Discovery may lead to improved CPU cooling

One of the major issues that computer makers have to overcome as computer processors get faster is how to cool them effectively. Enthusiasts already know that the easy way to get the most performance out of a processor is to keep them very cool. Many of the record breaking machines that destroy benchmarks are cooled by exotic means like liquid nitrogen.

Many commercially available computers today use liquid cooling with radiators and a circulating fluid similar to the system used to cool vehicles today. As processors become ever faster, researchers are always looking for new and novel ways to cool the processor. A pair of researchers at the University of Rochester has discovered a new method that may one day lead to a very efficient and effective cooling system for processors.

Researchers Chunlei Guo and Anatoliy Vorobyev published their finding s in the journal Optics Express. The paper outlines the discovery made by the pair of a method to make liquid flow vertically along a silicon surface without needing pumps or mechanical devices to overcome gravity. The pair describes the phenomenon as similar to how water rises in a straw; only with their system, no outside force pushes the water.

The process works by using ultra-powerful lasers to create nanometer-scale structures on the surface of the silicon. The creation of these nanoscale structures on the silicon surface makes the silicon much more hydrophilic. Water placed on the silicon is much more attracted to the surface and the water molecules literally climb over each other to get closer to the surface, crating forward motion at a rate of 3.5cm per second. The team points out that the same process will work on metal, but the process is much more important on silicon where it has potential for cooling processors. 

Most computers today are cooled by air using a fan while some low power machines are passively cooled with heat sinks. With fan cooling, the air around the CPU absorbs the heat and the fan dissipates the heated air. Liquid is a much better method of cooling a CPU, but the catch is that most liquid cooling systems are bulky and not appropriate for most mainstream computers.

Michael Scott is a professor of computer science at the University of Rochester, and is not part of the research. However, Scott believes that the breakthrough that allows silicon to essentially pump its own water has the potential to become widely used in personal computers.

Scott said, "Heat is definitely the number one problem deterring the design of faster conventional processors."

Heat isn’t the only concern with creating faster processors though; getting more transistors onto a piece of silicon is a major part of increasing performance. Some predict that Moore's Law will be broken in a bit more than a decade. The reason for the prediction is that we will reach a point where transistors simply can't be made smaller.

To continue making faster processors, new technologies will need to be developed. Research is being conducted today into using other materials for making microprocessors such as graphene and even DNA.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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