In IBM's labs, tiny rivers of water are cooling computer chips that have circuits and components stacked on top of each other. The design promises to increase the number of circuits on a chip and significantly reduce energy consumed by data centers.
Working with the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin, IBM researchers developed the prototype of the so-called 3-D chip stacks, which have water piped between each layer.
Traditionally chips and memory devices sit side-by-side on a silicon wafer. The new design stacks them together on top of one another and presents one promising approach to enhancing chip performance beyond predicted limits.
"As we package chips on top of each other to significantly speed a processor's capability to process data, we have found that conventional coolers attached to the back of a chip don't scale. In order to exploit the potential of high-performance 3-D chip stacking, we need interlayer cooling," explains Thomas Brunschwiler, project leader at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory. "Until now, nobody has demonstrated viable solutions to this problem."
Brunschwiler and his team piped water into cooling structures as thin as a human hair (50 microns) between the individual chip layers in order to remove heat efficiently at the source.