Keeping Cool When Things Heat Up

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May 14, 2019

Keeping Cool When Things Heat Up

Methods of Cooling Ruggedized Mission Systems

All computer systems put out a certain amount of heat. The more energy they consume, the more heat they put out. The desktop or laptop computer you use was most likely designed to operate in a home or office environment and probably has a small fan that kicks on if it starts getting too hot. The fan draws in cooler ambient air and directs it across the computer chips inside the box to cool them down. This is called convection cooling, and it works great as long as the air is fairly cool, clean, and dry.

However, rugged computers designed for military applications face unique heat challenges because they must be able operate in the most extreme environments, such as hot deserts, muggy jungles, foggy seas, and high altitudes where the air is thin.

Over the years, the engineers and developers who build these systems have developed interesting ways of cooling them. One of these methods is called conduction cooling. That means the transfer of heat from one solid to another. This technique uses a cold plate placed firmly against the hot chip. The heat automatically moves from the chip to the plate in effect cooling the chip down.

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This process works fine – up to a point. But as time goes on, these rugged computer systems are required to be more and more powerful, and remember: the more power they consume, the more heat they put out. At a certain point, conduction cooling isn’t enough.

Thankfully, there are other methods of cooling you can use. Some of these methods use air, but they make sure that the air doesn’t come in contact directly with the chips or circuits. Some use liquids, like water or, more likely, special chemicals designed for cooling that are five times more effective at cooling than air. Special care has to be taken to avoid leaks in the system, however.

The important thing to remember is that when designing a rugged computer system, don’t just think of the heat of each individual card. Consider the combined heat of the entire system on a whole, as well. One reason Curtiss-Wright is a trusted, proven leader in system integration is because we have the experience to approach each design challenge as an entire system, choosing the components and solutions that best meet the requirements of the finished product.

You can learn more about thermal management of ruggedized systems by reading our Thermal Management in Rugged Computer Systems white paper.

Eric Harper

Eric Harper

Product Marketing Manager

Eric Harper is a Product Marketing Manager for Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions. He has worked for several magazines reviewing computer networking products, written several books on computer networking, and has held marketing roles at various networking, software, and security companies.

Thermal Management in Rugged Computer Systems from Electronic Design

As rugged computer systems designed for military programs grow more powerful and more complex, keeping these systems cool under harsh conditions becomes more challenging.