One of the biggest issues facing device manufacturers today is hardware overheating. The chips inside PCs generate heat which, when it builds up, significantly impairs performance. Cooling is less of a challenge when space is not limited. But as the market pushes for ever thinner laptops and so-called ultraportables, manufacturers are faced with a choice: compromise on design or on raw processing power.
Seshu Madhavapeddy and Surya Ganti hope to present a third option with hardware they developed at their four-year-old startup, Frore Systems. Called AirJet and weighing just 11 grams on the low end, the micro-electromechanical chip can supposedly deliver improved thermal performance by actively removing heat from processors.
“Until now, manufacturers have relied on outdated thermal solutions, such as mechanical fans in laptops, tablets and other consumer devices, to dissipate heat. These inadequate thermal solutions cause devices to overheat,” Madhavapeddy told TechCrunch in an email interview. “To combat this, manufacturers have designed a built-in safety feature that prevents overheating by slowing down the processor after just a few seconds of operation. This means consumers never really get the full processor performance they pay for. Frore Systems’ AirJet chips unleash full processor performance by revolutionizing active heat removal.
Madhavapeddy and Ganti share a long history in the mobile device and semiconductor industry. Madhavapeddy served as general manager of the smartphone business arm of Texas Instruments for five years, after which he led the product and technology division of Samsung Mobile, Samsung’s mobile device subsidiary. Ganti was a research scientist at General Electric for seven years, where he developed “nanotextured” surfaces and algorithms to predict the reliability of electromechanical systems.
Madhavapeddy and Ganti met at Qualcomm while working together on the company’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor business. Madhavapeddy says they were both inspired by what they saw as “significant” limitations CPU heat generation was creating for device performance and decided to work together to solve the challenge.
In high-level language, Madhavapeddy describes AirJet – in development for four years – as a “solid-state” chip that uses “pulsed” airflow to cool computer parts. Several patents filed by the company open the curtains a bit. AirJet, which sits on top of the hardware it’s supposed to cool, is 2.8mm thick and built on flexible, bendable polymer materials. It contains piezoelectric layers and electrodes stacked on top of each other and oriented around a central opening. (Piezoelectric materials produce electricity when compressed or mechanically stressed.) A diaphragm coupled to the piezoelectric layers covers the central opening, vibrating and blowing air through the material to be cooled when a voltage is applied to the electrodes.
Pulsed heat pipes are not a completely new idea. Designed as early as 1990, they have been tested in various data center server designs over the past 20 years and proposed in academic papers for use cases such as phone heatsinks.
But Madhavapeddy argues that, unlike many models that have been launched to date, Frore’s technology is ready for the market. It pitches AirJet as a solution for phones, PCs and tablets otherwise too thin to fit traditional active cooling systems, like fans.
“AirJet chips are scalable, meaning multiple chips can be easily integrated into devices to quietly cool processors, resulting in major performance gains,” Madhavapeddy said. “AirJet chips can also be used as a thermal solution in dustproof devices because, unlike fans, they are powerful enough to draw air through the IP68 air filter used to make devices dustproof.”
While Frore claims to work with “five of the top ten device makers in the world” and expects its first AirJet chips to ship in Q1 2023, it’s still too early to tell if the startup’s tech will hold up. his promises. Madhavapeddy says AirJet can provide a roughly “2x” increase in CPU performance over fan cooling, but the vague metric doesn’t account for the wide variation in fan size, configurations, and case. That aside, it’s unclear whether Frore can produce AirJet units on the scale needed for the consumer market, and whether the company can convince manufacturers who have invested in alternative cooling systems, like the water cooling and steam chambers, moving to a completely different approach. .
Frore does, however, have votes of confidence from chip industry titans, including Qualcomm’s venture capital arm Qualcomm Ventures, which led a $100 million investment in the startup alongside Mayfield. , Addition and Clear Ventures. Intel is a customer; the company plans to work with Frore to integrate AirJet into future laptops for its Evo hardware benchmark platform.
“Intel’s mission with Intel Evo is to unite the open PC ecosystem to deliver the best possible laptop experiences people want. Building thin, light, and stylish laptop designs that deliver great performance while remaining cool and quiet are critical to this mission,” said Josh Newman, Intel Vice President and General Manager of Mobile Platforms. , in a press release. “Frore Systems’ Airjet technology offers a new and innovative approach to help achieve these design goals in new ways.”
But what about the slowdown in the PC market and the demand for PC spare parts? (According to Gartner, global PC shipments were down almost 20% in Q3 2022 compared to a year ago.) Although Madhavapeddy acknowledged that this could impact Frore’s business, he seemed convinced that AirJet’s expanding partnerships will offset shipping volume shortfalls in any country. single segment.
“The pandemic has increased AirJet’s value proposition. The world has become increasingly mobile and dependent on devices to stay connected both in the workplace and at home…We do not anticipate that the broader tech downturn will negatively impact Frore,” said Madhavapeddy continued. “Even if demand for consumer devices slows, in a market where manufacturers compete fiercely for consumer spending and market share, the ability to differentiate their devices by offering superior processor performance will secure demand. for the AirJet product. This is reflected in customer interest and demand for AirJet.
Based in San Jose, Frore employs 75 people and has raised $116 million to date. Madhavapeddy says some of the capital is already going into new generations of AirJets, which will bring further performance gains (or so he claims).
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