Are phones, tablets, mini PCs overheating? Is water-cooling the answer?

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The last 12 months has seen some incredible advances made in ARM-class processor development.

Dual-core is the new ‘single core’ and eight-core the new ‘quad core’.

But with this almost seemingly exponential growth in performance comes a growing problem – heat. Putting it simply, today’s tablets, smartphones and mini PCs are all starting to generate too much heat.

Many of today’s new Cortex A7 and A12 – and even a smattering of A9 – chips are being manufactured at a tiny 28-nanometres, but with huge demands for performance – particularly graphics performance – CPU manufacturers may well be having trouble keeping up thermally and we’re starting to see product temperatures on the rise.

And it appears to becoming a problem already. There are reports of Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 suffering fromĀ overheating problems with its new Exynos 5 Octa SoC CPU. These are reportedly being solved with software remedies, but the question remains – why is the phone overheating in the first place?

And it’s not just phone overheating. Most USB stick-style mini PCs are sold with firmware designed to operate the device at 1280×720-pixel resolution. Why? We think its due to overheating. We’ve seen a couple of new 1080p ROM updates made available online in the last few weeks and they typically include a warning – your device will get hot. In one case, we saw mention of an external USB fan being a good idea to cool it down.

The one thing that is certain is this problem won’t go away any time soon – in fact, it’ll likely get worse. We eagerly await the up-coming phones using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 quad-core CPU hitting up to 2.3GHz and how they’ll manage heat production.

One possible solution that may well become the way forward was developed by NEC recently – micro-level water-cooling. NEC’s Medias X N-06E is the world’s first smartphone to use watercooling. It works by tiny 1.2mm-diameter water-filled heatpipes drawing heat away from the centre to the edges of the phone. The phone only uses the Snapdragon S4 Pro chip, but as SoC CPUs increase in core count and clock speed faster than they reduce in nanometre manufacture, it may become inevitable that a better cooling must be found.

Sooner, rather than later.

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1 comment for “Are phones, tablets, mini PCs overheating? Is water-cooling the answer?

  1. Mr. G
    June 22, 2013 at 3:05 am

    Watercooled smartphones. If someone told me 5 years ago that I will be reading about watercooled smartphones I would recommend them a good doctor. This is insane :)

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