Liquid Cooling – Are We There Yet?

Back in June I posted ‘Air – Is it Running Out of Gas?’ and put forward the view that for general computing applications air isn’t running out of gas just yet. There are a couple of reasons for that.

One is that I suspect the general public has concerns about leaks. Most people have passed cars stuck on the highway with a blown heater hose and seen water on the ground, and I’ve had an automotive water pump fail spectacularly on me. Then there are washing machines, which also like to leak – so people’s general experience tells them to be wary of liquid cooling.

The other reason is that most computers already have far too much computing power for what they’re used for, which in the case of my two sons is Bebo, MSN, etc. They’re not into PC games. That said, one of them is a games addict. He has an Xbox 360 and it’s by far the most used ‘toy’ we’ve ever bought. When it was released the graphics were just awesome, but come at a price, as the unit pulls between 150W and 200W during game play.

If liquid cooling is to become mainstream, then in my view the most likely route will be via a liquid cooled games console, so the driver will be graphics performance requirements rather than conventional compute power.

For liquid cooling to gain wide acceptance it’s going to need a killer app, like a games console that’s streets ahead of the competition in terms of graphics performance, enabled by liquid cooling. If it sells upwards of 30 million units like the Xbox 360 then it had better be super reliable in all senses of the word! If it is, then liquid cooling will have reached the volume required to drive down costs to just a few dollars and so gain an increasing share of other markets like mainstream computing.

There are signs that liquid cooling might be about to break into the mainstream. Asetek have recently secured $8M in venture capital, to pursue opportunities in the workstation, gaming and performance segments of the PC market, where liquid cooled solutions have been employed in top end machines for a number of years. More recently there’s been speculation that Apple might bring liquid cooling to the iMac.

So the next few years will be interesting. Mentor’s FloEFD Concurrent CFD software is CAD embedded, making it ideal for analysing all types of liquid cooled equipment, from electronics to automotive cylinder heads, from upfront design at the concept stage and concurrently as the design progresses. See for example this demonstration of modelling a cold plate.

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Posted February 15th, 2010, by

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A mixed bag of things that interest me professionally -CFD technology and its use in education, cooling technologies and the place of thermal design in the overall design flow. John Parry’s Blog

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