Beat The Heat : Advancing Sustainable Computing

Beat The Heat : Advancing Sustainable Computing

If you’ve ever suffered from a burning lap while trying to watch an episode of The Walking Dead on your laptop, then you know computers can get really hot.

The average computer system generates large amounts of heat waste as your processor (also known as the CPU) works
furiously to fulfill your requests.
The rate of heat generation depends on the type and amount of programs you are trying to run, and how qualified your processor is to handle them.

Currently, the most common and economical way to beat the heat is by using CPU fans.

When the fan can’t cool down the processor quick enough, however, your computer will activate a built-in system that cuts down your processor’s operating frequency so that the rate of heat generation is decreased. If even that fails, your computer automatically shuts off to prevent overheating. (If you’re a devoted PC gamer, you’ve probably dealt with this).

This present mechanism is only effective to an extent, as many of us have experienced. While it removes a lot of heat around the processor, your computer’s performance is reduced in the process; even worse, chip temperatures still easily exceed 100 degrees Celsius (high enough to damage computer circuitry).

Isn’t there a more efficient way? I’m glad you asked, because as it turns out, there might be!

Researchers at Arizona State University are exploring ways to harvest energy in CPUs using thermoelectric modules. This new, innovative technique will harvest waste heat generated by the processor and convert that heat energy into electricity, which can be used to improve system cooling or stored for later.

This breakthrough is huge!

Without going too in depth with the technical jargon, heat is harvested by a device called a thermoelectric generator that converts heat to electricity. The harvested heat is then used to lower the operating temperature of the processor through a thermoelectric cooler. If you’re interested in how this works, read up on Monique Devoe’s energy harvesting article.

This research has a wide range of impact: it could enhance personal devices from wearables and desktop or laptop computers to industrial scale data centers—which can contain hundreds of thousands of server processors. (Microsoft has over a million servers in their data center infrastructure, and Google has even more—any guesses?)

With this prototype, projected energy-savings in data centers could go up to 50%, and up to 20% for smaller devices. Implementation of this technology may reduce electricity consumption nationwide.

Aside from reduced energy usage, the possibilities unlocked by this research are endless—removal of bothersome excess heat, improved battery life, optimized computer performance, and of course, finishing that episode of The Walking Dead on your laptop without any zombie burns! 


  1. Energy harvesting: Creating useful power out of processor waste heat, Embedded Computing Design.  
  2. Making energy-saving strides in sustainable computing, ASU Full Circle.
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Christine is the Communication Director at Lucid Agency, with a focus on internal communication and public relations. Christine is a proud ASU alumnus with B.S. in Marketing from W.P. Carey School of Business and a minor in Art History from the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. She enjoys combining the varied natures and influences of her education in her work and loves to debate word choice on the merits of connotation VS denotation, if anyone wants to take her up on it.

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