Category Archives: Qpedia Thermal eMagazine

Engineering How-To: Choosing the Right Fluid to Use with Cold Plates

By Norman Quesnel, Senior Member of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS)

Liquid cooling systems transfer heat up to four times better than an equal mass of air. This allows higher performance cooling to be provided with a smaller system. A liquid cooled cold plate can replace spaceconsuming heat sinks and fans and, while a liquid cold plate requires a pump, heat exchanger, tubing and plates, there are more placement choices for cold plates because they can be outside the airflow. [1]

One-time concerns over costs and leaking cold plates have greatly subsided with improved manufacturing capabilities. Today’s question isn’t “Should we use liquid cooling?” The question is “What kind of liquid should we use to help optimize performance?”

Figure 1. A Liquid Cooling System for a Desktop PC with Two Cold Plates. [2]

For liquid cold plates, the choice of working fluid is as important as choosing the hardware pieces. The wrong liquid can lead to poor heat transfer, clogging, and even system failure. A proper heat transfer fluid should provide compatibility with system’s metals, high thermal conductivity and specific heat, low viscosity, low freezing point, high flash point, low corrosivity, low toxicity, and thermal stability. [3]

Today, despite many refinements in liquid cold plate designs, coolant options have stayed relatively limited. In many cases, regular water will do, but water-with-additives and other types of fluids are available and more appropriate for certain applications. Here is a look at these coolant choices and where they are best suited.

Basic Cooling Choices

While water provides superior cooling performance in a cold plate, it is not always practical to use because of its low freezing temperature. Additives such as glycol are often needed to change a coolant’s characteristics to better suit a cold plate’s operating environment.

In fact, temperature range requirements are the main consideration for a cold plate fluid. Some fluids freeze at lower temperatures than water, but have lower heat transfer capability. The selected fluid also must be compatible with the cold plate’s internal metals to limit any potential for corrosion.

Table 1 below shows how the most common cold plate fluids match up to the metals in different cold plate designs.

Table 1: Compatibility Match-ups of Common Cold Plate Metals and Cooling Fluids [1]

The choices of cold plate coolants will obviously have varied properties. Some of the differences between fluids are less relevant to optimizing cold plate performance, but many properties should be compared. Tables 2 and 3 show the properties of some common coolants.

Tables 2 and 3. Comparisons of Properties of Typical Electronic Coolants. [4]

An excellent review of common cold plate fluids is provided by Lytron, an OEM of cold plates and other cooling devices. The following condenses fluid descriptions taken from Lytron’s literature. [5]

The most commonly used coolants for liquid cooling applications today are:

  • Water
  • Deionized Water
  • Inhibited Glycol and Water Solutions
  • Dielectric Fluids

Water – Water has high heat capacity and thermal conductivity. It is compatible with copper, which is one of the best heat transfer materials to use for your fluid path. Facility water or tap water is likely to contain impurities that can cause corrosion in the liquid cooling loop and/or clog fluid channels. Therefore, using good quality water is recommended in order to minimize corrosion and optimize thermal performance. If you determine that your facility water or tap water contains a larger percentage of minerals, salts, or other impurities, you can either filter the water or you can opt to purchase filtered or deionized water. [5,6]

Deionized Water – The deionization process removes harmful minerals, salts, and other impurities that can cause corrosion or scale formation. Compared to tap water and most fluids, deionized water has a high resistivity. Deionized water is an excellent insulator, and is used in the manufacturing of electrical components where parts must be electrically isolated. However, as water’s resistivity increases, its corrosivity increases as well. When using deionized water in cold plates or heat exchangers, stainless steel tubing is recommended. [5, 7]

Inhibited Glycol and Water Solutions – The two types of glycol most commonly used for liquid cooling applications are ethylene glycol and water (EGW) and propylene glycol and water (PGW) solutions. Ethylene glycol has desirable thermal properties, including a high boiling point, low freezing point, stability over a wide range of temperatures, and high specific heat and thermal conductivity. It also has a low viscosity and, therefore, reduced pumping requirements. Although EGW has more desirable physical properties than PGW, PGW is used in applications where toxicity might be a concern. PGW is generally recognized as safe for use in food or food processing applications, and can also be used in enclosed spaces. [5, 8]

Dielectric Fluid – A dielectric fluid is non-conductive and therefore preferred over water when working with sensitive electronics. Perfluorinated carbons, such as 3M’s dielectric fluid Fluorinert™, are non-flammable, non-explosive, and thermally stable over a wide range of operating temperatures. Although deionized water is also non-conductive, Fluorinert™ is less corrosive than deionized water. However, it has a much lower thermal conductivity and much higher price. PAO is a synthetic hydrocarbon used for its dielectric properties and wide range of operating temperatures. For example, the fire control radars on today’s jet fighters are liquid-cooled using PAO. For testing cold plates and heat exchangers that will use PAO as the heat transfer fluid, PAO-compatible recirculating chillers are available. Like perfluorinated carbons, PAO has much lower thermal conductivity than water. [5, 9]


Water, deionized water, glycol/water solutions, and dielectric fluids such as fluorocarbons and PAO are the heat transfer fluids most commonly used in high performance liquid cooling applications.

