By Matthew Dublin
Sandia National Laboratories researcher Jeffrey Koplow may have made a serious dent in the heat problems plaguing large data centers. While all blades and desktop computers contain fans and a heat sink — a metal component attached to the motherboard that transfers heat away from the processor cores with “cooling fins” — Koplow’s team has shown that this standardized design is hardly an efficient one.
Typical heat sink:
While fans are usually positioned so that they blow heat away from the heat sink and not the actual chip, there is still a layer of motionless hot air that remains on the cooling fins creating a boundary or layer of insulation that resists the airflow from the fan. In addition, there is something known as the “heat sink fouling” problem where the heat exchanger is covered with dust or other airborne contaminants while the fan blades remain mostly clean, further preventing proper airflow and cooling of the chip. Cooling and the removal of heat from the heat exchanger is also restricted by a limitation on fan noise, which puts a cap on the speed and power of the fans integrated into the hardware.
According to Koplow, no one has devised a way to address these problems – until now.
His “Air Bearing Heat Exchanger” technology seems to solve all three of these problems by providing a several-fold reduction in the boundary layer, immunity to heat sink fouling, and noise reduction. According to the paper, this solution “is also very practical from the standpoint of cost, complexity, ruggedness, etc. Successful development of this technology is also expected to have far reaching impact in the IT sector from the standpoint of solving the “Thermal Brick Wall” problem (which currently limits CPU clocks speeds to ~ 3 GHz), and increasing concern about the the electrical power consumption of our nation’s information technology infrastructure.”
Kaplow with a prototype of his heat exchanger:
Click here to download the technical paper.