Tag Archives: heat sinks

How Do Heat Sink Materials Impact Performance

By Michael Haskell, Thermal Engineer
and Norman Quesnel, Senior Member of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.

(This article was featured in an issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication produced by Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) dedicated to the thermal management of electronics. To get the current issue or to look through the archives, visit http://www.qats.com/Qpedia-Thermal-eMagazine.)

Heat Sink Materials

This article examines the difference in thermal performance between copper, aluminum, and graphite foam heat sinks. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Introduction

As thermal solutions for today’s electronics grow more challenging, demand rises for novel cooling ideas or materials. As a result, the proven methods of analytical calculations, modeling and laboratory testing are sometimes bypassed for a quick “cure-all” solution. Evolutionary progress is required of the thermal industry, of course. But, despite the urgency to introduce new ideas and materials, thorough testing should be performed in determining the thermal performance of a solution before it is implemented.

This article addresses the impact of material choice on heat sink performance. First, an evaluation of different materials is made in a laboratory setting, using mechanical samples and a research quality wind tunnel. This testing compares a constant heat sink geometry made from copper, aluminum, and graphite foam. Next, an application-specific heat sink study is presented using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software.

In this study, a heat sink was designed in 3D CAD to cool a dual core host processor. The performance of both an aluminum and copper design was then evaluated using CFD.

Laboratory Tests of Copper, Aluminum, and Graphite Foam

The stated thermal properties of engineered graphite foams have enhanced their consideration as heat sink materials. Yet, the literature is void of a true comparison of these materials with copper and aluminum. To evaluate graphite foam as a viable material for heat sinks, a series of tests were conducted to compare the thermal performance of geometrically identical heat sinks made of copper, aluminum, and graphite foam respectively.

Testing was conducted in a research quality laboratory wind tunnel where the unducted air flow was consistent with typical applications.

(The results for ducted and jet impingement flows, though similar to the unducted case, will be presented in a future article along with a secondary graphite foam material.)

Test Procedure

Earlier foam experiments by Coursey et al. [1] used solder brazing to affix a foam heat sink to a heated component. The solder method reduced the problematic interfacial resistance when using foams, due to their porous nature. Directly bonding the heat sink to a component has two potential drawbacks. First, the high temperatures common in brazing could damage the electrical component itself.

The other issue concerns the complicated replacement or rework of the component. Due to the low tensile strength of foam (Table 1) a greater potential for heat sink damage occurs than with aluminum or copper [2]. If the heat sink is damaged or the attached component needs to be serviced, direct bonding increases the cost of rework.

Table 1. Thermal and Mechanical Properties of the Heat Sink Materials. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

To avoid these problems, the foam heat sink can be soldered to an aluminum or copper carrier plate. This foam-and-plate assembly can then be mounted to a component in a standard fashion. The carrier plate allows sufficient pressure to be applied to the interface material, ensuring low contact resistance.

In this study, the heat sinks were clamped directly to the test component without a carrier plate as a baseline for all three materials. Shin-Etsu X23 thermal grease was used as an interface material to fill the porous surface of the foam and reduce interfacial resistance. Five J-type thermocouples were placed in the following locations: upstream of the heat sink to record ambient air temperatures, in the heater block, in the center of the heat sink base, at the edge of the heat sink base, and in the tip of the outermost fin.

Heat Sink Material

Figure 1. Test Heat Sink Drawing. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

A thin film heater was set at 10 watts during all testing, and the heat source area was 25 mm x 25 mm, or one quarter of the overall sink base area, as shown in Figure 1. Both cardboard and FR-4 board were used to insulate the bottom of the heater, The estimated value of Ψjb is 62.5°C/W. Throughout testing, the value of Ψjb was 36–92 times greater than that of Ψja.

Results

As expected, the traditional copper and aluminum heat sinks performed similarly. The main difference was due to the higher thermal conductivity of copper, which reduced spreading resistance. During slow velocity flow conditions, the lower heat transfer rate means that convection thermal resistance makes up a large portion of the overall Θja.

Heat Sink Materials

Table 2. Test Heat Sink Geometry. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Heat Sink Materials

Figure 2. Experimental Heater and Measurement Setup. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

As flow speed increases, the convection resistance decreases, and the internal heat sink conduction resistance is more of a factor in the overall Θja value. This behavior is evident in the table below, and when comparing the different heat sink materials. The graphite heat sink’s thermal performance was only 12% lower than aluminum at low flow rates. However, the performance difference increased to 25-30% as the flow rate increased (Table 3).

