While fur is typically associated with staying warm, the stylish new material covering Apple's planned Power Mac GX will improve on the cooling technology used in the current generation of the Power Mac G5. The Power Mac GX machines are rumored to be whisper quiet, and, while it's unclear if there is simply no need for a fan or if the fur has sound-dampening properties beyond its cooling properties, the quiet operation is expected to be well-received by sound- and video-processing users. Evidently, Apple's high level of R&D investment paid off with a bit of bio-inspired nanotechnology (patent-pending, of course). The fur coating - which Apple will undoubtedly label with a clever marketing name (Apple engineers are rumored to call it "iFuzz" internally) - actually pumps heat away from the processor and case interior with hundreds of microfluidic tubules into each individual "hair." The fluid cooling is similar to that used in the current dual 2.5 GHz Power Mac G5 models, albeit orders of magnitude more sophisticated.
The hairs themselves have thermoelectric properties, which means that they directly convert the excess heat into electrical energy which is sent back to the power supply, decreasing the power consumption dramatically. Thermoelectric cooling (also known as "Peltier cooling") has been used in the past by PC users who overclock their CPUs, but as far as we know, this is the first example from a mainstream computer manufacturer. (There's also an amusing use of Peltier cooling to keep beer cold; see the final link below.) Furthermore, thermoelectric materials are typically quite brittle, but somehow Apple has managed to work thermoelectric nanoparticles into an extremely flexible material.
The advantages conferred by the use of iFuzz are astounding. Not only does iFuzz improve cooling beyond existing liquid cooling and fan-based technologies, but the fur confers power savings both from decreasing or possibly eliminating fans, and from the power generated by the thermoelectric properties of the hairs themselves.
Not surprisingly, with both improved heat dissipation and electrical power, Apple is rumored to have a working PowerBook G5 (finally!) using a fur enclosure as well (Jobs made no comment about a possible PowerBook G5 at today's press conference). While the PowerBook is rumored to run "definitely on the warm side" and still requires a fan, the effect is "something like having a cat sitting in your lap." One Apple engineer evidently hacked the fan in the PowerBook G5 to sound like purring as a practical joke, though he noted that the net result was "a little disconcerting." To get an idea of what such a furry PowerBook might look like, check out this project to add fur to an iBook.
The iFuzz material is currently in testing by several government organizations to ensure it will hold up in a wide range of environments. In particular, given Apple's market share in education and home markets, the fur must withstand attempts to attempts to mangle, cut, flatten, or even eat the material. The US Environmental Protection Agency is also concerned about the nanotechnology used in the fur, particularly with increased sensitivity about asbestos fibers. The agency has sponsored research into the general topic of environmental and health consequences of nanometer-sized particles and nanotubes.
While such regulatory hurdles are to be expected with such an innovative product, Apple has evidently performed countless tests during development and expects few problems. A variety of other companies have contacted Apple with interest in seeing iFuzz in everything from refrigerators to automobiles - perhaps one day that furry cover on your driver's seat will be welcome on a hot summer's day!
[Dr. Apollo Fris is a computational and materials chemist at Cornell University, who researches molecular electronics and chemical nanotechnology. He regularly makes TidBITS publisher Adam Engst's noontime runs faster than they would be otherwise.]