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Apple Hints At Future Liquid-Cooled Laptops 200

Posted by samzenpus
from the cool-me-in-the-water dept.
Lumenary7204 writes "According to the Register, Apple recently received US Patent Application No. 20080291629 for a 'liquid-cooled portable computer.' The filing describes a system where a 'pump ... coupled to the heat pipe is configured to circulate the liquid coolant through the heat pipe.' All claims of obviousness aside (after all, PC enthusiasts have been using liquid and phase-change cooling for years), the existence of the patent application seems to indicate that laptop manufacturers are in agreement with physicists and engineers who say we are running up against the practical limits of air-cooling such compact pieces of equipment."
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Apple Hints At Future Liquid-Cooled Laptops

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  • This won't fly. (Score:5, Informative)

    by retech (1228598) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:31AM (#25986543)
    Literally, it won't fly. Getting one on an plane would be impossible anywhere in north America.
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:34AM (#25986563) Homepage
      TSA has already announced that they are relaxing the no liquids rule.
      • by Atti K. (1169503) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:51AM (#25986681)
        "Sir, you are required to remove the cooling liquid from the computer, put it into this container, which we'll put into this sealed bag. After landing you are free to put it back."
        • by bazorg (911295) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:08AM (#25986775) Homepage
          Apple will build a user-accessible liquid coolant tank and will sell small bottles with coolant of different colours and scents. Even printer ink manufacturers will be jealous of the margins :)
          • Re:This won't fly. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @07:14AM (#25987353)
            It`s sad, but I think this should probably be modded informative rather than funny.
          • Re:This won't fly. (Score:4, Informative)

            by RMH101 (636144) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @07:39AM (#25987495)
            They've had it on Mac Pros for years.
            What could possibly go wrong?
            http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1464395&tstart=990 [apple.com]

            It's another built-in-defect waiting to happen, along with the dodgy Nvidia GPUs in Macbook Pros, those heat-deaths of HDDs in Macbooks etc...

            • Re:This won't fly. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by theaveng (1243528) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @08:50AM (#25988071)

              You hit the nail on the head. Everybody has, at one point or another, experienced liquid leaking from their water heater, or air conditioner, or car radiator. It creates a mess, an expensive repair, and a shorter operational lifespan versus an air-cooled device. ("My g5 liquid cooled computer...is leaking and dripped onto my power supply. I am looking at a little under a thousand dollars for repair...with less than 2 years of actual use.")

              I'd much prefer choosing the air-cooled PC with no moving parts (except a fan), even if that means I only run at 3000 megahertz instead of 6000. All I do is surf the net or stream Heroes off nbc.com, and I'm happy to take a slightly slower "engine" inside my computer (just as my Honda Insight only has 67hp). I don't need a lot of power for my daily routine and neither do most people.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by mrchaotica (681592) *

                (just as my Honda Insight only has 67hp)

                Your Insight is water-cooled. Therefore, you should sell it [to me] and buy an air-cooled VW Beetle.

                : )

                • by Abreu (173023)

                  VW stopped production of air-cooled Beetles in 2003

                  The so-called "New-Beetle" is liquid-cooled like any other modern car

              • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

                I don't need a lot of power for my daily routine and neither do most people.

                And you think 3 gHz isn't too much for that? By the time the tech is ready and stable (and after the first-adopters work out the kinks), we will need 6 gHz just to stream Heroes.

              • by geekoid (135745)

                I've seen liquid cooled computers run for years.
                The fact that some enthusiast don't have a clue on how to do it is besides the point.

                I agree with you n that I would prefer air cooled.
                It would be really ideal if they would focus on a good robust multi-core applications and OS design. Many Cores could run cooler if the are each dedicated to fewer tasks.

              • by cayenne8 (626475)
                "I don't need a lot of power for my daily routine and neither do most people."

                Ahh, but young grasshopper, you are confusing "needs" with "wants".

                I, like many people...start with a "want"...and it immediately becomes a "need".

                :)

                Sorry, but dammit...I LOVE toys.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Apple will build a user-accessible liquid coolant tank and will sell small bottles with coolant of different colours and scents.