Heat Sink Materials

Table 3. Specific Thermal Test Results. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Due to the lack of a solder joint, the foam heat sink experienced a larger interfacial resistance when compared to the solid heat sinks. This difference can be seen when comparing ΨHEATER-BASE in Table 3. To decouple the effect of interfacial resistance ΨBASE-AIR can be calculated. When ignoring interfacial resistance in this manner foam performs within 1% of aluminum at 1.5 m/s, and within 15% at 3.5 m/s.

Heat Sink Materials

Figure 3. Heat Sink Thermal Resistance as a Function of Velocity. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Graphite foam-derived heat sinks show promise in specific applications, but exhibit several drawbacks in mainstream electronics cooling. Due to the frail nature of graphite foam, unique precautions must be taken during the handling and use of these heat sinks. When coupled to a copper base plate, graphite foam can perform with acceptably small spreading resistances.

However, the foam’s lower thermal conductivity reduces thermal performance at high flow velocities compared to a traditional copper heat sink.

The mechanical attachment needed to ensure acceptable thermal interface performance without soldering or brazing also hinders foam-based heat sinks from being explored in mainstream applications. Despite these challenges, the thermal performance-to-weight ratio of foam is very attractive and well-suited to the aerospace and military industries, where cost and ease of use come second to weight and performance.

Thermal Software Comparison of Aluminum and Copper Heat Sinks

A challenging thermal application was considered. This involved the use of a dual core host processor on a board with limited footprint area for a heat sink of sufficient size. A heat sink with a stepped base was designed to clear onboard components. It provided sufficient surface area to dissipate heat (Figure 4).

Due to the complexity of the heat sink, machining a test sample from each material was not practical. Instead, CFD was used to predict the performance difference between the two materials and determine if the additional cost of copper was warranted.

Heat Sink Materials

Figure 4. Stepped Base maxiFLOW™ Heat Sink (ATS). (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Because of the stepped base and a long heat conduction path, spreading resistance was a major factor in the overall thermal resistance. The effect of copper in place of aluminum due to its higher thermal conductivity (400 and 180 W/m*K respectively) is shown in Table 4. The CFD software predicted a 21% improvement using copper in place of aluminum. More importantly, it reduced the processor case temperature below the required goal of 95°C.

The performance improvement with copper is due to the reduced spreading resistance from the processor die to the heat sink fins. This effect is shown in Figure 5, where the base temperatures of both heat sinks are obtained from the CFD analysis and plotted together. The aluminum heat sink shows a hotter center base temperature and a more pronounced drop off in temperature along the outer fins. The copper heat sink spreads the heat to all fins in a more even fashion, increasing the overall efficiency of the design. This temperature distribution can be seen in Figures 6 and 7, which were created using CFDesign software.

Heat Sink Materials

Figure 5. Effect of Heat Sink Material on Temperature Distribution. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Heat Sink Materials

Figure 6. Aluminum Stepped Base maxiFLOW™ Heat Sink Simulation. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Heat Sink Materials

Figure 7. Copper Stepped Base maxiFLOW™ Heat Sink Simulation. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Conclusion

Design engineers have many materials at their disposal to meet the challenging thermal needs of modern components. Classic materials such as aluminum and copper are joined by new technologies that bring improvements in cost, weight, or conductivity. The choice between a metallic, foam or plastic heat sink can be difficult because thermal conductivity provides the only available information to predict performance.

The first method for determining material selection is a classic thermodynamics problem: what effect does conductivity have on the overall thermal resistance in my system? Only once this is answered can the benefits of cost, weight, and manufacture be addressed.

References

1. Coursey, J., Jungho, K., and Boudreaux, P. Performance of Graphite Foam Evaporator for Use in Thermal Management, Journal of Electronics Packaging, June 2005.
2. Klett, J., High Conductivity Graphitic Foams, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2003.

