The bane of every notebook processor has been its thermal constraints. Processors get hot and limit a system's performance because devices cannot get heat out fast enough. If every OEM could wish away one problem with notebooks, it would be thermal issues. With the slowdown in Moore’s Law, it has become an even bigger issue.
Frore Systems, a startup company developing thermal technologies, has announced the AirJet® Mini and AirJet® Pro, active cooling chips that could solve today's thermal issues within notebooks and other mobile devices.
Let's take a look at what problems Frore wants to solve with it’s Airjet Mini and AirJet Pro and how it could disrupt the notebook industry on multiple fronts.
The thermal problem
Over the past couple of decades, the processor industry has been trying to keep up with Moore's Law, the theory that every generation of processors will double its transistor count. The more transistors, the more dense and the more dense, the more heat is generated and in need of dissipation. This trend is inevitable, and I believe we are seeing it more prominently with desktop GPUs than anything else; the melting of power connectors due to such a high demand for power.
The battle against thermal constraints is not with Moore's Law or the progression of processing technologies but rather with how systems can be designed to dispel heat the fastest. Thermal solutions have not changed considerably and the same methods to dissipate heat—fans, heat sinks, and heat pipes, are still widely used today.
While these thermal solutions suffice for desktop systems considering they have more space to move and control airflow, mobile devices take the biggest hit. Notebooks have thickness requirements and airflow constraints due to the size and design of the device. The approach has been to optimize thermal solutions as best as possible and take the hit on processing power. On top of this processing power compromise, when OEMs design thermal solutions with fans, they are often loud, add bulk, and are only slightly more performant. We have even seen devices that crack under thermal throttling, like the new MacBook Air M2
Doubling performance in the same form factor?
Frore, a recent startup backed by leading investors Mayfield, Addition, Clear Ventures, and Qualcomm, has developed the first solid-state chip for active device cooling, the AirJet chip. Frore has designed two AirJet chips, the AirJet Mini, about the size of a half dollar coin, and the AirJet Pro, about double that size.
If we look at the legacy methods of dispelling heat, the solid-state chip is most comparable to a fan based solution in that it dissipates the heat from the processor through air intake. The AirJet chip uses vibrating membranes to create a high-pressure environment within the chip that saturates the incoming air with heat from the bottom of the chip. The chip then blows the hot air out of the system. The vibrating membranes work like microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) but at a larger scale compared to standard MEMS.
One concern that I had with this type of air-cooling solution was what happens with the AirJet when it encounters fully enclosed devices. In talking with Seshu Madhavapeddy, Founder and CEO of Frore, he said that systems with AirJet solutions could have IP68 dust-resistant material on the intake to make the system dustproof. The AirJet solution overcomes ventilation concerns that fans and pipes could not get around. The inlet does not need to be at the bottom, where soft surfaces like illo wot mattress could potentially cover the intake. Alongside the performance jump, which I'm about to get into, I believe the efficiency and durability that AirJet brings to the design and integrity of a notebook are one of its strongest attributes.
A 13-inch Notebook with 4 AirJet Minis compared to the same exact system with a fanless design. Source Frore
For a “13-inch Arm-based notebooks”, which very much sounds like a MacBook Air, the AirJet Mini has been shown to double the performance without adding thickness to fanless devices. Similarly, for 15-inch x86-based notebooks, the AirJet Pro showed a 1.5x jump in performance. AirJet enables the systems to run cooler and at a higher clock speed.
Not only does AirJet return better results compared to fanless and fan designs, but it is also practically silent. The AirJet Mini produces 21 dBA of noise, and the AirJet Pro produces 24 dBA of noise with slightly higher dBA when multiple AirJet chips are used. For reference, the average fan runs at about 42 dBA, and the average person cannot hear anything under 30 dBA.
I believe this novel thermal solution is very promising for what it offers within the notebook industry. One of its most intriguing attributes of it is that it pulls from already-established proprietary techniques for manufacturing. I don’t believe Frore will have a problem scaling its AirJet solution.
Compared to legacy thermal solutions, the AirJet could yield significantly better performance for notebooks in the same form factor, more durability with IP68 materials, and overall a quieter system compared to fans. Thermal constraints have been the bane of notebooks for as long as I remember, and I believe solid-state cooling solutions could be the thermal solution of the future.
Frore says its AirJet Mini is now shipping, and its AirJet Pro is anticipated from the beginning of 2023. I am excited to get my hands on a device with an AirJet system and look forward to seeing how disruptive solid-state device cooling could be.