            Apple Juice?

            • by jank1887 (815982)
              great. then we'll have to wait through some other "Apple" trademark dispute.
            • by theaveng (1243528)

              Not so far-fetched. Owners of the new Mercedes and Volkswagen diesels have to buy periodic refills of urea which is then used to neutralize soot from the exhaust. Of course they don't call it urea. It's "anti pollution liquid".

    • by skeeto (1138903)
      Just tell TSA it is cooled by saline solution [tsa.gov], which has no limitations. 'Cause, ... uh ... you keep your contact lenses inside your computer.
  • Oh my! (Score:5, Funny)

    by millisa (151093) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:34AM (#25986567)

    "pump ... coupled to the heat pipe is configured to circulate the liquid coolant through the heat pipe."

    Why does it seem like that should be followed by 'and shipped to your door in plain, discreet packaging'?

    • You think you have problems getting your laptop through airport security now, wait until the iPipeBomb ships :)
    • by ettlz (639203)

      Doesn't everything get "shipped to your door in plain, discreet packaging" these days? I've never bought a photographic lens and had it arrive in anything other than a plain brown cardboard box wrapped in the courier's shipping bag.

      Seriously, is there some company out there that incurs extra costs by shipping its goods in packaging marked "VIBRATOR INSIDE"?

    • Along with it's companion book, "Liquid Laptop Cooling, This sort of thing is my bag baby." by one Steve Jobs?
  • Liquid Nitrogen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by El Lobo (994537) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:37AM (#25986585)
    While liquid cooling may be a better solution than air for laptops, there are studies that show that the energy used to pump the liquid and cool it is greater by a 10x magnitude relative to air systems.

    The university of Chalmers in Sweden has been experimenting with liquid Nitrogen for some time now and their solution (while not cheap) is extremely effective for cooling of small electronic devices. Give it some time and I'm sure this will made it into mainstream (and Abble may very possibly claim that they invented the thing as well).

    • Re:Liquid Nitrogen (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xiroth (917768) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:44AM (#25986633)

      The university of Chalmers in Sweden has been experimenting with liquid Nitrogen for some time now and their solution (while not cheap) is extremely effective for cooling of small electronic devices. Give it some time and I'm sure this will made it into mainstream (and Abble may very possibly claim that they invented the thing as well).

      I doubt it - that sounds like a miniture cryobomb to me. Depressurising liquid nitrogen (i.e. exposed to air) cools very, very fast, so if the device was ruptured it could cause some very nasty cold burns. This might be applicable in some limited circumstances, but the risk of costly litigation is too high for the general consumer market.

      • And our current batteries are lithium based.. High energy storage, flammable metal, and that equals bad situation if they are opened forcefully.

        A LNG release isnt that bad.. Just some frozen stuff. Igniting metal that cannot be put out by a traditional 3-type fire extinguisher is in a class by itself.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hatta (162192)

        Remember when the T-1000 crashed into a liquid nitrogen truck and shattered? Imagine that happening to your lap.

    • Re:Liquid Nitrogen (Score:4, Interesting)

      by David Gerard (12369) <slashdotNO@SPAMdavidgerard.co.uk> on Thursday December 04, 2008 @06:06AM (#25987061) Homepage
      This is generally liquid gel cooling, where the liquid has high thermal conductivity. The pump needn't be all that powerful. There are pumpless systems that use liquid CFCs, but (a) they use CFCs (chemically harmless, but nassssty to dispose of given ozone concerns) (b) the CFCs cost a fortune. The main problem will be the requirement of perfect sealing.
      • Sort of like all those heat pipe CPU/GPU heat sinks. Xigmatek and others make these with a liquid inside that will move inside the heat pipe to transfer the heat away from the heat source.

        I sort of thought Apple, and everyone else was already doing that. The cpu heat sink on my 4 year old dell has heat pipes.

        • And the PowerMac G5 was liquid-cooled, anyway. But putting it into a laptop successfully, without hydraulic disasters, will still be quite a notable achievement.
  • Bad terminology (Score:3, Informative)

    by nog_lorp (896553) * on Thursday December 04, 2008 @04:54AM (#25986703)

    They should double check their terminology. Heat pipes are defined to be a closed system whereby the working fluid circulates by convection and capillary action.

