Tag Archives: thermal management

Industry Developments for Cooling Overclocked CPUs

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

(This article will be featured in an upcoming issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication 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. To read other stories from Norman Quesnel, visit https://www.qats.com/cms/?s=norman+quesnel.)

Almost as long as personal computers have been around, users have been making modifications “under the hood” to make them run faster. A large segment of these users are overclockers, who make adjustments to increase the clock speeds (the speed at which processors execute instructions) of their CPUs and GPUs.

Many PC gamers get into overclocking (OC) to make their programs run faster. Gamecrate.com, a gamer site, defines overclocking as the practice of forcing a specific piece of hardware to operate at a speed above and beyond the default manufactured rating. [1]

To overclock a CPU is to set its clock multiplier higher so that the processor speeds up. For example, overclocking an Intel Core i7 CPU means to push its rated clock speed higher than the 2.80 GHz that it runs at “out of the box.” When performed correctly, overclocking can safely boost a CPU’s performance by 20 percent or more. This will let other processes on a computer run faster, too.

Cooling Overclocked CPUs

Fig. 1. An Intel Core i5-469k Processor Can Be Overclocked to Run 0.5-0.9 GHz over Its Base Frequency. Air Cooling is Provided by a Hyper D92 from Cooler Master.[2]

To serve the global overclockers market, some chip makers keep the door open to overclocking by allowing access to their multipliers. They do this with a variety of “unlocked” processors. Intel provides many unlocked versions of their processors, as denoted with a ‘k’ at the end of their model number.

For example, the Skylake Core i7-6700k and Haswell-E Core i7-5820k are made with unlocked clock multipliers. In fact, Intel targets overclockers with marketing campaigns and support services.

Fig. 2. Intel Actively Targets Overclockers with Its Unlocked Processors.[3]

Besides gaming, overclocking can improve performance for applications such as 3-D imaging or high-end video editing. For GPUs, faster speeds will achieve higher frames per second for a smoother, faster video experience. Overclocking can even save money, if a lower cost processor can be overclocked to perform like a higher end CPU.[4]

For many gamers, overclocking enhances their enjoyment by giving more control over their system and breaking the rules set by CPU manufacturers. One overclocker on Gamecrate.com said, “Primarily, I like to do it because it’s fun. On a more practical note it’s a great way to breathe some life into an old build, or to take a new build and supercharge it to the next level.”[1]

Heat Issues from Overclocking

Overclocking a processor typically means increasing voltage as well. Thus, the performance boost from overclocking usually comes with added component heat that needs to be controlled. Basically, the more voltage added to components, the more heat they are going to produce. There are many tutorials on overclocking and most of these resources stress that it’s essential to manage a component’s increased heat.[5]

Programs are available that monitor the temperature of a processor before and after overclocking it. These programs work with the DTS, digital thermal sensors that most processor manufacturers include inside their component packages. One such program is Core Temp, which can be used with both Intel and AMD cores. Some component OEMs also offer their own software to monitor temperatures in their processors.[6]

Fig. 3. The Core Temp Program Can Display Temperatures of Individual Cores in a System.[6]

Typically, an overclocker will benchmark a CPU or other component to measure how hot it runs at 100 percent. Advanced users can manually do the overclocking by changing the CPU ratio, or multiplier, for all cores to the target number. The multiplier works with the core’s BCLK frequency (usually 100) to create the final GHz number.

Tools like the freeware program Prime95 provide stability testing features, like the “Torture Test,” to see how the sped up chip performs at a higher load. These programs work with the system’s BIOS and typically use the motherboard to automatically test a range of overclocked profiles, e.g. from 4.0-4.8 GHz. From here, an overclocker may test increasing voltages, e.g. incrementally adding 0.01 – 0.1 V while monitoring chip stability.

An overclocked component’s final test is whether it remains stable over time. This ongoing stability will mainly be influenced by its excess heat. For many overclocked processors, a robust fan-cooled heat sink in place of the stock fan is essential. For others, only liquid cooling will resolve excess heat issues.

Fan Cooling

The advantage of using air coolers is no worry about leaking, which may lead to component or system damage. With the air cooled heat sinks, the bigger and faster the fan (CFM), the better, and there are a multitude of fan-sink cooling solutions that gaming PCs can accommodate.

In reality, higher performance fan-cooled sinks typically also employ liquid. It is used inside heat pipes that more efficiently convey heat from the processor into the sink’s fan cooled fin field.

