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Nextreme offers micro-Peltiers

Nextreme offers micro-Peltiers

The copper bumps used to transfer the heat and generate electricity on-die. Pretty cool.

Another day, another start-up looking to make a name for itself in the world of technology. Today it's the turn of Nextreme Incorporated, based in South Carolina. The company has plans to shrink Peltier coolers to the point at which they can be integrated on the chips themselves.

The idea is a modification of the current 'flip-chip' packaging, which uses pillars of copper as the connectivity between the core of the processor and the rest of the package. The plan is to turn these connecting copper pillars into dual-use conduits and transfer both the electrical signal and heat at the same time by harnessing the Peltier effect. Perhaps the most interesting by-product of the process is the fact that the pillars, which Nextreme calls “thermally active copper pillar bumps”, can actually use the temperature differentials to generate electricity. During testing the company was able to generate up to 10mW of power per bump – okay, so it won't power your graphics card but it's still pretty cool.

If you're wondering what the technology is all about, Peltiers (or, to give them their proper name, “thermoelectric cooling devices”) are clever little devices that create a 'hot' side and a 'cold' side when powered. They're fairly popular among extreme overclockers, but are somewhat finicky and if the hot side isn't properly cooled have a tendency to release the magic smoke pretty quickly.

If Nextreme can deliver on the promise to shrink the technology down to the micro-miniature level required to build directly into hot-spots on the chip itself it could lead to faster copper chips than are possible using current technologies. The down side to all this is the requirement for the processor to be built around the new technology, as the package must incorporate an internal thermal sink for the transferred heat to go to – it's hardly a plug-and-play solution.

It's unlikely that any of the major chip manufacturers would take such a leap on an untested technology from an untried company – if it doesn't work as intended that's an entire chip line down the pan. That said, if it does work I could easily see the start-up being snapped up by one of the specialist embedded chip manufacturers, as it's in confined spaces where the technology could offer the most benefit.

Have you ever messed around with Peltier technology, or does the thought of a magic electric heat-transfer pad give you the heebie-jeebies? Give us a shout over in the forums.

6 Comments

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metarinka 11th January 2008, 09:42 Quote
very interesting. Any figures on how efficient it's electricity production is? I'm envisioning a world where waste heat from a myriad of devices are recycle in a more efficient manner.

I've never used a peltier on a computer though, off the top of my head it's extremely inefficient in that you needed quite a bit of juice to power the tech and more to cool it. Might as well kill the middle man and just watercool the chip, although I guess they were the step beyond WC for Over clocking, but I never got that far
willyolio 11th January 2008, 09:47 Quote
to be honest, i don't see how this would really help. peltier coolers end up producing more heat in the end. maybe the processor itself might be a tad cooler, but the requirements for airflow and the heatsink would be more demanding.
Arkanrais 11th January 2008, 10:28 Quote
the only concern I have aside from those stated above is: what about interference from the current generated by the Peltiers? is it possible that they could interfere with other components of the die or short circuit with other parts?
mclean007 11th January 2008, 11:02 Quote
"generates electricity"? Surely as soon as you start drawing current from a TEC, its effective thermal resistance increases? You can EITHER use a powered TEC to pump heat, OR you can use the heat differential to generate power. If you could do both at the same time you'd be violating thermodynamics, which is, to put it mildly, a little bit difficult.

I guess you could have it working in a switchable mode, where it was powered to pump heat when the chip got towards its thermal limit, and use it to generate a miniscule amount of power (ultimately never more than a tiny fraction of the chip's power draw) when the chip was less hot, but really I think the value is in efficiently extracting heat from hotspots using it as a powered pump.
Drexial 11th January 2008, 14:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mclean007
"generates electricity"? Surely as soon as you start drawing current from a TEC, its effective thermal resistance increases? You can EITHER use a powered TEC to pump heat, OR you can use the heat differential to generate power. If you could do both at the same time you'd be violating thermodynamics, which is, to put it mildly, a little bit difficult.

I guess you could have it working in a switchable mode, where it was powered to pump heat when the chip got towards its thermal limit, and use it to generate a miniscule amount of power (ultimately never more than a tiny fraction of the chip's power draw) when the chip was less hot, but really I think the value is in efficiently extracting heat from hotspots using it as a powered pump.

This is the part I was confused by and wasn't really explained well.

It's making a claim that its more than 100% efficient.
zoot2boot 14th January 2008, 05:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mclean007
If you could do both at the same time you'd be violating thermodynamics, which is, to put it mildly, a little bit difficult.

lol. look, what you do with the laws of thermo dynamics in the privacy of your own home is best left there and not aired on public discussion boards.
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