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

#WeOwnTheBoard: ATS Has Thermal Solutions to Cover the Whole Board

We Own The Board

Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) has an extensive line of heat sinks and board level thermal solutions that allow ATS engineers to work with industry-leading components and solve the industry’s toughest thermal challenges. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) has an extensive product line of innovative, off-the-shelf and custom heat sinks and attachments that provides the broadest range of designs to meet the demanding thermal challenges presented by today’s high-powered electronics. Led by its patented maxiFLOW™, which provides the highest thermal performance for physical volume it occupies compared to other heat sinks on the market, ATS has a solution to meet any thermal problem.

In addition, ATS engineers have world-renowned expertise in thermal management and are capable of designing liquid and air cooling solutions using heat sinks, heat pipes, heat exchangers, fans, and cold plates. ATS has more than two decades of solving the industry’s toughest thermal challenges and have a proven record of success in handling the industry’s leading components.

From the latest generation of Intel processors to Altera’s high-powered Stratix FPGA to Qualcomm’s ARM processors to Texas Instruments, Nvidia, NXP, Cavium, and many more, ATS has the experience, the analytical capability, and the products to provide you with the necessary thermal management.

Board Level Solutions

maxiFLOW™ – maxiFLOW™ heat sink design provides the highest thermal performance for the physical volume that it occupies as compared to other heat sink designs. maxiFLOW™ heat sinks are ideally suited to meet the thermal requirements of a broad range of electronics packages, including: BGA, QFP, LCC, LGA, CLCC, TSOP, DIPs and LQFP.

Straight Fin – ATS offers a large variety of high performance Straight fin heat sinks that can be used in many applications where the direction of the airflow is clearly defined. The straight fin heat sink can be utilized in areas where the maxiFLOW™ flair-fanned cannot be used, providing an excellent alternative for cooling thermally sensitive devices.

Cross-Cut – Electronics packages are numerous and range from BGA, QFP, LCC, LGA, CLCC, TSOP, DIPs, LQFP and many others. ATS offers a large variety of cross cut heat sinks that can be used in a variety of applications where the direction of the airflow is ambiguous. The cross cut allow for the heat sink to receive air from any direction.

Pin Fin – Electronics packages are numerous and range from BGA, QFP, LCC, LGA, CLCC, TSOP, DIPs, LQFP and many others. ATS offers a large variety of cross cut heat sinks that can be used in a variety of applications where the direction of the airflow is ambiguous. The cross cut tape on allow for the heat sink to receive air from any direction and can be easily attached to the device by a thermally conductive tape.

fanSINK™ – In many electronic systems, such as telecomm and datacom chassis, or 1U, 2U servers and blades, the system air flow rate is not adequate for cooling of high power devices. Therefore, additional air flow introduced at the device level is required. ATS offers a large family of fanSINK™ products for applications where FPGA or ASICs in BGA packages are deployed. ThefanSINK™ can be either clipped on to the device by maxiGRIP™ or superGRIP™ heat sink attachment technologies or taped on.

Power Brick – DC/DC power converters are an essential part of PCB design and their performance requires a stable temperature for optimum performance. ATS has produced a broad array of high performance power brick heat sinks, based off of the patented maxiFLOW™ design, to effectively cool DC/DC power converters and power modules deployed in a host of electronics applications. ATS’ power brick heat sinks are available in full, half, quarter and eighth packaging.

pushPIN™ – With over 108K different push pin heat sink assembly configurations, ATS offers the largest push pin heat sink offering in the market. Select from fine and ultra-fine pitch heat sinks designed for high velocity air flows and coarse pitch heat sinks for low velocity air flow conditions. Offered in straight fin, cross-cut and the ultra performance maxiFLOW™ fin geometries, ATS pushPIN™ heat sink line is suited to meet a wide variety of applications for components ranging in size from 25mm-70mm. Push pins are offered in brass and plastic and are packaged with different compression springs to achieve precise force required for secure attachment.

blueICE™ (Ultra Low Profile) – In many electronics systems, such as Telecomm, Datacomm, Biomedical equipment and others, card-to-card spacing is small, yet stringent thermal requirements remain the same. Electronics packages such as BGA, QFP, LCC, LGA, CLCC, TSOP, DIP, LQFP are commonly used with stringent thermal requirements in a tight space with limited airflow. Ultra low profile heat sinks offered by ATS range from 2 to 7mm in height and are ideally suited for tight-space application electronics since they offer the best thermal performance. Their thermal resistance is as low as 1.23° C/W within an air velocity of 600 ft/min.

