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21 Apr 2023
Intel Focuses on Immersion Cooling as Moore's Law Continues to Heat Things Up
Intel has announced its commitment to immersion cooling as part of making data centers more efficient and addressing concerns about their emissions. “People have talked about liquid cooling for a long time,” said Zane Ball, corporate vice president and general manager of Data Center Engineering and Architecture at Intel. “It’s always that thing we’re going to do in the future. We believe we’ve reached a time where liquid cooling must play a much bigger role in the data center.”
Intel has been working with immersion-cooling company Submersince 2021, to cool Xeon processors in data centers. More recently, it signed an agreement with Green Revolution Cooling(GRC) to design and implement custom immersion cooling techniques in future data centers and edge deployments.
Immersion cooling is part of Intel’s net-zero commitments, according to a recent company statement. “As much as 99% of heat generated by IT equipment can be captured in the form of water or another liquid coolant,” the statement reads. “Instead of requiring fans, the heat passes into the fluid, which is then circulated to dissipate the energy, much like an air conditioning system. That heat can even be harnessed and reused as needed.”
3D Vapor Chambers
Meanwhile, the company says it has researchers developing solutions to support the power and thermal management needs of next-generation architectures, including devices up to 2 kilowatts. Among the solutions they are looking at are 3D vapor chambers (sealed, flat metal pockets filled with fluid) to spread the boiling capacity using minimal space and improved boiling enhancement coatings, which reduce thermal resistance by promoting high nucleation site density (where bubbles of steam form on a metal surface).
According to this research, “boiling is one of the most effective methods to cool high-power electronic devices and maintain a uniform temperature distribution. Boiling enhancement coatings made of advanced materials can facilitate effective nucleate boiling. Today, these are applied on a flat surface, but research shows a coral-like heat sink design with internal groove-like features has the highest potential for external heat transfer coefficients with two-phase immersion cooling.”
Another approach Intel researchers are pursuing uses arrays of fluid jets to cool the highest-power devices. Unlike typical heat sinks or traditional cold plates that pass fluid over a surface, the cooling jets route fluid directly at the surface. The thermal lid that contains the jets can be attached directly to the top of a standard lidded package, eliminating thermal interface material and reducing thermal resistance.
With multi-chip modules becoming increasingly difficult to cool, this technology can be customized for each construction and can target hot spots effectively, enabling the processor to run at a lower temperature with a 5% to 7% increase in performance for the same power.
The expected continuation of Moore's Law is a primary driver of all this research. “Enabling and innovating aggressive and scalable thermal technologies is the need of the hour to align with the exponential increase in power expected by processors over the next decade,” said Tejas Shah, lead thermal architect for Intel’s Super Compute Platforms group.
Image from Intel.
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