    "Heat pipes contain no mechanical moving parts..."

    • nog_lorp: They should double check their terminology. Heat pipes are defined to be a closed system whereby the working fluid circulates by convection and capillary action.

      And that's probably what they're going to do, too.

      Remember, Mr. Jobs absolutely hates noisy computers. He wants them to run as quietly as possible. Fans are kept to an absolute minimum, tolerated only when absolutely necessary and verboten otherwise.

      Substitute "pump" for "fan," and you can see where this is going. They'll want a system as

    • by redxxx (1194349)

      Well, you could still pump the liquid back to the hot side, and use convection to pull it away. They are just replacing the capillary action with a pump.

      So long as they still keep the whole thing under a partial vacuum and moving heat away from the hot side via convection. I'm OK with calling it some form of heat pipe.

      It's not like they are using a compressor or anything, they are just helping out the circulation. Heck, plenty of heat pipes use gravity to get the liquid back, but that's not really going

      • by redxxx (1194349)

        Actually having read the patent, it would seem to apply to any and all methods of cooling something portable using 1)a fluid, 2)a pump, and 3)tubes.

        damned retarded patent. In some of the cases where they talk about heat pipe they are talking about the real thing, but then they go on to talk about phase change in wholly unrelated methodology. The whole thing is just insanely broad. I freaking hate patents these days.

    • by jank1887 (815982)

      yes, this can involve a heat pipe. Read the claims. (please whack that !heatpipe tag). your laptop has a heatpipe now. it efficiently gets heat from the source (IC) to the removal fluid (air). Now, they want a liquid loop in there, and this could involve a heat pipe. You'd have to do the system balance to see if the extra distance-from-source gained by the heatpipe offsets the cost and thermal impediment it imposes. Maybe it does, maybe not. Maybe the liquid should go right to the chip, maybe it can be b

  • by Racemaniac (1099281) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:03AM (#25986743)

    my father has got one of those huge 19" laptops with a 3ghz+ pentium 4 processor and geforce 5xxx graphic chipset
    unless we put something under it so there is some room between the laptop and the table, it completely overheats as soon as i stress it (a simple game that a pc like that hsould easily handle. Diablo 2 or so) -_-. even with some room under it, it only takes a few minutes for it to get seriously hot (you can actually feel from the outside of the laptop where the hot spots are)

    i wonder what ever made them create such stupid laptops (and what made my father buy one -_-)

    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      i wonder what ever made them create such stupid laptops

      That would be "consumers demanding faster and better, even if they don't need it, or buying it if the companies make it".

      (and what made my father buy one -_-)

      That would be the second part of the above - they made it, so he bought it.

    • by redxxx (1194349)

      (you can actually feel from the outside of the laptop where the hot spots are)

      They are probably going have far fewer issues with hot spots, now that the case is a single carved chunk of aluminum.

      Give their marketing people a few years to bring fins back into style, and their cases are going to be massive heat sinks.

      • by conureman (748753)

        I've often wondered what sort of marketing nightmare the engineers have been dealing with that ANY laptop has EVER been designed with the case NOT being one massive chunk of finned aluminum.

    • by D Ninja (825055)

      i wonder what ever made them create such stupid laptops (and what made my father buy one -_-)

      I actually have to admit that I've wondered about this as well.

      For my power needs, I have a desktop. Dual Core, lots of RAM, high-end graphics card, etc, etc. That's where I do my "power" stuff (compiling, gaming, etc).

      However, for most of my needs, I use my laptop. It's a small (less than 3 pounds, beautiful 12.1 inch screen) Fujitsu laptop that is designed *extremely* well. I use it for surfing the web, reading e-mail, typing up documents, etc. It runs very cool and the battery lasts for freaken ever

    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      Because people want desktop replacement gaming laptops. Did you really think that running a gpu and cpu at 100% in a tiny package like a laptop isnt going to get super hot? The laws of physics kinda dictate that it'll get hot when used for games. Heck, they dont even call them laptops anymore.

