Georgia Tech researchers take liquid cooling directly onto the chip, might enable CPU ‘stacking’

Straight to silicon liquid cooling

Cooling blocks? As of today, they’re nothing but lumps of antiquated, dunderheaded, progress-halting nonsense. Researchers at Georgia Tech have devised a new method of liquid cooling that extracts heat directly from the silicon itself, which they claim improves energy efficiency and space-saving. 

Associate professor Muhannad Bakir and graduate student Thomas Sarvey used anAltera field-programmable gate array (FPGA) chip as their guinea pig, removing the heatsink and spreader (a similar method to CPU ‘delidding’ which recently emerged as a means to counter Haswell CPUs’ high operating temps) before “etching cooling passages into the silicon,” which is just about the most hardcore PC mod I’ve ever heard of.

Those passages incorporated silicon cylinders 100 microns in diameter, onto which a silicon sealant and cooling tubes were installed. Pump a bit of deionised water through those tubes operating at an inlet flow rate of 147 milliliters per minute, and you’ve got an operating temperature at around 24 degrees celcius, compared to 60 degrees with air cooling.

The researchers say the same method can be applied to CPUs and GPUs, which has several implications for desktop gaming PCs: easier liquid cooling for smaller form factor machines, higher overclocking potential, and longer lifespan.

High-end liquid coolers currently bring CPU temps down to roughly 30 degrees idle, 45-50 degrees under load. If Georgia Tech’s new straight-to-silicon method can maintain consumer CPU temps at that same 24 degrees under load… well, I’d love to see how far I can push the bclk on an Intel K chip.

If you’re less worried about getting your CPU opertating at 12GHz and more concerned about keeping your expensive silicon intact and operational, that chilly sub-30 degree operating temp will help to prolong your processor’s lifespan.

Stepping into more speculative territory, professor Bakir says the new cooling method might lead to CPU ‘stacking’: ““We have created a real electronic platform to evaluate the benefits of liquid cooling versus air cooling,” said Bakir. “This may open the door to stacking multiple chips, potentially multiple FPGA chips or FPGA chips with other chips that are high in power consumption. We are seeing a significant reduction in the temperature of these liquid-cooled chips.”

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