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IBM Develops Miniature Water Cooling Methods

IBM Corp is developing a new future microprocessor design in which chips are stacked vertically to save space and increase performance, rather than the standard side stacking where the heat ratio exceeds that of a nuclear reactor. IBM researchers believe that transferring water through hair-thin pipes inside chips will solve the problem.

Future chips are getting smaller and smaller to cram more processing power into ever-tinier spaces. This causes the heat to be thrown off by the miniature circuits which becomes harder to manage.

The standard cooling method used now to avoid chip meltdowns by using fans or “heat sinks” might not work on tinier future chips.

IBM researchers say they could pipe water in between chips that are sandwiched together. The system, which IBM planned to explain Thursday at a technical conference, uses pipes that are just 50 microns wide — 50 millionths of a meter. The tiny tubes are sealed to prevent electrical shorts and leaks.

“It’s never been applied this close to the heart of the matter,” said analyst Richard Doherty of the Envisioneering Group.

Even these micro amounts of water can handle prodigious cooling chores, because water is much more efficient than air at absorbing heat. That is why some high-end computers long have used water cooling. The difference here is that IBM expects to do it at the inside the actual chips, on a miniature scale.

The new miniature water piping for microprocessors are not available yet, but IBM expects to release the new technology within the next five years.