Standard Board Level – ATS’ high quality, low cost, aluminum stamped heat sinks are ideal for low power thermal management solutions. The simple design and manufacturing of these heat sinks allows high volume manufacturing and reducing assembly costs. Stamped heat sinks are ideally used for TO packages and other power devices.

Extrusions – Aluminum extrusions are the most cost-effective solutions for the majority of electronic cooling applications. ATS offers a wide variety of aluminum profiles used for heat sink fabrication and other aluminum applications. Whether you are seeking a standard extrusion profile or the expertise from our design team to create a new and innovative profile, ATS has the capabilities and expertise to meet your requirements.

Heat Sink Attachments

superGRIP™ – superGRIP™ is a two component attachment system which quickly and securely mounts heat sinks to a wide range of components, without needing to drill holes in the PCB. superGRIP™ provides a strong, even attachment force with minimal space required around the components perimeter, making it ideal for densely populated PCBs. superGRIP™ is available with ATS maxiFLOW™ heat sink and straight fin heat sinks.

maxiGRIP™ – maxiGRIP™ is a unique, two component attachment system which quickly and securely mounts heat sinks to a wide range of components, without needing to drill holes in the PCB. The steady, even attachment force provided by maxiGRIP™ allows the heat sink and thermal interface material to achieve maximum thermal performance. maxiGRIP™ is available with ATS maxiFLOW™, straight fin, fanSINK™ and device specific heat sinks.

Thermal Tape
– The interface material plays a pivotal role in transporting the heat from the component to the heat sink. The tape is applied to the base of the heat sink and then the heat sink is attached to the component. For tape to work well, proper cleaning of the component surface and the base of heat sink is required. Also, it is usually necessary to apply the tape with a certain amount of pressure.

Power Brick: #GoldStandard Heat Sinks for DC/DC Converters

Power Brick

ATS Power Brick heat sinks are the #GoldStandard for cooling eighth, quarter, half, and full brick DC/DC power converters. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)


Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) has a line of Power Brick heat sinks (available through Digi-Key Electronics and Arrow) that are specially designed to cool eighth-, quarter-, half-, and full-sized DC to DC power converters and power modules. Power Brick heat sinks feature ATS’ patented maxiFLOW™ design, which reduces the air pressure drop and provides greater surface area for more effective convection cooling.

Power Brick heat sinks are a critical component for the optimal thermal management of electronic devices because DC/DC power converters are used in many applications and across a number of industries, including communications, health care, computing, and more.

DC/DC converters are electronic circuits that convert direct current (DC) from one voltage to another. Converters protect electronic devices from power sources that are too strong or step up the level of the system input power to ensure it runs properly. The process works by way of a switching element that turns the initial DC signal into a square wave, which is alternating current (AC), and then passes it through a second filter that converts it back to DC at the necessary voltage.

As explained in an article on MaximIntegrated.com, “Switching power supplies offer higher efficiency than traditional linear power supplies. They can step-up, step-down, and invert. Some designs can isolate output voltage from the input.”

When converting electrical input to the proper voltage, DC/DC converters operate at a specified efficiency level, with some energy lost to heat. ATS Power Brick heat sinks provide the necessary step of dissipating that heat away from the converter to lower the junction temperature. This will optimize the performance of the component and ensure the longevity of the converter.

Anodization boosts Power Brick heat transfer capability

The pleasing gold color that has made Power Brick one of the most popular lines of heat sinks for DC/DC converters stems from the anodization process that ATS uses for its heat sinks. Anodization, as noted in an earlier blog post on this site, “changes the microscopic texture of a metal, making the surface durable, corrosion- and weather-resistant.”

Surface anodization works by turning the metal into the anode (positive electrode) of an electrolytic circuit. By passing an electric current through an acidic electrolytic solution, hydrogen is released at the cathode (negative electrode) and oxygen is released at the anode. The oxygen on the surface of the metal anode forms a deposit of metal oxide of varying thickness – anywhere from 1.8-25 microns.

The previous article explained, “The advantages of surface anodizing are the dielectric isolation of the cooling components from their electronics environment, and the significant increase in their surface emissivity.”