It is important to select a heat transfer fluid that is compatible with your fluid path, offers corrosion protection or minimal risk of corrosion, and meets your application’s specific requirements. With the right chemistry, your heat transfer fluid can provide very effective cooling for your liquid cooling loop.




[3] Mohapatra, Satish C., “An Overview of Liquid Coolants for Electronics Cooling,” ElectronicsCooling, May 2006.

[4] %20Saums%20PPt.pdf



[7] 1AEDP8W5FF



Edge Computing and Thermal Management

By Rebecca O’Day and Norman Quesnel
Senior Members of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS)

Expanding the Internet of Things (IOT) into time-critical applications such as with autonomous vehicles, means finding ways to reduce data transfer latency. One such way, edge computing, places some computing as close to connected devices as possible. Edge computing pushes intelligence, processing power and communication capabilities from a network core to the network edge, and from an edge gateway or appliance directly into devices. The benefits include improved response times and better user experiences.

While cloud computing relies on data centers and communication bandwidth to process and analyze data, edge computing provides a means to lay some work off from centralized cloud computing by taking less compute intensive tasks to other components of the architecture, near where data is first collected. Edge computing works with IoT data collected from remote sensors, smartphones, tablets, and machines. This data must be analyzed and reported on in real time to be immediately actionable. [1]

Edge Computing Architecture Scheme with Both the Computing Power and Latency Decreasing Downwards.
FIgure 1: Edge Computing Architecture Scheme with Both the Computing Power and Latency Decreasing Downwards [2]

In the above edge computing scheme, developed by Inovex, the layers are described as follows:

Cloud: On this layer compute power and storage are virtually limitless. But, latencies and the cost of data transport to this layer can be very high. In an edge computing application, the cloud can provide long-term storage and manage the immediate lower levels.

Edge Node: These nodes are located before the last mile of the network, also known as downstream. Edge nodes are devices capable of routing network traffic and usually possess high compute power. The devices range from base stations, routers and switches to small-scale data centers.

Edge Gateway: Edge gateways are like edge nodes but are less powerful. They can speak most common protocols and manage computations that do not require specialized hardware, such as GPUs. Devices on this layer are often used to translate for devices on lower layers. Or, they can provide a platform for lower-level devices such as mobile phones, cars, and various sensing systems, including cameras and motion detectors.

Edge Devices: This layer is home to small devices with very limited resources. Examples include single sensors and embedded systems. These devices are usually purpose-built for a single type of computation and often limited in their communication capabilities. Devices on this layer can include smart watches, traffic lights and environmental sensors. [2]

Today, edge computing is becoming essential where time-to-result must be minimized, such as in smart cars. Bandwidth costs and latency make crunching data near its source more efficient, especially in complex systems like smart and autonomous vehicles that generate terabytes of telemetry data. [3]

Edge Computing and Thermal Management - Leap Mind's Small Edge Computing Device
Figure 2: A Small Scale Edge Computing Device from LeapMind [4]

Besides vehicles, edge computing examples serving the IoT include smart factories and homes, smartphones, tablets, sensor-generated input, robotics, automated machines on manufacturing floors, and distributed analytics servers used for localized computing and analytics.

Major technologies served by edge computing include wireless sensor networks, cooperative distributed peer-to-peer ad-hoc networking and processing, also classifiable as local cloud/fog computing, distributed data storage and retrieval, autonomic self-healing networks, remote cloud services, augmented reality and virtual reality. [5]

Autonomous Vehicles and Smart Cars

New so-called autonomous vehicles have enough computing hardware they could be considered mobile data centers. They generate terabytes of data every day. A single vehicle running for 14 to 16 hours a day creates 1-5TB of raw data an hour and can produce up to 50TB a day. [6]

A moving self-driving car, sending a live stream continuously to servers, could meet disaster while waiting for central cloud servers to process the data and respond back to it. Edge computing allows basic processing, like when to slow down or stop, to be done in the car itself. Edge computing eliminates the dangerous data latency.

Edge Computing Reduces Data Latency to Optimize Systems in Smart and Autonomous Vehicles
Figure 3: Edge Computing Reduces Data Latency to Optimize Systems in Smart and Autonomous Vehicles [7]

Once an autonomous car is parked, nearby edge computing systems can provide added data for future trips. Processing this close to the source reduces the costs and delays associated with uploading to the cloud. Here, the processing does not occur in the vehicle itself.

Other Edge Computing Applications

Edge computing enables industrial and healthcare providers to bring visibility, control, and analytic insights to many parts of an infrastructure and its operations—from factory shop floors to hospital operating rooms, from offshore oil platforms to electricity production.