Fig. 4. The Top-Rated Hyper 212 EVO CPU Air Cooler from Cooler Master Has Four Heat Pipes Transferring Heat to Aluminum Fins.[7]

Air cooled heat sinks for overclockers cost well under $50 and are available from many sources. They’re often bundled with overclock-ready processors at discounted prices.

A greater issue with air cooling can be the fan noise. A high performance fan must spin very quickly to deal with heavy system workloads. This can create an unpleasant mixture of whirs, purrs and growls. Many of the gaming desktops generate 50-80 decibels of noise at load. Though most fans are quieter, pushing out 25-80 CFM, they are louder than most standard PC processor fans.[8]

Liquid Cooling

Liquid cooling has become more common because of its enhanced thermal performance, which allows higher levels of overclocking. Prices are definitely higher than air-cooled heat sinks, but liquid systems offer enthusiasts a more intricate, quieter, and elegant thermal solution with definite eye-appeal.

From the performance standpoint, liquids (mainly water in these systems) provide better thermal conductivity than air. They can move more thermal energy from a heat source on a volume-to-volume basis.

Fig. 5. The Top-Rated Nepton 280 Liquid CPU Cooler Has a Fast Pump Flow and a Large Radiator Cooled with Dual Fans that Reach 122 CFM Airflow.[9]

A typical liquid cooling system features a water block that fits over the overclocked CPU, a large surface area, a fan-cooled heat exchanger (radiator), a pump, and a series of tubes connecting all elements. One tube carries hot fluid out from the water block, the other returns it once it is cooled by the radiator. Some liquid cooling systems can also be used on multiple processors, e.g. a CPU and a gaming chipset.

While there are more components to a liquid cooling system, there are also major advantages. For one, the water block is usually much smaller and lower-profile than an attached, high-performance air cooler. Also, the tubing set up allows the heat exchanger and pump to be installed in different locations, including outside the PC enclosure. An example is the Sub-Zero Liquid Chilled System from Digital Storm. It unlocks overclocks of Intel’s i7-980X CPU up to 4.6 GHz while idling the processor below 0°C.[10]

Fig. 6. Digital Storm’s Cryo-TEC System Places an Overclocked CPU in Direct Contact with Thermo-electric Cold Plates Dropping Core Temperatures to Below 0°C.[11]

Prices for liquid cooling systems can easily surpass $200, though newer systems can be bought for under $100.

A fan still must be attached to the radiator to help cool it, but it doesn’t have to spin as quickly as it would if it were attached to a heat sink. As a result, most liquid-cooled systems emit no more than 30 decibels.


Overclocking can be considered a subset of modding. This is a casual expression for modifying hardware, software or anything else to get a device to perform beyond its original intention. If you own an unlocked CPU you can get significant added performance, for free, by overclocking the processor. When modifying processor speeds, i.e. increasing them, high temperatures will occur. Higher performance cooling solutions are needed.

Fig. 7. YouTube Video of Overclocked CPU Melting Solder Before It Stops Working at 234°C.[12]

To serve the world of overclockers, a steady stream of air and liquid cooling systems are being developed. Many of them are high precision, effective, stylish and surprisingly affordable. Often they share the same technology as mass market quantity, lower performing cooling systems (basic heat sinks, heat pipes, for example), but provide much higher cooling capabilities for ever-increasing processor speeds.

1. Gamecrate.com, https://www.gamecrate.com/basics-overclocking/10239
2. Techreport.com, http://techreport.com/review/27543/cooler-master-hyper-d92-cpu-cooler-reviewed/3
3. Legitreviews.com, http://www.legitreviews.com/intel-devils-canyon-coming-this-month-intel-core-i7-4790k-core-i5-4690k_143234
4. Digitaltrends.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/should-you-overclock-your-pcs-processor/
5. Techradar.com, http://www.techradar.com/how-to/computing/how-to-overclock-your-cpu-1306573
6. Alcpu.com, http://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/
7. Coolermaster.com, http://www.coolermaster.com/cooling/cpu-air-cooler/hyper-212-evo/
8. Digitaltrends.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/heres-why-you-should-liquid-cool-your-cpu/
9. Coolermaster.com, http://www.coolermaster.com/cooling/cpu-liquid-cooler/nepton-280l/
10. Gizmodo.com, http://gizmodo.com/5696553/digital-storms-new-gaming-pcs-use-sub-zero-liquid-cooling-system-for-insane-overclocks
11. Digitalstorm.com, http://www.digitalstorm.com/cryo-tec.asp
12. Youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NEn9DHmjk0

