The first time that we learned of Apple seriously working on a liquid cooling system for an iMac was in a January 2008 Apple patent. The patent told us that Apple had been working on a liquid cooling system for a future iMac since 2006. To be fair, the system Apple first described, was in context with is an iMac-like docking station. Yet the fact remains that if an iMac-like docking station was on the drawing board for a liquid cooling system in 2008, then the likelihood of that extending to the iMac is nothing short of being a no-brainer. Why would Apple want to add liquid cooling to the iMac? Because with Apple now adopting true Intel desktop chipsets for the iMac, we keep hearing about heat issues – and it's only going to be getting worst as time goes on.
Screaming Hot Sandybridge
As we go forward, Intel's upcoming Sandybridge desktop architecture will only complicate things for the iMac. Future Sandybridge based iMac's are likely to offer us 8 core configurations - and if Apple follows current PC trends, then we're likely to see an iMac graphic card option pushing the 1.5GB mark or beyond by 2010 or 2011. Heat issues are only going to be compounded if a cooling system doesn't surface for future iMacs.
Further support for the concept of a liquid cooling system for the iMac surfaced again in a secondary Apple patent in November 2008 under 20080291629. Although labeled as a liquid cooling system for a portable, the patent itself included desktops, as follows: "Embodiments of a cooling mechanism, a computer system (such as a desktop computer and/or a laptop or portable computer) that includes the cooling mechanism and a method for cooling a computer system are described."
The liquid cooling system described in the patent noted above, pertained specifically to a design for a compact computer space - proving that the design had nothing to do with a more complicated liquid cooling system for such systems as Apple's Mac Pro type of desktop. Below is Apple's patent FIG. 1 of the latter patent noted above.
iMac at a Crossroads
Apple's iMac may soon be coming to a crossroads. Could Apple be contemplating a shift to an all-new iMac design so as to mask the fact that they need to abandon their ongoing craze of all things thin? Or – will we see Apple split their iMac line-up into two distinct camps?
Apple could continue to offer iMac's with a notebook chipset for lower-end units so as to keep the trend of going ever thinner on track towards an iMac Air style of unit while keeping the screamer desktop chipsets for a new line of iMac's simply branded the iMac Pro.
Theoretically, such a line would be in keeping with their notebook branding and would allow Apple to introduce a new line of iMac's that could offer us more robust specifications and/or options such as: a liquid cooling system; larger hard drives; a Blu-ray optical drive; superior sound system options; solid state drives; a TV tuner and so on and so forth. Of course such a move would justify adding a little extra depth – but still – it being better than having to leap to the Mac Pro's stiffer pricing.
On the other hand, Apple could simply surprise us with a new mini-tower Mac Pro with pricing closer to the iMac. Only time will tell which way Apple goes.
The Bottom line
The bottom line is that as Apple prepares for a Sandybridge based 8 core based iMac with 8-12 GB of RAM and a screaming video card – there's a great chance that Apple's patent pertaining to a liquid-cooling system will leap off the drawing board pages into a real-world product. The consequences of such a move may also usher in a new direction for the iMac and this report presented you with a few ideas.
The questions for you, of course, are simple: Do you think that Apple will add a compact liquid cooling system to a future iMac and do you think that the iMac is at a design-crossroads?
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application and/or grant is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or grant should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number noted above (20080002350, 20080291629) into this search engine.
More info on Asetek Cooling see this new webpage.
Update, July 2010: Asetek Liquid Cooling All-in-One PC Video