The emissivity coefficient of an anodized surface is typically 0.83-0.86, which is a significant boost from the standard coefficient of aluminum (0.04-0.06). By increasing the emissivity of the metal, there is also a significant enhancement of the metal’s radiant heat transfer coefficient.

The eye-catching gold color of ATS Power Brick heat sinks is added during the anodization process.

maxiFLOW™ design gives Power Brick an edge

Anodization of heat sinks is a standard practice to ensure that the metal components can withstand the rigors of dissipating heat from high-powered components. The feature that gives an ATS Power Brick heat sink the significant edge on its competitors is its patented maxiFLOW™ fin geometry, which has higher thermal performance for the physical volume it occupies compared to other heat sink designs.

maxiFLOW™ design is a low-profile, spread-fin array, which offers greater surface area for convection cooling. While it offers more surface area, it does not require additional space within the electronics package. This is an important feature in today’s electronics devices, which have an ever-increasing component density and in which space is always at a premium. This is an especially important feature for designers that want to cool DC/DC converters but are limited in the amount of available room.

Independent testing at Northeastern University of various heat sink designs demonstrated that maxiFLOW™ had the lowest thermal resistance for natural and forced convection, particularly when air flow velocity was below two meters per second. For heat sinks with the same base dimensions and fin height, maxiFLOW™ performed the best.

Testing has demonstrated that maxiFLOW™ can produce 20 percent lower junction temperatures and 40 percent lower thermal resistance than other heat sink designs. Utilizing maxiFLOW™ allows ATS Power Brick heat sinks to meet the industry standard base plate temperature of 100°C.
For more information about maxiFLOW™, watch the video below:

Power Brick meets industry standards

In the DC/DC market, there are a number of standard footprints that manufacturers use to offer flexibility for designers in choosing a vendor and in laying out a PCB. ATS has addressed the industry standard footprints with its Power Brick heat sinks. This will facilitate the use of the heat sinks for thermal management.

By optimizing the thermal management and meeting industry standards, Power Brick heat sinks can provide cost savings and reduce MTBF. Rather than having to over-design a system or a layout, engineers can turn to Power Brick as a thermal solution.

It is not only the industry standard footprints that Power Brick heat sinks have matched but also the standard hole patterns, which meet the standards set by the Distributed-power Open Systems Alliance (DOSA) to make assembly easy. The three millimeter holes (and soon 3.5 mm) match up to sizes commonly used in power brick manufacturing to ensure the proper connection for the heat sink (to avoid increasing the thermal resistance) and also to avoid using additional space in the tight confines of a PCB.

For the above reasons, Power Brick heat sinks are the “gold standard” for cooling DC/DC converters. Learn more in the video below:

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

References

i http://uk.rs-online.com/web/generalDisplay.html?file=automation/dc-converters-overview&id=infozone
ii https://www.maximintegrated.com/en/app-notes/index.mvp/id/2031
iii https://www.qats.com/cms/2010/11/09/how-heat-sink-anondization-improves-thermal-performance-part-1-of-2/
iv https://www.qats.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Qpedia_Oct08_How-Air-Velocity-Affects-HS-Performance.pdf

Case Study: PCB Cooling for Telecom Application

PCB Cooling for Telecom

The layout of the PCB with the smaller but most power-dissipating component on the left and the larger, but less power-dissipating component on the right. Originally both components were covered by straight-fin heat sinks embedded with heat pipes. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)


Engineers at Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) were brought into a project to assist a client with cooling a PCB that was going to be installed in telecommunications data center. The board currently had heat sinks embedded with heat pipes covering the two hottest components but the client wanted a more reliable and cost-effective solution.

ATS engineers used the company’s patented maxiFLOW™ heat sinks to replace the heat pipes and through analytical and CFD modeling determined that by switching to maxiFLOW™ the junction temperature and case temperature would be below the maximum allowed.

Challenge: The client had a new PCB over which air could flow from either direction and two of the highest power dissipating components were on opposite sides.

Chips/Components: WinPath 3 and Vector Processor

Analysis: Analytical modeling and CFD simulations determined the junction temperature with air going from left-to-right and right-to-left and ensured it would be lower than the maximum allowable (100°C for one component and 105°C for the other).

