage, utilizing the HSF mounting holes? (Just a crude guess.)

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 5 years ago

        Modern CPUs shut themselves down before any damage happens. Still going to be annoying to replace a heatsink of course.

          • willmore
          • 5 years ago

          I was thinking of the heatsink dammaging itself. Still, if that big chunk of spinning metal comes to a sudden stop against the base place, that base is goingto have a lot of torque on it. Let’s hope they don’t shear off the IHS of the chip they’re cooling.

            • CheetoPet
            • 5 years ago

            I’m picturing it breaking loose and carving a 7500 rpm inspired hole through the middle of your video card, shattering the case window then lodging itself into the nearest wall. Unlikely? Sure. But in my head it looks awesome.

            • UnfriendlyFire
            • 5 years ago

            Most likely it would just fall out and chew up wires that are in the way and scour the GPU/mobo circuits.

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