Machine learning (ML) benefits greatly from edge computing. All the heavy-duty training of ML algorithms can be done on the cloud and the trained model can be deployed on the edge for near real-time or true real-time predictions.

For manufacturing uses, edge computing devices can translate data from proprietary systems to the cloud. The capability of edge technology to perform analytics and optimization locally, provides faster responses for more dynamic applications, such as adjusting line speeds and product accumulation to balance the line. [8]

Figure 4: EdgeBoard by Baidu is a Computing Solution for Edge-Specific Applications [9]

Edge Computing Hardware

Processing power at the edge needs to be matched to the application and the available power to drive an edge system operation. If machine vision, machine learning and other AI technologies are deployed, significant processing power is necessary. If an application is more modest, such as with digital signage, the processing power may be somewhat less.

Intel’s Xeon D-2100 processor is made to support edge computing. It is a lower power, system on chip version of a Xeon cloud/data server processor. The D-2100 has a thermal design point (TDP) of 60-110W.  It can run the same instruction set as traditional Intel server chips, but takes that instruction set to the edge of the network. Typical edge applications for the Xeon D-2100 include multi-access edge computing (MEC), virtual reality/augmented reality, autonomous driving and wireless base stations. [10]

Figure 5: The D-2100 Processor Dissipates Between 60 -110W. Thermal Management Depends on the Type of Device and Where it is Used [11]

Thermal management of the D-2100 edge focused processor is largely determined by the overall mechanical package the edge application takes. For example, if the application is a traditional 1U server, with sufficient air flow into the package, a commercial off the shelf, copper or aluminum heat sink should provide sufficient cooling.  [11]

Edge Computing Server from ATOS Featuring the Intel Xeon D-2187 Edge CPU Processor
Figure 6: An Edge Computing Server from ATOS Featuring the Xeon D-2187 from Intel’s D-2100 Family of Processors [12]

An example of a more traditional package for edge computing is the ATOS system shown in Figure 6. But, for less common packages, where airflow may be less, more elaborate approaches may be needed. For example, heat pipes may be needed to transport excess processor heat to another part of the system for dissipation.

One design uses a vapor chamber integrated with a heat sink. Vapor chambers are effectively flat heat pipes with very high thermal conductance and are especially useful for heat spreading. In edge hardware applications where there is a small hot spot on a processor, a vapor chamber attached to a heat sink can be an effective solution to conduct the heat off the chip.

Coca Cola's Freestyle Fountain An Edge Computing Example
Figure 7: Coca-Cola’s Freestyle Fountain, a Non-Traditional Edge Computing System, Features an Intel I7 CPU, DRAM, Touchscreen, WiFi and HiDef Display [13]

The Nvidia Jetson AGX Xavier is designed for edge computing applications such as logistics robots, factory systems, large industrial UAVs, and other autonomous machines that need high performance processing in an efficient package.

Nvidia Jetson AGX Xavier Edge Computing and AI Processor
Figure 8: Nvidia’s Jetson AGX Xavier Produces Little Heat But Could Have Thermal Issues in Edge Computing Applications [14]

Nvidia has modularized the package, proving the needed supporting semiconductors and input/output ports. While it looks like if could generate a lot of heat, the module only produces 30W and has an embedded thermal transfer plate. However, any edge computing deployment of this module, where it is embedded into an application, can face excess heat issues. A lack of system air, solar loading, impact of heat from nearby devices can negatively impact a module in an edge computing application.

Nvidia Jetson AGX Xavier Processor Development Kit
Figure 9: Nvidia’s Development Kit for the Jetson AGX Xavier Includes Heat Sink and Heat Pipes [15]

Nvidia considers this in their development kit for this module. It has an integrated thermal management solution featuring a heat sink and heat pipes. Heat is transferred from the module’s embedded thermal transfer plate to the heat pipes then to the heat sink that is part of the solution.

For a given edge computing application, a thermal solution might use heat pipes attached to a metal chassis to dissipate heat. Or it could combine a heat sink with an integrated vapor chamber. Studies by Glover, et al from Cisco have noted that for vapor chamber heat sinks, the thermal resistance value varies from 0.19°C/W to 0.23°C/W for 30W of power. [16]

A prominent use case for edge computing is in the smart factory empowered by the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT). As discussed, cloud computing has drawbacks due to latency, reliability through the communication connections, time for data to travel to the cloud, get processed and return. Putting intelligence at the edge can solve many if not all these potential issues. The Texas Instruments (TI) Sitara family of processors was purpose built for these edge computing machine learning applications.

