IBM improves chip cooling technology

Newly engineered gel massively increases chip cooling capability

IBM has been detailing a new chip cooling technique that could massively increase the effectiveness of future heat sinks.

The invention is a bioengineered gel that sits between the chip and heat sink and transfers heat. The gel doubles the effectiveness of current heat sink systems and could significantly reduce the costs of running a data centre or server farm.

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"Cooling is a holistic challenge from the individual transistor to the datacenter," said Bruno Michel, manager of the Advanced Thermal Packaging research group at IBM's Zurich lab.

"Powerful techniques, brought as close as possible to the chip right where the cooling is needed, will be crucial for tackling the power and cooling issues."

Currently a gel is used between the heat sink and the processor to conduct heat. Gel has to be used because the processor expands and contracts as its operating temperature changes.

The new gel uses a specially engineered network of tree-like branched channels on its surface to ensure that as the processor expands the gel remains evenly spread, increasing heat transfer tenfold. The design used the same qualities found in tree branches and the human circulatory system as the basis for their design.

Heating of chips is set to become and increasing problem. IBM claims that the power used cooling processors is now approaching parity with the amount of power required to perform calculations.

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Other cooling systems being developed at the company's labs include a water based cooling system that uses 50,000 micro-nozzles to squirt water onto the processors and then suck it off without damaging the silicon.

In tests this system showed cooling power densities of up to 370 Watts per square centimetre, more than six times beyond the current limits of air-cooling techniques at about 75 Watts per square centimetre.

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