Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Technology

To Cool Computer Chips, Tiny Water Pipes

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandJune 6, 2008 9:39 PM
computer-chip.jpg

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Each year, as electronic devices get smaller and capable of performing more outlandish functions, engineers in the back rooms of computer chip manufacturers sweat a little more. The exponentially-increasing number of transmitters that can be placed on a circuit board (a phenomenon known as Moore's law) brings with it one major technological obstacle: a rise in heat produced by the electrons that zip through the tiny wires on each chip. Computer engineers have experimented with many different solutions to the heat problem, including fans and heat sinks. Yesterday, IBM announced a radically new approach, and unveiled stacks of chips cooled by thousands of hair-thin pipes filled with flowing water. An IBM spokesperson said the need for a new tactic became apparent as the company worked on its 3D chips, which are stacked on top of each other instead of arranged side-by-side in the traditional manner. This arrangement reduces distances between circuits and therefore reduce processing time, but it's also prone to overheating.

"As we package chips on top of each other....we have found that conventional coolers attached to the back of a chip don't scale," explained Thomas Brunschwiler at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory. "In order to exploit the potential of high-performance 3D chip stacking, we need interlayer cooling" [BBC News].

Water pipes are already used to cool some high-end servers and supercomputers, but those existing systems pump the water past the processor; the new IBM approach is the first to put the pipes inside the chips themselves. While that may conjure up nightmare images of a short-circuiting computer, IBM says the water pipes will be perfectly harmless.

In IBM's design, the liquid travels through hermetically sealed, double-layered tubes of silicon and silicon oxide that are roughly .002 inches (about the width of a hair) in diameter keeping the H2O well insulated from delicate components [PC World].

The company hopes to bring the technology to its commercial products within five years.

Image: flickr/Dano

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In