IBM cooling microchips with water

3D microchip cooling system: H2O in a cooling container (purple) is pumped through spaces between the chip's layers (orange).
3D microchip cooling system: H2O in a cooling container (purple) is pumped through spaces between the chip's layers (orange).Courtesy IBM
IBM scientists in Europe announced this week that they’re working on a 3D stacked microchip that will use water running through tiny micropipes as thin as a human hair to transfer heat away from the circuits.

As integrated circuits get smaller and more sophisticated, cooling becomes a real issue, and so far water-cooling seems to be the most efficient solution.

3D chips have their circuits stacked vertically rather than side-by-side. This allows information to travel much more efficiently between them. But the gain in processing speed also generates a tremendous amount of heat. IBM’s solution is to interweave the chip layers with tiny micropipes that will move water throughout the internal workings and carry the heat elsewhere. Silicon and silicon oxide hermetically seal off the tiny 50 microns-wide pipes from other chip components to prevent against an electrical short.

The water-cooled technology is not a new concept – both IBM and Hewlett-Packard have used the liquid to cool some of their mainframe supercomputers. In fact, just this past April, IBM announced a new supercomputer that cools its processors with water. Here's a video about that.

But the idea is moving now to the desktop PC. (Water-cooled technology has been used in some versions of Apple's Power Mac G5 computer but the microchips were standard configuration, and not arrayed in a three-dimensional vertical formation.)

Scientists from both the IBM Zurich Research Lab and the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin are involved in the project, and the company believes the new micropipe technology could appear in products as early as five years from now.

Story on CNET.com
Story on IBM Zurich site

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

kali0082's picture
kali0082 says:

I'm thinking this may not be the best idea... because inevitably the water is going to leak out onto other parts of the computer, and that spells disaster!

posted on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 4:17pm

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