Start-up takes micro approach to chip cooling

Self-cooling chips are company's flagship product. By Matthew Broersma

Start-up Nextreme has launched a chip-cooling system with a difference — it can be built into the chip itself, cooling only the areas that need it.

Cooling has become a major issue in chip making in recent years, prompting Intel and AMD to concentrate on multicore processors as a way of boosting chip speed while stemming ever-greater heat emissions.

The energy to power and cool datacentres has doubled in the past seven years, creating growing headaches for system administrators.

Some companies have approached the issue by adapting datacentre air-conditioning systems to be more efficient, as is the case with HP's Dynamic Smart Cooling (DSC).

Nextreme's approach, on the other hand, works on the micro-scale. Its thermoelectric module, called the Ultra-High Packing Fraction (UPF) OptoCooler, operates on a similar scale to the chip itself.

It uses a manufacturing technology that allows it to be integrated directly into chip packaging. The module can pump out 10 times more heat than conventional thermoelectric cooling modules, claims Nextreme, a spin-off of US research institute RTI International.

The product is particularly honed for optoelectronics, such as the laser diode packages that illuminate telecommunications fibre-optic cables, but the company says it is in talks with most US semiconductor manufacturers. Other potential markets include electronics, medical, military and aerospace applications.

"This is a major breakthrough," says Dave Koester, vice president of engineering at Nextreme. "For example, this development enables direct cooling of a laser diode on a scale that is similar to the diode itself. This significantly improves efficiency and offers new, integrated packaging options that were previously unavailable."

The unit has an active footprint of 0.55 square millimeters, and at 25 degrees Celsius, removes a maximum of 420 mW of heat, adding up to a heat density of up to 78 W/cm2. At 85 degrees C the values go up to 610 mW and 112 W/cm2, according to Nextreme.

When integrated into optoelectronic packaging, the module can deliver more than 45 degrees Celsius of cooling, according to the company.

Nextreme's manufacturing process, called Copper Pillar Bumping, integrates thin-film thermoelectric material into the solder bumped interconnects typically found in semiconductor circuits. It can be implemented at the system, package or wafer level, or in discrete modules such as the OptoCooler.

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Tags technologyself-cooling chipnextremeupf optocooler

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