Next-gen processors could be cooled by embedded water droplets

DARPA researchers trying embedded water droplets cooling tech for processors

If this happens, you will neither need an air nor a water cooler

It is mandatory for processors to possess some form of cooling to sustain their high temperatures. However, DARPA has something different in mind; a new project that will be able to cool processors through the use of microfluidic channels that pass directly through a processor and move microscopic amounts of water into direct contact with hot spot areas.

Are hot spots becoming an increasing problem

Even though Intel has introduced chips that possess lowered clock frequencies, hot spots are still an issue because of transistor density, which has continued to increase. This ultimately means that more transistors are packed into a smaller space, giving them less breathing room to remove all that heat. Additionally, CPU voltage has stopped scaling.

Unfortunately, you still require a minimum amount of voltage to power on a transistor and if you decide to gain some additional performance, you will have to provide the CPU with increments of that voltage, something that is actually harmful if not done properly. At the end of the day, modern chips have a smaller voltage range, at least in absolute terms in comparison to their predecessors.

To improve thermal performance, the project took roughly four years and has now started to show some promising results. Teaming up with Lockheed Martin, the team summarized the following:

“Thermal demonstration die dissipating 1 kW/cm2 die-level heat flux with multiple local 30 kW/cm2 hot spots. In Phase II of the program, the team has moved on to cooling high power RF amplifiers to validate the electrical performance improvements enabled by improved thermal management. Utilizing its ICECool technology, the team has been able to demonstrate greater than six times increase in RF output power from a given amplifier, while still running cooler than its conventionally cooled counterpart.”

Lockheed Martin will be looking to integrate its own technology with Qorvo, which uses Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology and builds radios and RF equipment. With results looking thoroughly promising, it appears that microfluidic cooling is definitely possible. However, one question remains to be asked.

Next-gen processors could be cooled by embedded water droplets

Will Intel or AMD be able to adopt such a feature inside its processors

It is definitely possible, but it will still be a challenge for them because firstly, if both companies decide to do the work themselves, then it will present some serious challenge, mainly towards placing an on-die cooling solution. Naturally, before such a product can be shipped out to the masses, extensive costs concerning prototyping, validating, and designing compatible hardware across the entire PC ecosystem will have to be carried out.

While it is definitely possible, we honestly doubt that Intel and AMD would consider such a project, seeing as how they have other things to worry about.