Test Data: With air flowing from left-to-right, CFD simulation determined that the junction temperatures would be 89.3°C and 101.4°C – below the maximum temperatures of 100°C and 105°C. With air flowing from right-to-left, the junction temperature of the most power-dissipating component was 100°C, which was right at the maximum, and the second was at 87°C, which was below it.

Solution: The original heat sinks embedded with heat pipes were switched for maxiFLOW™ heat sinks, with their placement offset slightly to create a linear airflow, and the same levels of thermal performance were achieved.

PCB Cooling for Telecom

ATS engineers changed the embedded heat sinks for maxiFLOW™ heat sinks and received the same thermal performance with a more reliable and cost-effective solution. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Net Result: The client received the required level of cooling in the PCB, regardless of the direction of air flow, and with a more reliable and cost-effective solution than had been previously been in use.

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

Discussion of Thermal Solution for Stratix 10 FPGA

An Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) client was planning on upgrading an existing board by adding Altera’s high-powered Stratix 10 FPGAs, with estimates of as many as 90 watts of power being dissipated by two of the components and 40 watts from a third. The client was using ATS heat sinks on the original iteration of the board and wanted ATS to test whether or not the same heat sinks would work with higher power demands.

In the end, the original heat sinks proved to be effective and lowered the case temperature below the required maximum. Through a combination of analytical modeling and CFD simulations, ATS was able to demonstrate that the heat sinks would be able to cool the new, more powerful components.

ATS Field Application Engineer Vineet Barot recently spoke with Marketing Director John O’Day and Marketing Communications Specialist Josh Perry about the process he undertook to meet the requirements of the client and to test the heat sinks under these new conditions.

JP: Thanks again for sitting down with us to talk about the project Vineet. What was the challenge that this client presented to us?
VB: They had a previous-generation PCB on which they were using ATS heat sinks, ATS 1634-C2-R1, and they wanted to know if they switched to the next-gen design with three Altera Stratix 10 FPGAs, two of them being relatively high-powered, could they still use the same heat sinks?

Stratix 10 FPGA

The board that was given to ATS engineers to determine whether the original ATS heat sinks would be effective with new, high-powered Stratix 10 FPGA from Altera. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

They don’t even know what the power of the FPGAs is exactly, but they gave us these parameters: 40°C ambient with the junction temperatures to be no more than 100°C. Even though the initial package is capable of going higher, they wanted this limit. That translates to a 90°C case temperature. You have the silicon chip, the actual component with the gates and everything, and you have a package that puts all that together and there’s typically a thermal path that it follows to the lid that has either metal or plastic. So, there’s some amount of temperature lost from the junction to the case.

The resistance is constant so you know for any given power what the max will be. The power that they wanted for FPGAs 1 and 2, which are down at the bottom, was 90 watts, again this is an estimate, and the third one was 40 watts.

JP: How did you get started working towards a solution?
VB: Immediately we tried to identify the worst-case scenario. Overall the board lay-out is pretty well done because you have nice, linear flow. The fans are relatively powerful, lots of good flow going through there. It’s a well-designed board and they wanted to know what we could do with it.

I said, let’s start with the heat sinks that you’re already using, which are the 1634s, and then go from there. Here are the fan specs. They wanted to use the most powerful fan here in this top curve here. This is flow rate versus pressure. The more pressure you have in front of a fan, the slower it can pump out the air and this is the curve that determines that.

Stratix 10 FPGA

Fan operating points on the board, determined by CFD simulations. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

This little area here is sometime called the knee of the fan curve. Let’s say we’re in this area, the flow rate and pressure is relatively linear, so if I increase my pressure, if I put my hand in front of the fan, the flow rate goes down. If I have no pressure, I have my maximum flow rate. If I increase my pressure then the flow rate goes down. What happens in this part, the same thing. In the knee, a slight increase in pressure, so from .59 to .63, reduces the flow rate quite a bit.

Stratix 10 FPGA

CFD simulations showed that the fans were operating in the “knee” where it is hard to judge the impact of pressure changes on flow rate and vice versa. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

So, for a 0.1 difference in flow rate (in cubic meters per second) it took 0.4 inches of water pressure difference, whereas here for a 0.1 difference in flow rate it only took a .04 increase in pressure. That’s why there’s a circle there. It’s a danger area because if you’re in that range it gets harder to predict what the flow will be because any pressure-change, any dust build-up, any change in estimated open area might change your flow rate.