      Buyer beware. Read reviews before you buy stuff. There's no shortage of small, cool running laptops.

  • Battery Usage? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Meviin (1360417) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:08AM (#25986777)
    I would be interested to see the energy difference between a laptop with a fan versus water cooling. I know that the specs haven't been released yet, but it seems like pumping water around would eat up the battery.
    I have a HP laptop which runs fairly hot, but that's still better, as far as I'm concerned, than carrying around a heavy pump that uses up the battery.

    Of course, if they manage to make it more compact and energy efficient than fans, all the power to them. I would still worry about it leaking and destroying my laptop, though.

    Since Apple is trying for a patent for all types of mobile devices on this, it would be particularly interesting to see a water cooled iPhone...
    • by Incadenza (560402) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:32AM (#25986891)

      Since Apple is trying for a patent for all types of mobile devices on this, it would be particularly interesting to see a water cooled iPhone...

      Water cooled iPhones? I call prior art [google.com]!

    • It could be they are considering pumps with no moving parts, like the one described here: http://danamics.com/technology/pump.aspx [danamics.com]
    • by Sockatume (732728)
      Also bear in mind that watercooling or other liquid cooling just allows you to have your radiator remote from the components, granting you better-designed airflow, a single cooler for multiple components, or simply a larger cooler than could be used otherwise (especially if "remote" means "outside the case"). It doesn't magically remove heat on its own. Given that most laptops already use heat-pipes to attain exactly that goal (my own cheapo HP cools most of its components off a single blower on the chassis
    • by squoozer (730327)

      While it is certianly true that pumping water requires more energy than blowing air you have to move a lot less water so I wouldn't be surprised if they could make the water cooling rig only two or three times more energy intensive than current air cooling.

      I know from keeping fish that water pumps use very little power. Even my monster pump that shifts FSM knows how may litres of water an hour only uses about 50W. I also have a tiny pump that is still way larger than you would use for a laptop that draws

  • prior art? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MoFoQ (584566) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:09AM (#25986785)

    doesn't Hitachi's watercooled laptop [geek.com] from a few years ago count as "prior art"?

  • One doesn't "receive" a patent application; one "makes" one. In the initial application, which is what this is, the claims can say literally anything the applicant wants; during the examination process the applicant can (and usually does) modify the claims to meet the objections of the examiner (who -- in theory, anyway -- is ensuring that anything claimed is supported by text in the original specification portion of the application, and that the resulting invention meets the statutory requirements for uti

    • by dtmos (447842) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:49AM (#25986989)

      After reading the specification, it sure sounds to me like a description of a prototype product on which Apple is trying to get patent protection. Some of the specifics in the specification are just too, well, specific -- for example, the description in [0034] of the use of a Venturi tube, or the parenthetical comment in [0035] about the use of ultrasonic frequencies in the membrane pump.

      Possibly the biggest detail, though -- and the one bit of novelty I think I see in the specification that could form the basis of an allowable patent claim -- is the comment in [0041] that the heat may be coupled to the outside world by a plate behind the display. This is exactly the kind of novelty nugget -- assuming it really is novel -- to which I referred in my earlier comment. One way Apple could get an allowance on this application, after the initial rejection by the examiner, is to include this feature in an independent claim; the invention would then be a liquid-cooled laptop with the heat exchanger behind the display. (Of course, in that case your liquid-cooled laptop that doesn't have the heat exchanger behind the display wouldn't infringe on the resulting patent.)

      As I said, assuming that it is a novel feature. PC design is not my specialty. Has anyone seen art before May 22, 2007 -- the filing date of this application -- describing a liquid-cooled laptop with the heat exchanger behind the display?

    • I should have worded it a bit differently: "Apple filed a Patent Application, which was assigned Application No. 20080291629, for a 'liquid-cooled portable computer.'"

      So the opening was semantically correct, if read literally, but in hindsight could have used some clarification.

      Kudos...

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:27AM (#25986877)

    ORLY patents serve only two purposes: One being that you have to pay through the nose if you want to do what is the obvious next step in development. And today it seems the logical next step in cooling for mobiles is liquid (as it has been for non mobile computers for, I don't know, a few decades?).

