IBM to Chips: Cool It!

This past week, at the BroadGroup Power and Cooling Summit in London, IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) unveiled an innovative new approach for improving the cooling of computer chips. Big Blue has dubbed its technology "high thermal conductivity interface technology." This new method of keeping chips cooler may pave the way toward ever-faster processing power.

Every 18 months for more than four decades now, computer chip design engineers have managed to double the number of transistors they can cram onto a single computer chip. This amazing feat is widely known as Moore's Law, and it's largely responsible for bringing us powerful laptop computers for less than a thousand bucks, and sleek video-enabled cell phones for $79. But all this computing power has come at a cost: Today, engineers are now packing more than a billion transistors into a space significantly smaller than the fingernail on your pinky.

As these transistors are packed ever tighter, the speed and proximity of electrons buzzing around is causing chips to heat up to levels that now threaten to disrupt the chips' operation. Unless engineers can keep this heat under control, they believe that temperatures will get high enough to melt the silicon chips. Obviously, no one benefits under such a scenario.

That's where Big Blue's high thermal conductivity interface technology comes into play. Without going into too much detail, the system does a much better job at evenly spreading around a special particle-filled paste, which whisks heat away from the chip and toward the cooling component (also known as the "heat sink').

IBM's system, while not yet ready for commercial production, is reportedly so efficient that officials expect it will double cooling efficiency.

If true, leading chipmakers such as Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) -- who are also working on their own proprietary thermal management systems -- and other electronic manufacturers looking to beat the heat could be soon be knocking on IBM's door in search of its cooler technology.

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Hot computers help keep Fool contributor Jack Uldrichtoasty during Minnesota's nasty winters. He owns stock in Intel and IBM. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.


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