The 1634 is what they were using previously. It’s a copper heat pipe, straight-fin, mounted with a hardware kit and a backing plate that they have. It’s a custom heat sink that we made for them and actually the next –gen, C2-R1, we also made for them for the previous-gen of their board, they originally wanted us to add heat pipes to this copper heat sink, but I took the latest version and said, let’s see what this one will do. For the third heat sink, I went and did some analytical modeling to see what kind of requirement would be needed and I chose one of our off-the-shelf pushPIN™ heat sinks to work because it was 40 watts.

JO: Is the push pin heat sink down flow from the 1634, so it’s getting preheated air?
VB: Yes. This is a pull system, so the air is going out towards the fans.

Stratix 10 FPGA

CFD simulations done with FloTherm, which uses a recto-linear grid. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

This is the CFD modeling that ATS thermal engineer Sridevi Iyengar did in FloTherm. This is a big board. There are a lot of different nodes, a lot of different cells and FloTherm uses recto-linear grids to avoid waviness. You can change the shape of the lines depending on where you need to be. Sri’s also really good at modeling. She was able to turn it around in a day.

Stratix 10 FPGA

Flow vectors at the cut plane, as determined by CFD simulations. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

These are the different fans and she pointed out what the different fan operating curves. Within this curve, she’s able to point out where the different fans are and she’s pointing out that fan 5 is operating around the knee. If you look at all the different fans they all operate around this are, which is not the best area to operate around. You want to operate down here so that you have a lot of flow. If you look at the case temperatures, remember the max was 90°C, we’re at 75°C. We’re 15°C below, 15° margin of error. This was a push pin heat sink on this one up here and 1634s on the high-powered FPGAs down here.

Stratix 10 FPGA

JP: Was there more analysis that you did before deciding the original heat sinks were the solution?
VB: I calculated analytical models using the flow and the fan operating curves from CFD because it’s relatively hard to predict what the flow is going to be. Using that flow and doing a thermal analysis using HSM (heat sink modeling tool), we were within five percent. What Sri simulated with FloTherm was if a copper heat sink with the heat pipe was working super well, let’s try copper without the heat pipe and you can see the temperature increased from 74° to 76°C here, still way under the case temperature. Aluminum with the heat pipe was 77°; aluminum without the heat pipe was 81°, so you’re still under.

Basically there were enough margins for error, so you could go to smaller fans because there’s some concern about operating in the knee region, or you can downgrade the heat sink if the customer wanted. We presented this and they were very happy with the results. They weren’t super worried about operating in the knee region because there’s going to be some other things that might shift the curve a little bit and they didn’t want to downgrade the heat sink because of the power being dissipated.

Stratix 10 FPGA

Final case temperatures determined by CFD simulations and backed up by analytical modeling. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

JO: What were some of the challenges in this design work that surprised you?
VB: The biggest challenges were translating their board into a board that’s workable for CFD. It’s tricky to simplify it without really removing all of the details. We had to decide what are the details that are important that we need to simulate. The single board computer and power supply, this relatively complex looking piece here with the heat sink, and we simplified that into one dummy heat sink to sort of see if it’s going to get too hot. It all comes with it, so we didn’t have to work on it.

The power supply is even harder, so I didn’t put it in there because I didn’t know what power it would be, didn’t know how hot it would be. I put a dummy component in there to make sure it doesn’t affect the air flow too much but that it does have some effect so you can see the pressure drop from it but thermally it’s not going to affect anything.

JO: It really shows that we know how to cool Stratix FPGAs from Altera, we have clear solutions for that both custom and off-the-shelf and that we understand how to model them in two different ways. We can model them with CFD and analytical modeling. We have pretty much a full complement of capabilities when dealing with this technology.

JP: Are there times when we want to create a TLB (thermal load board) or prototype and test this in a wind tunnel or in our lab?
VB: For the most part, customers will do that part themselves. They have the capability, they have the rack and if it’s a thing where they have the fans built into the rack then they can just test it. On a single individual heat sink basis, it’s not necessary because CFD and analytical modeling are so established. You want two independent solutions to make sure you’re in the right ballpark but it’s not something you’re too concerned that the result will be too far off of the theoretical. For another client, for example, we had to make load boards, but even then they did all the testing.

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