    The other purpose is to simply leave your competition behind because they must not use what you patented.

    So, of course, Apple is the good guy here, because they force the developers of laptops to come up with new, inspired ideas because they blocked the path of the most obvious one?

    No, wait, ain't it usually MS blocking paths and Apple coming up with something fancy? I'm confused here...

  • Wrong Direction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @05:46AM (#25986971) Homepage

    With the rise of netbooks, I think the laptop market is moving more towards smaller and more efficient, rather than big and powerful. I'd much rather see an ultra-portable Apple laptop that needs _no_ cooling assistance and gets 12-18 hours on a basic battery (so I can leave the power brick at home!) than another high-wattage crotch burner in the marketplace.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      Considering that they bought a company that designs low-power chips, I wouldn't be surprised if you see this. Apple tends to divide its product lines into the consumer and pro models, where the pro models are very low-volume, high-margin and the consumer models are much higher volume (I wouldn't be surprised if something like the MacBook sells more units than any other laptop - Dell or Asus may sell a few times more laptops, but it's divided among a lot of product lines). This is the kind of thing you'd f
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by wierd_w (1375923)
      I dunno, I kinda like my Laptop/Easy Bake Oven. I suspect I could market the oven portion to college students and make a killing.
    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      You could argue that the netbooks are the best users for something like this; the heat dissipation options with air are much more limiting in compact designs than larger machines. I know the venting on my AA1 is ugly when compared to the macs, and the noise level is pretty significant. Something with a very small membrane pump could do wonders.

      Only problem is that a pump failure will immediately toast the system, and you have to spend real money to keep the piping connections from leaking.

    • It's already out there... It's called an "iPhone."
  • This didn't end well last time with most of the G5 Power Macs ending up leaking their coolant and destroying their insides.

  • include Apple's patented chameleon computer case [slashdot.org]? Or Apple's patented Rotary Mouse [slashdot.org]?
  • green? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jDeepbeep (913892)
    How would this fit in with Apple's recent fascination to produce "green" notebooks? What is the environmental impact? Would disposing of them present any issues?
  • "...the existence of the patent application seems to indicate that laptop manufacturers are in agreement with physicists and engineers who say we are running up against the practical limits of air-cooling such compact pieces of equipment"

    Bullshit. The existence of patent application is the 21st Century corporate CYA move. Doesn't mean it's actually worth a damn. C'mon, water-cooled laptops?

    I've lost count on how many discussions posted in the last 10 days on Slashdot covering something related to patent application/infringement/reform/lawsuit. It's absolutely obscene what has happened to USPTO, but unfortunately the activity is in direct correlation to the obscenities that find their way into a courtroom every single day that somehow re

  • How is this anything but:

    [$PRIOR_ART], but in a laptop.

    Making prior art smaller should not warrent a patent. The current patent system is completely ridiculous. You know, Starbucks has a venti Mocha. I ought to patent the trenta mocha. I mean, I'm innovating a new coffee, right? And, just to be a little wacky, it'll be 34 ounces instead of the 30 it is named for. Now that's thinking different!

  • This is just heat pipe tech with a pump on it. Even with the pump you will still need a fan anyways (like all desktop watercooling). Air doesn't exactly circulate well in an enclosed laptop without a fan. Regardless of whether you circulate the fluid or not, if there is no air flow (or phase change cooler, or a constant fresh source of cold fluid) to facilitate heat exchange the heatpipe isn't going to do a damn thing after the first few minutes. So you're going to have the usual power usage from the fan, p

  • Enthusiasts? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MacBoy (30701) on Thursday December 04, 2008 @02:29PM (#25993031)

    Enthusiasts have been using liquid cooling for years? Apple has also been using Liquid cooling for years! The two dual PowerPC G5's threw so much heat that they had no choice really. And it's not the first actively cooled system Apple has made. Fourteen years ago the PowerMac 8100/110 had a 110 MHz PowerPC 601 with a Peltier-Junction (thermoelectric) cooler.

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