TI Stara ARM Processors for Edge Computing and IIOT
Figure 10: TI’s Sitara Processors are Design for Edge Computing Machine Learning Applications [17]

Smart factories apply machine learning in different ways. One of these is training, where machine learning algorithms use computation methods to learn information directly from a set of data. Another is deployment. Once the algorithm learns, it applies that knowledge to finding patterns or inferring results from other data sets. The results can be better decisions about how a process in a factory is running.  TI’s Sitara family can execute a trained algorithm and make inferences from data sets at the network edge.

The TI Sitara AM57x devices were built to perform machine learning in edge computing applications including industrial robots, computer vision and optical inspection, predictive maintenance (PdM), sound classification and recognition of sound patterns, and tracking, identifying, and counting people and objects. [18,19]

This level of machine learning processing may seem like it would require sophisticated thermal management, but the level of thermal management required is really dictated by the use case. In development of its hardware, TI provides guidance with the implementation of a straight fin heat sink with thermal adhesive tape on its TMDSIDK574 AM574x Industrial Development Kit board.

TI AM574x Industrial Development Kit
Figure 11: TI TMDSIDK574 AM574x Industrial Development Kit [20]

While not likely an economical production product, it provides a solid platform for the development of many of the edge computing applications that are found in smart factories powered by IIoT. The straight fin heat sink with thermal tape is a reasonable recommendation for this kind of application.

Most edge computing applications will not include a lab bench or controlled prototype environment. They might involve hardware for machine vision (an application of computer vision).  An example of a core board that might be used for this kind of application is the Phytec phyCORE-AM57x. [21]

Phytec phyCORE-AM57x for Machine Vision Applications
Figure 12: The Phytec phyCORE-AM57x Can Be used in Edge Computing Machine Vision Applications [22]

Machine vision being used in a harsh, extreme temperature industrial environment might require not just solid thermal management but physical protection as well.  Such a use case could call for thermal management with a chassis. An example is the Arrow SAM Car chassis developed to both cool and protect electronics used for controlling a car.

Chassis for Automotive Application that Protects Components and Provides Thermal Management
Figure 13: Chassis for Automotive Application that Protects Components and Provides Thermal Management [23]

Another packaging example from the SAM Car is the chassis shown below, which is used in a harsh IoT environment. This aluminum enclosure has cut outs and pockets connecting to the chips on the internal PCB.  The chassis acts as the heat sink and provides significant protection in harsh industrial environments.

SAM Car Electronics and Computing Chassis
Figure 14: Aluminum Chassis with Cut Outs and Pocketts to the Enclosed PCB with Semiconductors [23]

Edge computing cabinetry is small in scale (e.g. less than 10 racks), but powerful in information. It can be placed in nearly any environment and location to provide power, efficiency and reliability without the need for the support structure of a larger white space data center. 

The Jetson TX2 Edge Computing Platform from NVIDIA
Figure 15: The Jetson TX2 Edge Computing Platform from Nvidia [24]

Still, racks used in edge cabinets can use high levels of processing power. The enclosure and/or certain components need a built-in, high-performance cooling system.

Hardware OEMs like Rittal build redundancy into edge systems. This lets other IT assets remain fully functional and operational, even if one device fails. Eliminating downtime of the line, preserving key data and rapid response all contribute to a healthier bottom line.

Although edge computing involves fewer racks, the data needs vital cooling protection. For edge computers located in remote locations, the availability of cooling resources may vary. Rittal provides both water and refrigerant-based options. Refrigerant cooling provides flexible installation, water based cooling brings the advantage of ambient air assist, for free cooling. [25]

Immersion Liquid Cooling from LiquidCool
Figure 16: LiquidCool Immersion Cooling Technology Eliminates the Need for Air Cooling

LiquidCool’s technology collects server waste heat inside a fluid system and transports it to an inexpensive remote outside heat exchanger. Or, the waste heat can be re-purposed. In one IT closet-based edge system, fluid-transported waste heat is used for heating an adjacent room. [26]

Green Revolution Cooling provides ICEtank turnkey data centers built inside ISO shipping containers for edge installations nearly anywhere. The ICEtank containers feature immersion cooling systems. Their ElectroSafe coolant protects against corrosion, and the system removes any need for chillers, CRACs (computer room ACs) and other powered cooling systems. [27]

A Summary Chart of Suggested Cooling for Edge Computing

The following chart summarizes air cooling options for Edge Computing applications:

Figure 17: Edge Computing Air Cooling Options Summary Chart
Figure 17: Edge Computing Air Cooling Options Summary Chart [click for larger version]

The Leading Edge

The edge computing marketplace is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. Edge market revenues are predicted to expand to $6.72 billion by 2022 as it supports a global IoT market expected to top $724 billion by 2023. The accumulation of IoT data, and the need to process it at local collection points, will continue to drive the deployment of edge computing. [28,29]

As more businesses and industries shift from enterprise to edge computing, they are bringing the IT network closer to speed up data communications. There are several benefits, including reduced data latency, increased real-time analysis, and resulting efficiencies in operations and data management. Much critical data also stays local, reducing security risks.


