Introduction to IC Thermal Management and Heat Transfer

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Mechanical Engineers Tackle IC Thermal Management

[Updated February 10, 2018]

Mechanical Engineers Tackle IC Thermal Management

Modern consumer and commercial computer platforms need to cope with many constraints in power efficiency and user experience, while delivering optimum performance and long-term reliability. The maximum steady-state power of system design continues to challenge thermal engineers. The thermal design power (TDP) is a key issue for ICs. Depending on the type of workload, a well-designed platform allocates resources dynamically for the best user experience and power efficiency.  Semiconductor design, often the bailiwick of electricial engineers, also involves non logic or circuit related deign such as complex thermal management and heat transfer.  These thermal problems are better dealt with by mechanical engineers trained in the necessary subjects: heat transfer, finite element analysis, and computational thermal dynamics. 

Accurate thermal sensing is critical both for managing reliability factors in thermally constrained IC’s, and for enabling efficient use of thermal headroom to maximize performance in a power constrained infrastructure. As the critical dimensions continue to shrink, the analog sensor (typically a forward-biased p-n junction) performance continues to degrade. Calibration errors and long-term analog drift, as well as noise and electrical interference limit measurement accuracy.  Modern devices now have many thermal sensors, feeding data to complex algorithms, in order to “turbo-charge” or over-clock the chip. An accurate thermal model of a device helps to ensure that the algorithms can safely increase the clock speed to maximize performance as needed.  

Additionally, due to placement constraints, CMOS temperature sensors cannot always be optimally-located and often are not able to track hot-spot temperatures. 

The industry needs to find methods to

  • make these measurements accurate,
  • make good estimates in locations where one cannot place a sensor,
  • create better thermal models of the chip
  • make best use of this information or optimize the clock speed vs. temperature 

There are multiple challenges in accomplishing these objectives that now perplex industry.  Glew Engineering is at the forefront of developing solutions for IC thermal management.

Integrated Circuit (IC) thermal management is a core competency of Glew Engineering.  We have expertise in problem solving within the integrated circuit itself or the system on chip, SoC .  We can help with developing efficient statistical methodology to combine thermal temperature and power measurements in multiple locations to produce accurate estimates of overall temperature field in a chip.  We can also assist the system makers by making the best decisions for system thermal management based on this information.


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