New In-Chip Water Systems Keep Cool Computer Chips

According to a new study published in the journal Nature, Swiss researchers have designed a one-piece chip and, a cooling system that contains on-chip liquid channels adjacent, to the hottest chip parts, – adding an impressive boost in heat-limited situations.



New ‘wetware:’ computer chips with water inside.

New In-Chip Water Systems Keep Cool Computer Chips

When desktop processors first surpassed Gigahertz, the consensus was that there was nowhere to go but up. But progress slowed to a halt when energy demands created too much heat, in a given device to cool and calculate.

Even regular computer fans and heatsinks, as well as water cooling, haven’t broken the thermal barrier that often slows down today’s processors.

One of the problems with liquid cooling solutions is that they have to transfer thermal energy out of the chip, and into the water.

This problem has led some researchers to try and run liquid inside the chip, – including those who wrote the new study, which places on-chip liquid channels next to areas most prone to heat in ‘a chip, reports Ars Technica.



Powering water pumps reduced chip cooling efficiency.

New In-Chip Water Systems Keep Cool Computer Chips

Methods of extracting heat from a chip typically involve multiple connections, from the chip to its packaging, and to a heat sink.

The chip can be put directly into a heat-conducting liquid, the liquid must insulate without initiating chemical reactions with the electronic components, – none of which is encountered through the water.

They typically involve systems where the integrated device with liquid channels are fused onto a chip, through which a dedicated system pumps the fluid.

Although this eliminates thermal energy, the first implementations show the presence of a trap.

Powering the pump which circulates the water in the channels of the device requires more energy than that extracted from the processor, reducing system energy efficiency at problematic sizes.

The latest research is incorporating these ideas to increase the efficiency of on-chip cooling systems.

And the researchers behind the study demonstrate that their method works through the use of a power conversion chip, which avoids the reduced performance in thermal energy.



Engineering water inside chips with GaN.

The process of building the new power conversion chip was not straightforward. The first step is to cut extremely thin slits through the gallium nitride (GaN) and into the underlying silicon.

Next, the researchers began an etching process, – which only affects the silicon, – to increase the width of the channels, and seal the original spaces across the GaN with copper.

This improves the heat conduction process in the water. Below the channels is a set of alternating passages that function as power supplies and sinks.

Coldwater enters through the feed and circulates through the channel – absorbing thermal energy – then exits through an adjacent sink.

The researchers will make the device so that the hottest parts of the GaN section of the device are directly juxtaposed with one of the channels, thus increasing the efficiency of heat extraction.

Their best design could handle heat fluxes of up to 1700 W per square centimeter (0.155 square inches) while stopping the temperature rise of the chip at 60 ° C (140 ° F).

With the impending advent of quantum computers, it is important to find ways for silicon-based chips to cool down in order to optimize computing power.

Water, – seen in common sense as a death sentence for computer chips, – can also accelerate advances in modern computer technology.