  16. “Glover, G., Chen, Y., Luo, A., and Chu, H., “Thin Vapor Chamber Heat Sink and Embedded Heat Pipe Heat Sink Performance Evaluations”, 25th IEEE Symposium, San Jose, CA USA 2009.

Engineering How-To: Attaching Heat Pipes into an Assembly

Heat pipes are commonly used for cooling electronics by transporting heat from one location to another. They may part of a system that cools a certain very hot component, but they are used, typically in multiples, to bring cooling to electronic assemblies. Here are some common attachment methods used when assembling heat pipe-based cooling applications.

Press Fitting

First, we look at a cooling system where several heat pipes are integrated with a series of cooling metal fins. As shown, the fins may be mechanically press fit over the heat pipes resulting in a structure like that in Figure 1.               

Attached Heat Pipes To An Assembly Figure 1
Figure 1: Stamped Metal Plates Placed Over the Ends of Some Heat Pipes

At this finned end of the assembly the heat transfers from pipe to fins where it dissipates to the air. These fins are typically stamped from sheet metal and the holes stamped through as well. When they’re properly sized, the fins press fit tightly on the raised heat pipes. The heat transfer is normally very good. To optimize thermal transfer, the fins can be soldered to the pipes, but press fitting into tight holes should provide more than sufficient performance.


The other ends of these heat sinks are soldered into grooves in an aluminum plate. (Figure 2) This is an aluminum plate and the heat pipes are copper. In order to solder we need to nickel plate the aluminum. Then we add solder paste into the grooves and then the heat pipes are inserted into the grooves.

How to Attach Heat PIpes to a Heat Pipe Assembly
Figure 2. Heat Pipes Soldered into Grooves on a Nickel-Plated Aluminum Heat Spreading Plate.

The solder paste is usually a low temperature solder paste, typically based on tin bismuth alloys with melt temperature of about 138°C. That’s important because you really can’t bring the heat pipes to more than 250°C or else the water in the heat pipes will boil and the heat pipes will burst. So, during the assembly process you would put the solder paste into these grooves, then insert the heat pipes, and then clamp it with some sort of fixture to maintain the contact.

Then the whole assembly will go through an oven to reflow the solder paste. The reflow oven will precisely control the temperature of the air inside and will also have some kind of circulating fan so that the part heats evenly and quickly. Temperature control in the oven is critical to avoid exceeding the max temperature of the heat pipes. Other reflow methods for heating up an assembly might include a soldering iron, torch or hot air gun. But these methods can be risky and difficult. It is difficult to heat the part evenly and to control the temperature that the heat pipe is being exposed to.

Thermal Epoxies

In a prototype environment you might turn to an epoxy for attaching heat pipes to assemblies. There are number of thermally conductive epoxies available. Their thermal conductivity ranges from 1 to 6 W/mK. When a heat pipe is epoxied into an assembly, the bond line is so thin that it really doesn’t make too much of a temperature difference, even when compared to solder. There might be a few degrees difference which is usually acceptable in a prototype when you’re in testing mode and are aware that there could be a temperature difference of a few degrees. That’s easily calculated from the specs on the epoxy.

Figure 3. Adding Thermal Epoxy to Grooves in a Heat Spreading Plate Prior to Installing Heat Pipes.

To begin the epoxying process, first you either mix your epoxy or use a mixing tube. You apply a thin layer into the groove and then insert the heat pipe. The grooves shown here are for heat pipes that are pre-bent and fit very precisely. Once in place, a flat plate that goes on top and is clamped down during the epoxy curing period.

In the example here, the epoxy has room temperature cure. Once the heat pipes are in and clamped down, the assembly can be conveniently left for a time at room temperature for the epoxy to cure. For a shorter time, the assembly can go into an oven at a high temperature – not a soldering temperature, but still hot enough that it will accelerate the cure time.      

Figure 4A. With Deep Enough Grooves, Heat Pipes Are Same Level as the Plate Surface for Better Thermal Contact with a Board.
Figure 4B. With Deep Enough Grooves, Heat Pipes Are Same Level as the Plate Surface for Better Thermal Contact with a Board.

When embedding heat pipes into a surface a good practice is to machine the grooves slightly deeper than the heat pipes are. Then, you can create a fixture that is like a negative of this plate with raised areas where those heat pipes. Such a fixture will press the heat pipes down into those grooves. After they’re epoxied or soldered in the assembly the heat pipes and base will be at the same height for optimum thermal contact.

In this kind of application, flat heat pipes should be used. They can maximize the surface contact area where there are hot components. And in applications where the components do not come in direct contact with the pipe it’s often easier to use round heat pipes. This is because round heat pipes are easier to bend and have slightly better thermal performance than the flat heat pipes. So whenever possible we use the round heat pipes, but when they are embedded into a surface and they have contact with the components then we use the flat heat pipes.

