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Indiana Jones & the Quest for Silent Cooling

Posted on Friday, Aug 5th 2005

As electronic systems get faster, they get noisier and hotter. Current thermal management solutions are falling behind. Current solutions do not scale fast enough to keep up with the performance curve. Moore’s Law rates of performance improvement are being capped by limitations of current solutions for high power densities.

Thus begins the copy on Cooligy‘s web site. The problem area they showcase is, today, one of the most significant unsolved problems in the chip industry. Chips are getting smaller and faster and consequently hotter at such a pace, that thermal side-effects are starting to change the functionality of the chip.

This being said, Cooligy has been around. Big name investors including Mayfield made big bets with big expectations. However, they have not been able to make a solution work so far. Most of the top-tier VCs believe that this area is very risky and littered with carcasses.

I have seen a couple of little companies in the last few months, also attacking roughly the same problem, but each with a different approach. The first I saw, back in January, called Nisvara, focuses on silent cooling. This did not seem to me like a real company, and most certainly did not have the team to take on something truly challenging. However, if you are the sort of investor who can tackle raw, mucky stuff, and create order out of chaos, I would not rule this one out. Caution: you will have a hard time taking Nisvara seriously at first blush, so you need to be a real Indiana Jones to touch this one.

The second, Nanoconduction, is very interesting and quite a bit further along. Using technology licensed from NASA (Nano Engineered Thermal Material that is based on carbon nanotube array composites), they expect to deliver super conductive chip cooling components to go inside packages, and attain the holy grail of silent cooling.
Woodside fund has already invested in this deal, and considers it their portfolio’s crown jewel. They believe (rightly), that if this technology works, then they have in their hands an opportunity to build the next Raychem, Paul Cook and Bob Halperin’s Material Sciences world leader that is now a part of Tyco.

Amidst an industry that is today largely dealing with the incremental, why not take on something that is truly fundamental?

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