Microfluidic channels cool stacked chips and datacentres

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The ICECool project was commissioned by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to replace air cooled and water cooled systems. Instead it pumps a nonconductive fluid through microgrooves across the stacked chips that lowers the device junction temperature (Tj) and reduces system size, weight, and power consumption (SWaP). Tests on IBM Power 7+ chips demonstrated junction temperature reduction by 25ᵒ C, and chip power usage reduction by 7 percent compared to traditional air cooling.

Using a heatsink or cold plate holds back 3D chip-stacking height because of their inability to cool chips in the middle and bottom of the stack. IBM’s ICECool technology circumvents that problem as the dielectric fluid can come into contact with electrical connections, so is not limited to one part of a chip or stack. This benefits chip stacks in terms of materials and architecture, such as putting memory directly on the stack.

Datacentres in the US use about 70 million megawatts of electricity a year, around 2 per cent of the total energy consumption, with the majority used in CRAC (Computer Room Air-Conditioning) and CRAH (Computer Room Air Handler) units blowing chilled air across the rows and rows of servers using a compressor-based chiller.

ICECool has the potential to eliminate the chiller, plus the CRAC unit, and most of the fans because it can be in direct contact with any and all electronic components, says the team. Tests with IBM Power Systems showed that the ICECool technology could reduce the cooling energy for a traditional air-cooled data centre by more than 90 percent.

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