For More Information

The above article is taken from a descriptive video by Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. that you can find on the ATS YouTube page at:

Industry Developments: Cooling QSFP Optical Transceivers

By Norman Quesnel
Senior Member of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.

Rapid advancements in fiber optic technology have increased transfer rates from 10GbE to 40/100GbE within data centers. With the emergence of 100GbE technologies, the creation of data center network architectures free from bandwidth constraints has been made possible. The major enabler of this performance increase is the QSFP optical transceiver.

QSFP is the Quad (4-channel) Small Form-Factor Pluggable optical transceiver standard. A QSFP transceiver interfaces a network device, e.g. switch, router, media converter, to a fiber optic or copper cable connection as part of a Fast Ethernet LAN.

The QSFP design became an industry standard via the Small Form Factor Committee in 2009. Since then, the format has steadily evolved to enable higher data rates. Today, the QSFP MSA (multi-source agreement) specification supports Ethernet, Fibre Channel (FC), InfiniBand and SONET/SDH standards with different data rate options.


Fig. 1. The Small QSFP Form Factor Allows More Connectors and Bandwidth than Other Fiber Optic Transceiver Formats. Note the Cooling Fins on Each Receiver Device. [1]

Thermal Issues

The small QSFP form factor has significantly increased the number of ports per package. The increased density of transceivers can lead to heat issues. The optical modules can get hot due to their use of lasers to transmit data. Even though the popular QSFP28 provides lower power dissipation than earlier transceivers – abut 3.5W, the QSFP28 factor has also allowed a significant increase in port density.

Newer microQSFPs can dissipate even more heat. microQSFP interconnects fit more ports (up to 72) on a standard line card, saving significant design space.

Fig 2. Air Gap Locations Shown in Thermal Specifications Feature on QSFP. Top: QSFP at the Inside Edge of a Cage, Bottom: QSFP Section Showing Typical Internal Layout. [2]

The performance and longevity of the transceiver lasers depend on the ambient temperature they operate in and the thermal characteristics of the packaging of these devices. The typical thermal management approach combines heat dissipating fins, e.g. heat sinks, and directed airflow.

Fig 3. Test set-up of different heat sink designs on QSFP28 connector cages. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Recently, Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) tested a variety of pin and fin-style heat sinks for their comparative cooling performance on a standard QSFP connector cage. For this setup, an even amount of heat was provided to each connector site via a heater block. Individual thermocouples measured the heat flux resulting with the different heat sink types.

A main goal of this test was how each of four heat sinks would perform while relying on airflow incoming from just one side. By the time it reached the fourth heat sink would the airflow provide enough conduction for adequate cooling? An image from this series of tests is below in Figure 4.

Fig. 4. Test Setup to measure cooling performance of individual heat sinks on a QSFP connector cage when airflow is from one side only. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

The tests results showed that the denser the heat sink pins or fins on the sink closest to the incoming air, the hotter the farthest away QSFP will be. Thus, the best solution used heat sinks whose pin/fin layouts were optimized to work in the actual airflow reaching them.

This meant more open layouts closer to the air source, allowing more air to reach denser pin/fin sinks farther from the air. The non-homogeneous heat sinks allowed for a low, uniform temperature across the QSFP for the most effective function of the QSFPs’ lasers.


Cooling solutions are different between QSFP28 designs and microQSFP installations. QSFP28 transceiver cooling is typically provided at multiple connector sites. microQSFP modules, e.g. from TE Connectivity, have an integrated heat sink in the individual optical module. Used with connection cages that are optimized for airflow, their heat is controlled in high density applications.

Fig. 5. Integrated Module Thermal Solution (Fins) on microQSFPs Provides Better Thermal Performance and Uses Less Energy for Air Cooling. [3]

Fig. 6. A Video Demo from TE Connectivity Shows 72 Ports of microQSFP Transceivers Units Running at 5W Each and All Kept Under 55°C Temperature Using 82 CFM Airflow. [4]

Finally, another factor affecting cooling performance is surface finish and flatness. Designers can reduce thermal spreading losses by keeping the heat sources close to the thermal interface area and by increasing the thermal conductivity of the case materials.

For QSFP, the size of the cage hole for heat sink contact given in the multi-source agreement (MSA) can be increased giving a reduction in the thermal interface resistance and therefore module temperature.

3. microQSFP,
4. TE Connectivity,

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) thermal management consulting and design services, visit or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or

Applications of Vapor Chambers in Thermal Management of Electronics

The use of vapor chambers in the thermal management of electronics has grown exponentially since Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) first wrote seven years ago about their ability to spread heat uniformly across the base of a heat sink, reducing the spreading resistance and enhancing the heat sink’s heat transfer capabilities when applied to high-powered components.

