Microfluidic Cooling: Will future server chips be water-based?

Microfluidic Cooling and Water

Almost every tech lover has heard of Moore’s Law: that computer power doubles every two years at the same cost. But these days Moore’s law is under threat—we can’t seem to upgrade our microchips any more while keeping them cool.

“Water”, someone thought, “is the solution to keep anything cool.” We’ve had water-cooled machines for ages, but the water runs next to your components. Now, DARPA is looking at making chips that have water run through your CPU. It’s called Microfluidic Cooling, and it may be the future.

Think that’s amazing? It’s already proven to dissipate five times the heat flux found on the surface of the sun.

Microfluidic Cooling: The Future of Microprocessors?

Microfludic Cooling of chip.
Water Based: There’s no tubes on this water-cooled device.

The early tests are extremely promising. Microfluidic Cooling has proven to cause a four to five times drop in heat levels, compared to a chip of the same size. And anyone who’s run a high-powered rig knows exactly how monumental a heat drop like that is.

If you can manage the heat, you can use fewer chips and material, which makes it cheaper, lighter and more compact. If you kept it the same size, you’d vastly increase the processing power while still keeping it cool.

Currently, the heat flux generated by today’s microprocessors is loosely comparable to that on the sun’s surface. But unlike the sun, the devices must be cooled to temperatures lower than 1oo°C to function properly.

thermal demonstration chip was made to demonstrate this technology. It was able to dissipate heat flux up to five times this level, showcasing the technology’s amazing potential.

DARPA: The Internet Was Our First Hat Trick

This breakthrough in Microfluidic Cooling is currently being run by a DARPA program called ICECool Applications.

That’s right. Not only is the technology incredibly cool, so is the name of the folks making it.

Microfluidic Cooling test run
This microcooler contains less than a drop of water but can chill even the hottest of electronic chips.

Much like the beginnings of the internet (which DARPA was heavily involved in), the main focus of this experiment is to reduce the thermal limitations on military electronic systems, “while significantly reducing size, weight and power consumption (SWaP).”

Don’t worry that you’ll never get your hands on it. Like most technologies, DARPA’s plan is to move it into the civilian and commercial sectors in due time.

Which means the outlook for humanity’s future technology is fairly cool.

Protecting Your Current Servers From Overheating

Microfluidic Cooling future

That’s all good about the future, but what about NOW? Here’s seven handy hints on how to stop your servers from burning as hot as the surface of the sun.

  • Check Server Room Airflow: Where are the vents located? What’s the airflow like? Make sure your cooling fans are in the best locations possible.
  • Eliminate Clutter: This will optimize airflow and circulation.
  • Keep Room Temperature below 77°F / 25°C
  • Get Rid Of Gaps: If there are empty spaces in your server racks, use blanking pannels to fill them. Racks with empty spaces reduce airflow.
  • Built In Cooling: Consider a rack enclosure with a built-in cooling system.
  • Temperature Monitoring: Employ a solution to monitor the server room temperature. Some even e-mail you when the room gets too hot.
  • Redundant Power Supply: Use one designed for your specific equipment.

Remember that even if you take all these precautions, the worst can still happen. Make sure to protect your servers from data loss with proper backup and recovery software like BackupAssist. You can download the free 30-day trial here.


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