Thermal Management for High-Performance Embedded Computing

October 01, 2018

Thermal Management for High-Performance Embedded Computing

Excerpts below from article published in Military & Aerospace Electronics
Authored by: John Keller, Editor

It’s long been a given in the electronics industry that computing power doubles roughly every two years — sometimes even faster. Although this maxim, referred to as Moore’s Law, still holds true today, some industry experts worry that an inability to remove heat from electronics eventually could bring Moore’s Law to an abrupt halt.

Integrated circuits in high-performance embedded computing (HPEC) systems are shrinking; that’s also part of Moore’s Law, which says the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years. Increasing numbers of transistors in relatively small and cramped spaces means waste heat and lots of it. If Moore’s Law is to continue further into the 21st Century, then it’s up to engineers who specialize in a variety of disciplines to safeguard the ability to remove heat from embedded systems, while keeping pace with ever-more-powerful computer processors.

On the face of it, removing waste heat from high-performance embedded computers is a straightforward process; it involves transferring heat from processors and other hot components inside an enclosure to a cold wall nearby using conduction, blown air, liquid, or a combination of these approaches.

Electronics cooling only is straightforward, however, in the abstract; the real engineering challenges are in the details, where factors like shock and vibration, high altitudes, dust and dirt, salt spray, humidity, and many others come into play. Thermal-management techniques that work at sea level might not at 40,000 feet. Blown air might be insufficient in the desert heat or on an airport tarmac. The list goes on.

Despite many aerospace and defense applications with pressing thermal-management issues, and a growing number of approaches for removing heat, there’s still one constant: a growing amount of waste heat and the imperative to get rid of it.

“In HPEC it’s really the same old story it has been in the past 15 to 20 years: power is going up, and power density is going up,” says Ivan Straznicky, chief technology officer of advanced packaging at the Curtiss-Wright Corp. Defense Solutions division in Ashburn, Va. More power in tighter spaces means the thermal-management problem is here to stay.

On a hopeful note, embedded computing architectures themselves do not pose the dire heat threat today that they did only a few years ago, Straznicky points out. Central processing units (CPUs), graphics processing units (GPUs), and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) — all crucial technologies in today’s HPEC architectures — simply may not be generating heat at the rates they used to. “It’s not as much of a problem because there are more and more CPU, GPU, and FPGA cores, so the heat load is spread over more cores. It is one glimmer of hope in thermal management.”

Read the full article here

Ivan Straznicky

Ivan Straznicky

Technical Fellow

Ivan Straznicky, P.Eng. is CTO Advanced Packaging and a Technical Fellow at Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He received his Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from McGill University and is a Certified Advanced Technology Manager. His responsibilities include the entire scope of advanced packaging technologies for the company’s products. Ivan has over 30 years of experience in the defense and aerospace industry in manufacturing, engineering, technology, and management.

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