In a two-part series published originally in 2010 and based on an article from Qpedia Thermal eMagazine entitled, “Vapor Chambers and Their Use in Thermal Management,” it was explained that “a vapor chamber (VC) is basically a flat heat pipe that can be part of the base of a heat sink. It is vacuumed and then injected with just enough liquid (e.g. water) to wet the wick.” [1]

Similar to heat pipes, “The heat source causes the liquid to vaporize on the evaporator side. The resulting pressure increase in this area forces the vapor into the condenser side, which is the base of the heat sink. Here, the vapor transfers the heat to the heat sink, and it then condenses back to liquid. The liquid is pumped back to the base through the capillary action of the wick structure.”

In Fig. 1, two heat sinks are shown. One has a solid base and the other has a vapor chamber in its base and it is clear from the temperature distribution that the vapor chamber spreads out the heat across the base and distributes heat to a larger portion of the heat sink.

As the original article explained, “The very high equivalent thermal conductivity of the vapor chamber has spread the heat uniformly, leading to more efficiency from the heat sink.”

Vapor Chambers

Figure 1. Schematic View of Heat Sinks with (a) Solid Base and (b) Vapor Chamber Base. [1]

The second article runs through some of the equations that define the effective thermal conductivity of the wicking structure inside the vapor chamber and the impact that changing the wick material can have on its efficiency.

“This article shows that while a vapor chamber presents exciting technology, some calculations should be made to justify its use,” it continued. “In some situations, a solid copper block might provide better thermal performance than a vapor chamber. To use a vapor chamber instead of solid copper must be justified, for example, to reduce weight.

Another issue with vapor chambers presented by the article was that “some vapor chambers have a power limit of 500 watts. Exceeding this value might cause a dry out, as with a heat pipe, and could increase the vapor temperature and the pressure. The increase in internal pressure can deform the VC surfaces, or cause leakage from the welded joints.”

The study of vapor chambers has developed in the past seven years and, although some of the same issues remain, they are now thinner and lighter than ever and engineers are finding many new ways of incorporating them into cooling systems. Vapor chambers are now frequently used in applications ranging from hard drive disk cooling, PC cooling (not just for gamers and overclockers, but also for office computers), graphic card cooling, server cooling, high heat flux chips (IGBT and MOSFET), LED, and in consumer products (particularly mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets).

In addition to the benefits explained above, vapor chambers are critical in applications where height is limited, which is an increasing problem in today’s era of miniaturization, and where power densities are high. Vapor chambers are also important in applications where there are hotspots, where weight is a concern, and where there is a high ambient temperature or low airflow.

Hard Drive Disk Cooling

Several manufacturers in the hard drive market have turned to vapor chambers because of increases in spindle speed. In the past, many manufacturers and designers limited the thermal management of hard drives to using the aluminum case as a heat sink to dissipate the excess heat from the device, but as drives began working at 7,200 RPM and higher another option was required to ensure the reliability and longevity of the drive. [2]

A 2013 study that was published in International Communications in Heat and Mass Transfer explored the use of vapor chambers to cool hard drives in personal computers. The researchers found that adding vapor chambers to the cooling system could reduce the hard drive temperature by as much as 15.21%. [3]

Gaming, Overclocking, Personal Computing

The gaming and overclocking community has turned towards liquid cooling in recent years, as evidenced by a recent survey from KitGuru that showed 51% of its readers had already or would shortly be using liquid cooling for their personal computers. [4] While there is a trend in that direction, just under half (49%) of the respondents were also sticking with convection cooling options and many companies are incorporating vapor chamber technology in elaborate cooling devices (many with fans and heat pipes) for the PC market.

Cooler Master has introduced the V8 GTS CPU Air Cooler, which strongly resembles a car engine and has a horizontal vapor chamber and eight heat pipes. [5] The vapor chamber spreads the heat evenly from hotspots in the CPU and the heat pipes draw that heat into the tower’s heat sink.

Vapor Chambers

The Cooler Master GTS V8 has a distinct car engine look and uses vapor chambers, heat pipes, and heat sinks to cool PCs. (Cooler Master/YouTube)

ID Cooling has introduced several products that boast vapor chamber technology, including the HUNTER, and FI (which stands for Finland) Series CPU coolers. [6] Even gaming systems have gotten into the act with the recently announced, high-powered Xbox One Scorpio expected to include a vapor chamber array as part of its thermal management. [7] Microsoft’s announcement that it was using vapor chambers in Project Scorpio was not surprising because of the technology’s ability to fit into the tight confines of the gaming system.

