Come September, computer maker Gateway Inc. will be among the first in the industry to begin outfitting its desktop machines with a new cooling architecture intended to reduce fan noise and increase airflow around high-powered chipsets. The technology promises quieter computer labs for schools, ensuring that teachers won’t have to raise their voices to be heard over the incessant humming of students’ desktops–and it also should reduce the chance of overheating or other mechanical failures.

Called BTX, or “balanced technology extended,” the new design is intended to deal with the increasing amount of heat generated by Intel Corp.’s high-powered Pentium 4 processor and other next-generation components, which run much hotter than older technologies, according to Ken Loyd, senior director of product marketing for Gateway.

The layout of the BTX motherboard reflects industry efforts to increase airflow around chipsets that run hotter than ever.

Not only will the revolutionary design create a reliable, more efficient environment for high-speed computing, Loyd said, but at just 40 decibels of sound, it also will make traditional desktop machines quieter than most notebook computers.

Though Gateway reportedly is among the first computer makers to adopt the design, proponents say BTX is poised to become the industry standard for desktops.

The BTX design–the blueprints for which were designed by Intel–includes two fans, one each at the front and rear of the chassis. The two-fan set-up is designed to push and pull air through the system so that components are cooled by a steady, unobstructed breeze.

Built on a metal frame, BTX features a reconfigured motherboard that places traditionally hotter components, such as the central processor, chipset, and internal video graphics card, directly in the path of airflow–so that all components receive equal access to air as it passes through the system.

BTX is intended to replace the current industry standard, called ATX. Intel says ATX is noisy and uses a different component configuration, which often requires the installation of additional fans to keep components cool.

Gateway’s version of the BTX chassis will include a front fan that is 50 percent larger than previous ATX models, allowing air to move across the motherboard and other “hot” components at much slower speeds, according to Loyd.

“What we’re doing is creating a nice wind tunnel airflow pattern through the chassis,” he explained.

By cutting down on the need for additional fans, Loyd expects BTX customers will experience an upgrade in the reliability and efficiency of their machines. “The more you do to reduce moving parts and keep things simple, the better off you are” in terms of reducing potential mechanical problems, he said.

The new design could prove especially beneficial in computer labs and classrooms, he added, where heat and noise are almost always a factor.

Though Gateway has been an early adopter, Leslie Fiering, vice president of mobile computing for market research firm Gartner Inc., expects several leading hardware manufacturers eventually will gravitate to BTX.

With the addition of high-powered processing components, Fiering said, the increased heat generated by machines can have a noticeable effect on performance. When processors get too hot, she added, they often appear sluggish and lethargic, a problem that could impact both teachers’ and students’ efficiency in the classroom.

BTX isn’t the only new approach to the problem. Several computer manufacturers, including Apple and Toshiba, are reportedly experimenting with a technology called liquid cooling, which pumps coolant through the system in much the same way that a radiator uses coolant to reduce heat in car engines.

Apple already has begun shipping the liquid-cooled systems with its top-of-the-line PowerMac G5 desktop machines. The company bills the technology as a quiet, efficient way to reduce heat without bumping up noise. Apple executives did not respond to an eSchool News reporter’s telephone calls before press time.

Still another approach is the use of heat pipes, or tiny pipes inside a computer that funnel heat through the CPU and evacuate it for disposal, although that technology is primarily deployed only in select, high-end laptop devices.

For schools, BTX appears to be the most logical next step, Fiering said. Unlike some of the more exotic cooling designs on the market, she said, BTX is much simpler and should not translate into noticeably higher costs for consumers.

Links:

Apple Computer
http://apple.com

Gartner Inc.
http://www.garnter.com

Gateway Inc.
http://www.gateway.com

Intel Corp.
http://www.intel.com

Toshiba Corp.
http://www.toshiba.com