London, June 7 : IBM researchers have shown that possibility of using a network of tiny pipes of water to cool next-generation PC chips. Experts at the firm have created a prototype device that has thousands of "hair-width" cooling arteries, which they believe may be a solution to the increasing amount of heat pumped out by chips as they become smaller and more densely packed with components.
The researchers demonstrated the technology in IBM's 3D chips, where circuits are stacked one on top of the other. They say that vertical laying of chips, rather than side by side, reduces the distance data has to travel, enhances performance and saves critical space. "As we package chips on top of each other....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 3D chip stacking, we need interlayer cooling," the BBC quoted Thomas Brunschwiler at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory as saying.
He said that conventional cooling techniques, which involve the use of fans and heat sinks, do not work as well with the 3D technology, particularly as heat has to be drawn away from between the individual chips.
According to him, piping water through sealed tubes just 50 microns in diameter between individual layers of the chip seems to offer a solution to the problem. The researchers suggest that water is much more efficient than air at absorbing heat, and thus even with tiny amounts of liquid flowing through could show a dramatic effect.
IBM experts believe that its water-cooling technology could be available as a product in five years.