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The heatsink may finally have a much more svelte competitor

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A copper coating could one day replace the heatsink

An Intel researcher points to the heat sink of a programmabl Photo by Kimberly White/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Heatsinks are the default when it comes to keeping components cool on your PC and practically every other electronic device, but researchers may have found a way to chill your components without the use of these slotted hunks of metal. A report from Science Daily (via Tom’s Hardware) highlights a new, sleeker approach to cooling that involves coating the entirety of the device with poly and copper.

If you aren’t familiar with heatsinks, they’re typically made of copper or aluminum, two metals that serve as thermal conductors. They often come with several metal fins that pull and spread heat away from the essential components on your device to help prevent them from overheating. The heat then gets pushed out of the system with a nearby fan.

A group of researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, Berkeley published a study in Nature Electronics that substitutes traditional heat sinks with “a conformal coating of copper” and “an electrical insulating layer of poly” that’s spread over the whole device.

The researchers say this method of cooling gives you “very similar performance, or even better performance” when compared to heatsinks. Since it also eliminates the need for a bulky piece of metal, this could save a ton of space inside electronic devices, which researchers claim can increase a device’s power per unit volume by up to 740 percent. “You can stack many more printed circuit boards in the same volume when you are using our coating, compared to if you are using conventional liquid- or air-cooled heat sinks,” the study explains.

The researchers are still evaluating the effectiveness of this coating and plan on testing it on power modules and graphics cards. It’s too early to tell whether this kind of technology would be something that PC part makers would precoat their components with or if you’d have to do it yourself.

If the coating does serve as a viable alternative to heatsinks, it could drastically change the appearance of electronics in ways that I really can’t even fathom. Maybe the coating could even kill the heatsink altogether. While I would kind of miss the funky shields manufacturers create to conceal the heatsinks on motherboards, its absence would probably make for even more creative freedom on the look and functionality of a range of components.