Thermal Design: User Acceptance of Your Product
The Cost of Not Considering Thermal Design in More Ways Than One
All too often, thermal management is considered too late, if at all, in the design process. In the effort to help make you the thermal expert in your office, the Aavid Genie team is always looking for the latest news and how it relates to our world of thermal management. Recently, we found the perfect example of why you should consider thermal design. This is a product review that starts off with "Razer’s Blade Pro THX Edition is an epic mobile production powerhouse". The article features a stellar review on Razer’s new laptop, the Blade Pro THX Edition high performance laptop. It sings the praises of the product and the amazing features it has such as how great the color fidelity is to real life, the high quality sound system, and the raw processing power that makes it comparable to a desktop.
End User Feedback and Experience
The entirety of this otherwise great headline turns sour at the end:"Razer’s Blade Pro THX Edition is an epic mobile production powerhouse with noisy fans"
Such an amazing review by an impressed user undermined in the headline by the product's cooling solution. And if you go further into the article, Stefan Etienne relates his personal experience with the laptop:
"This laptop has such loud and bombastic fans that I could even hear them over the gameplay on my headphones, set to 50 percent volume. People sitting in my vicinity thought an air conditioner had turned on."
"Furthermore, despite the copper thermal heatsink and jet turbines for fans, the palm rest gets uncomfortably hot."
So it gets both hot AND noisy. That certainly can take you out of the zone when you're on your laptop.
Your Biggest Marketing Allies: Users
User experience is just as important to the success of your product as it being technically functional. This is a powerful piece of hardware in a relatively small and mobile package, which makes any sort of cooling solution difficult. Razer's engineering team did their due diligence and were thinking about their thermal design when it came to providing cooling for the laptop's hardware. It has a copper heat sink, most likely a zipper fin or skived fin solution since it fits in a laptop, and incorporated fans to cool the high power CPU and GPU. Electrically and mechanically, the product is sound. However, the user was uncomfortable.
Think about how much you ask your friends and coworkers their thoughts on any sort of product and service. Think of all the Amazon, Google or Yelp reviews that you check before making a decision of what to buy, where to go, or what to eat. Other consumers are who we turn to first and trust the most when it comes to recommending new services or products.
Users, especially ones of consumer products, can be your biggest advertisers. They are the one's that are going to promote your product with the most zeal. Nielson's surveys over the years have shown that word of mouth recommendations are the ones most trusted by potential consumers, like Nielson's survey in 2015 and another survey in 2012. While it is intuitive to keep your customers happy, the impact of customer satisfaction on brand recognition and revenue is huge.
The Importance of Being Prudent
It's easy enough to say how important the user experience is, but it's even easier to get caught up in the design project for a new product and lose sight of this end goal of a great user experience.
Projects may get passed from department to department, where pieces of the initial product vision get lost along the way.
Budget constraints might cut a project short or require the design team to skip over something, and potentially in this case, keeping costs of the heat sink and fans down.
Real estate in a laptop is difficult to come by to begin with. Add that with the consumers' demand for much smaller products, and the Razer Blade Pro design team has their self a challenge.
There may have been just enough room to squeeze in a solution to meet the needs of the processors, but not able to meet some fuzzier constraints like touch temperature.
The design team may have also had overbearing deadlines (or managers) that kept design engineers from giving user experience enough attention.
But it's critical to the success of your product to consider thermal design in more ways than just how the product functions.
The Whole Product Picture
The ideal situation for this design team would have taken a holistic approach to their product. The whole point of all the features they packed into their laptop was to provide an exceptional user experience. As we push the thermal limits of what our chips can do, we need to consider more than what the user sees on their screens, hears from their speakers, and the tactile feedback from the keyboard. Ears will also pick up the noise of fans and fingers and palms will experience any excessive heat from the product. Noise and touch temperature of your cooling solution needs to be considered much earlier in the design process so you don't paint yourself into a corner.
Room to Stretch Out Your Thermal Solution
If the Razer design team had defined their maximum temperature rise by what their user could handle, and not what the hardware could handle, they could have built around that requirement. The design team could have set aside the appropriate amount of room for a thermal solution that meets both their hardware and user needs. These engineers may have requested more heat sink volume to increase the amount of surface area of the heat sinks. This would provide more surface area to transfer heat into the air. It's easier to jockey for laptop real estate when everything is still conceptual.
We're Your Biggest Fans
Engineers designing the thermal solution could have designed in larger fans. Larger fans can move more air at the same rotational speed as a smaller fan. Or you can move the same amount of air at a lower rotational speed. This decrease in speed would also reduce the noise coming from the fans. While it seems like an either more cooling or more noise situation, a big enough fan may be able to address both negative aspects of this user experience.
With Heat Sinks It's All About Location, Location, Location
In the initial design, the engineers responsible for the chips and thermal management may have been able to lobby for a different area of the laptop. There could have been the possibility to move where the heat was generated, the CPU and GPU locations, to someplace that wouldn't affect the user as much. If the chips were stuck in that location in the laptop, maybe the thermal management team could have used heat pipes to route the heat away from the chips and palm rests and to somewhere less consequential to the user, but still thermally effective.
If the Razer Blade Pro THX Edition design team developed their thermal design for both their product's function and their users, that review from Stefan Etienne would have been nothing but positive.
Accommodating Tolerance Stack-Up and Multiple Devices with Gap Fillers
This article is a perfect example of why your thermal design is important, not just for the device, but for the user. It's not enough for all your parts to fit together and your devices to be cooled. You need to make sure that the overall user experience is a good one. So in the next design cycle you have, take the extra time for polishing your thermal design for your user and how they will interact with your product. If there's pressure to skip that step, push back and show them this review.