Microsoft’s Project Scorpio introduced a new, higher-powered gaming system that required an array of vapor chambers to keep it cool. (Microsoft)

Also, the increasing capabilities and power of next-generation graphics cards has led to a trend in the industry to use vapor chambers as part of a package to cool these components. Nvidia is one of the biggest names in graphic cards and for both the Titan X and the GeForce GTX 1080 (each launched in 2016) vapor chamber are used with a blower to dissipate the increased power of the devices. [8]

It is not only the gaming community that is benefiting from vapor chamber cooling. Hewlett Packard (HP) has also explored using vapor chambers for multiple purposes. HP released a white paper last year about using 3-D vapor chambers in its Z Coolers to enhance their thermal efficiency as well as reduce the acoustic impact of the fans. [9] Also last year, HPE Labs released a study of vapor chambers for cooling multiple chip modules dissipating 250 W and operating temperatures up to 45°C and found that “VC (vapor chamber) performs better for: high power, power density, off center or asymmetric heat sources.” [10]

Server Cooling

Much like in graphic cards or gaming systems, vapor chambers are increasingly used in server cooling applications because their size and weight allows them to fit into tight spaces, particularly in applications with high component density. For example, Rugged has released an M120 1-U server rack that includes vapor chambers to spread the heat evenly and high-speed fans to pull the heat out of the system. [11]

A study by Aavid Thermacore from the 2007 ASME InterPACK Conference explained that in blade processors that need to dissipate 100-300 W with heat sinks lower than 30 mm, vapor chambers could be used as the base of the heat sink to improve effective spreading and improve performance by 25-30%. [12] Radian’s Intel Skylake heat sink that is intended for server chips installed in a 1-U chassis put this into practice with a vapor chamber in its base that enhances the effective thermal conductivity of the stamped aluminum fins. [13]

Radian’s Intel Skylake heat sink uses a vapor chamber in the base to evenly spread the heat and improve the heat transfer through the fins of the heat sink. (Radian)

For more on the topic of vapor chambers as heat sink bases, read

LED Cooling

A more recent development in the use of vapor chambers is their inclusion in LED packages. A 2016 study from the 37th International Electronic Manufacturing Technology Conference outlined the use of vapor chambers along with finned heat sinks in the thermal management of LED to enhance the thermal performance and provide a “more economical” process than making the heat sink larger or using more expensive materials. [14]

Advanced Cooling Technologies (ACT) also released a case study about cooling high-powered LED applications, such as ultraviolet (UV) cutting devices, which said, “Vapor Chambers are an important tool in LED thermal management, since they act as flux transformers, spreading the high input heat flux over the entire surface of the vapor chamber. This allows the heat to be removed from the vapor chamber by conventional cooling methods.” [15] ACT added that it developed C.T.E matched vapor chambers that allow for direct bonding with the LED and “dissipate heat fluxes as high as 700 W/cm2 and 2kW overall.”

Vapor chambers are also being used in automotive LED applications to prevent failures by spreading the heat quickly from the source. A study from the 2011 International Heat Pipe Symposium found that a vapor chamber with distilled water dropped the LED temperature from 112.7°C to 80.7°C, reduced thermal resistance by 56%, and reached steady state faster than conventional systems. [16]

Mobile Devices

The most obvious market for vapor chambers is mobile devices. Last fall, the news was filled with stories about Samsung cell phone batteries reaching thermal runaway and airplane passengers being forced to turn off the phones for concern about a midair fire. With their thin design and low weight, vapor chambers can be used to spread the heat quickly from batteries or high-powered processors in phones, laptops, tablets, etc. and reduce the risk for catastrophic failures.

A 2016 study from the International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer described vapor chambers being used to reduce hotspots to improve the comfort of users, which is a problem unique to mobile devices. [17] The researchers proposed a “biporous condenser-side wick design” that “facilitates a thicker vapor core, and thereby reduces the condenser surface peak-to-mean temperature difference by 37% relative to a monolithic wick structure.”

A recent story from EE Times noted that the combined shipments of mobile devices was expected to decline in 2017, marking the third straight year of reduced shipments [18], but with companies expending resources to develop 5G technology there is still a need for superior cooling options moving forward and vapor chambers appear to be a perfect fit in mobile thermal management systems.

[1] “Vapor Chambers in Thermal Management”, Qpedia Thermal eMagazine, Sept. 2007.
[3] P. Naphon. S. Wongwises, and S. Wiriyasart, “Application of two-phase vapor chamber technique for hard disk drive cooling of PCs,” International Communications in Heat and Mass Transfer, January 2013.
[8] and
[14] K.S. Ong, C.F. Tan, K.C. Lai, K.H. Tan, and R. Singh, “Thermal management of LED with vapor chamber and thermoelectric cooling,” 37th International Electronic Manufacturing Technology Conference, 2016.
[16] Ji Won Yeo, Hyun Jik Lee, Soo Jung Ha, et al., “Development of Cooling System of LED Headlamp for Vehicle Using Vapor Chamber Type Heat Pipe,” 10th International Heat Pipe Symposium, November 2011.
[17] GauravPatankar, Justin A.Weibel, and Suresh V.Garimella, “Patterning the condenser-side wick in ultra-thin vapor chamber heat spreaders to improve skin temperature uniformity of mobile devices,” International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, October 2016.

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) thermal management consulting and design services, visit or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or