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Big chill for chips

By , Network World
May 31, 2004 12:08 AM ET

Network World - HPIntel and a handful of start-ups are among those working feverishly to keep ever-more-powerful server processors from becoming too hot to handle.

While the problem is not new, time has become of the essence in solving it, as chips just one-eighth-inch square soon will emit as much heat as a 100-watt light bulb, HP says.

Start-ups Cool ChipsCooligyThorrn Micro TechnologiesiCurie Lab and NanoCoolers are using nanotechnology to deal with the heat that results from cramming more components into smaller spaces.

High heat density from processors means high heat loads in servers. In turn, deploying a large number of servers in data centers leads to cooling challenges.

Cool Chips has designed a wafer-like device that sits on the precessor itself. A 10 nanometer gap in the cool chip causes electrons to tunnel across the gap using quantum mechanics.

The gap insulates so that heat doesn't return back through the gap, effectively dissipating it, the company says.".

"It's a little like having a party and you induce all the noisy people to go next door," says Chris Bourne, director of public relations for Cool Chips. "The party gets quieter in one room and the other room gets noisier."

Cool Chips says it hopes to ship products for servers and laptops in 2006.

Another start-up is taking a different approach: Engineers from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., formed Thorrn, which is developing technology called nano-lightning that creates wind currents that flow over the processor through microchannels. Thorrn says it expects to commercialize the technology for cooling laptop computers in 2006. The company's technology generates electrically charged atoms using electrodes. When electrons are discharged they interact with air and cause small gusts of wind that are then passed through microchannels to cool the chip.

"The idea is to make a very small direct air-cooled system," says Daniel Schlitz, president of Thorrn in West Lafayette. "We have replaced the fan with an ion-driven method of pushing air through a microchannel-based heat sink. We hope to be able to remove all the heat in the laptop with a very small package."

Schlitz says the company also is developing technology to cool blade servers.

Large chip manufacturers such as HP and IBM also are working on cooling their processors.

HP Labs is working on cooling chips with inkjet printing technology. The company has taken a printing cartridge and re-engineered it into an efficient, inexpensive cooling device for semiconductors. The spray-cooling mechanism shoots a small amount of dielectric liquid coolant onto specific areas of a chip. The liquid vaporizes on impact, cooling the chip, and the vapor is then passed through a heat exchanger and pumped back into a reservoir that feeds the spray device. While HP would not comment on when its servers will use this technology, Chandrakant Patel, distinguished technologist at HP, says that systems would not need the
technology for at least three years.

Hot on the trail
A variety of vendors are developing more efficient cooling for servers and laptop computers.
Company Product Approach Funding  
Cooligy Active Micro-channel Cooling Fluid-based cooling Mayfield Fund, Mohr, Davidow Ventures and Granite Ventures $10.3 million
Cool Chips Cool Chips Electron-based cooling Publicly traded  
iCurie Lab Unknown Micro-electro-mechanical systems Hansen Grey $3 million
NanoCoolers Unknown Fluid-based cooling Draper Fisher Jurvetson $8.5 million
Thorrn Micro Electronics Code-named ‘nano-lightning’ Ion exchange-based cooling Burton D. Morgan Entrepreneurship Competition and 21st State of Indiana Fund $500,000
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