In addition to the firehose of new products we see at CES, we're also privy to some new technologies that are under development. CoolChip Technologies, a startup that recently forged a partnership with Cooler Master, showed off a CPU cooler technology that it calls "kinetic cooling."
Essentially, the company makes an all-aluminum cooler that functions as both heatsink and fan. Instead of the typical copper heatpipes and plastic fan design, CoolChip's two-piece prototypes consist of a metal plate that rests on the CPU and a metal fan assembly with vertically oriented fins on top. A smooth bearing allows the top piece to spin freely, and it connects to a motherboard's fan pins, just like a typical fan.
Both pieces have a ringed design, and although it's hard to see it from the images, the rings are actually offset. This is a brilliant little bit of design, because it essentially allows the two pieces to "touch" without actually touching, and it creates pockets of air in the rings. As that air heats up, the fan pulls it up, then blows it out.
Because the fan is built of metal fins, the fan itself also doubles as a heatsink. CoolChip admitted that this fan can't (or at least, currently doesn't) push the same CFM as a traditional fan, but the metal fan-as-heatsink design makes up for it. The full cooler employs a set of passive metal rings that also helps with heat dissipation.
Furthermore, the design allows for a lower-profile cooler, which should entice plenty of builders who are always looking for creative ways to create more space inside a chassis.
CoolChip had a demo system running the kinetic cooler (which does not yet have an official name), and although I couldn't say with certainty that the result was 0 dB, it was close enough.
Obviously, with a design like this, the quality of the fan bearing is of utmost importance. On that point, unfortunately, CoolChip hasn't decided for certain which bearing, or even which type of bearing the final product will use. The team has considered fluid bearings, but they may simply end up using standard fan bearings.
Even with an impressive demo, I was concerned that the weight of the aluminum fan could wear out the bearing prematurely. CoolChip, on the other hand, was not concerned on that point, and the team fairly noted that unlike thin plastic fan blades that can warp over time and cause noise issues, this metal assembly will have no such problems.
The reps also said that the prototypes they've been using for months now have had no issues with worn out bearings. Even so, it's something to be aware of, and I suspect it's a reason why the company hasn't finalized the bearing yet.
A notable bit of history on this unique cooler is that CoolChip originally intended it for use in the enterprise, but after gaining no traction there, the company eventually refocused its efforts on the enthusiast space, finding a partner in Cooler Master.
In fact, CoolChip's CES demo is in Cooler Master's suite, and that's because Cooler Master is actually the OEM making the prototype kinetic coolers. When the devices eventually hit the market sometime this year (we expect "sometime" to be Computex), Cooler Master will also make the final products.
Update, 9:40am Jan 16, 2015: Because several commenters have asked, we reached out to CoolChip to clarify its relationship with Sandia. A representative told us, "We have a licensing agreement for commercialization with Sandia’s Licensing and Technology Transfer group. In keeping with Sandia’s vision to be the nation's premier science and engineering laboratory for national security and technology innovation, CoolChip is one of many companies that have licensing agreements with Sandia."