Researchers at Binghamton University in New York recently announced a new technique in the manufacturing of microprocessors that will dramatically improve the cooling of computers, resulting in greater energy efficiency, as well as reduced costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
Computer microprocessors are typically kept cool by a device known as a heat sink, which is composed of several metallic fins that are attached with a thermal paste. Some devices also include a small fan. The heat sink, which is made of copper or aluminum, helps keep the computer cool by dissipating the heat away from the processor.
The researchers found the traditional method is inefficient because the thermal paste isn't completely seamless. To solve this problem, they developed a technique that uses microchannel spirals or mazes that allow coolant to travel within tiny channels that are affixed directly onto the processor itself. To create the mazes, the scientists used a laser to selectively melt and bond an alloy directly onto the processor's silicon.
They used a tin-silver-titanium alloy that rapidly forms a thin bonding layer about 1,000 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair. The titanium-silicide bond acts as a glue between the silicon chip and the metal alloy.
Printing the heat sink directly onto the silicon in this fashion gives heat a shortcut and lowers chip temperatures.
This seemingly small refinement in the internal workings of a computer processor holds the potential for significant impacts on the computing industry.
"It will mean big changes for high-end electronics, data centers and computationally intense programs, such as video editing tools and video games," said Scott Schiffres, Birmingham University Assistant Professor, who worked on the project.
He explained that data centers could see energy savings in the neighborhood of 5 percent. That could translate into a savings of $438 million dollars in electricity, the elimination of 3.7 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year, and the reduction of toxic electronic waste by about 10 million metric tons.