IBM boffins tout cool running chip breakthrough

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IBM boffins tout cool running chip breakthrough

Big Blue thins paste to keep chips cool.

Researchers at IBM have developed a technique for managing the temperature of chips that they claim can double cooling efficiency.

At the BroadGroup Power and Cooling Summit in London this week, Big Blue tackled the increasingly urgent need to remove the large amount of heat released by today's more powerful processors with a technique called 'high thermal conductivity interface technology'.

As chip performance continues to progress according to Moore's Law, efficient chip cooling has become one of the most vexing problems for designers.

The approach used by IBM addresses the connection point between the hot chip and the various cooling components used today to draw the heat away, including heat sinks. Special particle-filled viscous pastes are typically applied to this interface to guarantee that chips can expand and contract owing to the thermal cycling. This paste is kept as thin as possible in order to transport heat from chip to the cooling components efficiently. Yet, squeezing these pastes too thin between the cooling components and chip would damage or even crack the chip if the conventional technologies are used.

IBM researchers developed a chip cap with a network of tree-like branched channels on its surface so that when pressure is applied, the paste spreads much more evenly and the pressure remains uniform across the chip, allowing the right uniformity to be obtained with nearly two times less pressure, and a 10 times better heat transport through the interface.

IBM said it borrowed the design from biology, where it is found in tree leaves, roots, or the human circulatory system.

"Electronic products are capable of amazing things, largely because of the more powerful chips at their heart," said Bruno Michel, manager of the Advanced Thermal Packaging research group at IBM's Zurich lab. "We want to help electronics makers keep the innovations coming. Our chip-cooling technology is just one tool at our disposal to help them do that."
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