UPDATE: Adding details regarding already deployed vapor chamber-based solutions.
The raise of performance of graphics or central processing units is often associated with increase of power consumption as well as thermal design power. Even despite of dramatic improvements of micro-architectures, cooling systems continue to evolve to enable new performance heights for chips.
ATI, graphics product group of Advanced Micro Devices, and Celsia Technologies said on Monday that they are developing higher-performance cooling solution for graphics processing units (GPUs). The new coolers, which will presumably be used on future ATI Radeon graphics cards, will used vapor chamber pipes instead of traditional heat-pipes, which promises to provide up to 30% better cooling, allowing AMD to create higher-performance graphics processors.
“Working with AMD, we were able to meet all of the design criteria for a new GPU cooler. Namely, it had to be lighter, perform better and be lower cost than the current heat pipe based design. Unlike thermal modules using heat pipes, our two-phase NanoSpreader comes in direct contact with the heat source whereby removing costly, heavy base plates," said Joe Formichelli, Celsia’s chief executive officer.
Celsia’s NanoSpreader is a patented copper encased two-phase vapor chamber into which pure water is vacuum sealed. The liquid is absorbed by a copper-mesh wick and passed as vapor through a micro-perforated copper sheet where it cools and returns as liquid to the wick. According to the company, vapor chambers provide up to 30% better cooling performance when compared to heat-pipes. In addition, vapor chambers are relatively easy to utilize. Still, vapor chambers require sophisticated heat-spreaders, just like heat-pipe based coolers.
NanoSpreaders are half the weight of solid copper, yet can transfer heat at roughly ten times the rate (thermal conductivity). When used as part of an overall cooling solution, the ultra thin and flat NanoSpreaders improve cooling efficiency over heat pipe solutions by providing a more direct path through which heat can be moved.
Celsia’s comparison of the two designs shows how a cooling solution is improved through the use of NanoSpreader technology. In this configuration the thermal resistance from the device to the cooling surface, heat sink, is reduced by minimizing or eliminating conduction and interfaces in this path.
As part of AMD's technology development project, Celsia has been invited to present at the 2008 AMD Technical Forum and Exposition in Taiwan on the 21st of October. In fact, some of ATI’s partners are already using vapor chamber-based coolers: Sapphire Technologies this year introduced a number of graphics boards utilizing the technology. Moreover, according to technology journalist Theo Valich, ATI uses vapor chamber solution on the Radeon 4870 X2 graphics card on one of the GPUs.
It is unclear whether AMD’s next-generation ATI RV870/R800 (ATI Radeon HD 5000) graphics products will actually utilize vapor chamber-based coolers, but they are likely to. Power consumption of new GPUs is rising quickly: just about five years ago dual-slot cooling solution and 60W power consumption were considered a disaster, whereas today 100W graphics boards are mainstream, whereas high-end graphics boards consume 180W – 265W.