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

#JustChilling: ATS Recirculating and Immersion Chillers for Liquid Cooling Systems

ATS Chillers

Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. has a line of recirculating and immersion chillers for conditioning the coolant in liquid cooling systems. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

ATS offers a variety of chillers, including the CHILL V and CHILL iM series, for conditioning the coolant in liquid cooling systems. The ATS-CHILL V series, including the ATS-Chill150V, ATS-Chill300V, and ATS-Chill600V, are re-circulating, vapor compression chillers that offers precise coolant temperature control using a PID controller. The ATS-CHILL iM is an immersion chiller for precise control of the bath temperature by immersing the evaporator in a fluid bath.

Learn more about ATS recirculating and immersion chillers in this recent blog post or in the video below:

ATS Liquid Cooling Products

In addition to chillers, ATS has a complete product offering for Liquid Cooling Closed Loop Systems, including flow meters, leak detectors, heat exhangers, and cold plates. ATS can also design off-the-shelf or custom liquid cooling systems to meet the thermal needs of a project.

ATS 3-Core design approach identifies the type of cooling required at the analysis level and informs the client of its options, saving cost and time on design iteration and simulation verification. Once it is determined that liquid cooling is the option to pursue, the ATS design team identifies all the required components of the liquid loop, as well its packaging requirements and integration in the system.

ATS offers a complete array of off-the-shelf liquid loop components that can be readily deployed or custom-designed to meet the thermal requirements of the system. Subsequent integration of the liquid loop into the system provides the customer with a turn-key option for thermal management of their system.

Don’t get burned! Take advantage of ATS expertise in liquid and air cooling to ensure proper thermal management for your project.

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.

Industry Developments: Cooling Electronics in Wind Turbines

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

(This article will be featured in an upcoming issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication 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. To read the preceding post on Cooling Solar Power Inverters, click https://www.qats.com/cms/2016/11/21/industry-developments-cooling-solar-power-inverters.)

Wind power systems capture natural air currents and convert them, first to mechanical energy and then electricity. Windmills have long harnessed natural, renewable wind currents to grind grains and pump water. Now those windmills have evolved into highly engineered wind turbines, with very long, highly-engineered blades spinning on steel towers some that are tens of meters high.

There are some relatively small wind turbines that power individual houses or businesses. They can generate around 100 kW of power. But most of today’s wind turbine industry is for utility-scale power generation. These are large, tall wind turbines, in fields of dozens or hundreds, delivering high levels of electricity to power grid systems that reach thousands of end users. More than a quarter million of such turbines are in use around the world.

Cooling Electronics in Wind Turbines

Fig. 1. The Alta Wind Energy Center in California has more than 600 wind turbines and can produce more than 1.5 GW of power. [1]

Most utility-scale wind turbines are built on open, naturally windy land or off-shore. Each turbine can produce 1.0-1.5 MW, enough energy to power hundreds of homes. The United States has about 75 GW of installed wind power capacity. And, despite some local resistance, the U.S. has begun to join other countries with off-shore installations. China has by far the most installed wind power capacity at about 150 GW. Globally, the combined power capacity from wind turbines is forecast to nearly double between 2016 and 2020 to 792 GW. This would be enough to power 220 million average homes in the U.S. [2, 3]

Mechanics of Wind Turbines

When natural wind blows past a turbine, its blades capture the energy and rotate. This rotation spins a shaft inside the rotor. The shaft is connected to a gearbox that can increase the speed of rotation. The gearbox connects to a generator that produces electricity. Most wind turbines consist of a steel tubular tower. On top of this is a nacelle structure, housing the turbine’s shaft, gearbox, generator and controls.

On the wind-facing end of the nacelle is a hub to which the turbine blades are attached. Together, the blades and the hub are called the rotor. The diameter of the rotor determines how much energy a turbine can generate. The larger the rotor, the more kinetic energy is harnessed. Furthermore, a larger rotor requires a taller tower, which exposes the rotor to faster winds. [4]

A wind turbine is equipped with wind assessment equipment, including weather vanes. These send data to a computer to automatically rotate the turbines into the face of the wind and to a pitch system that can angle the blades to further optimize energy capture. [5]

Cooling Electronics in Wind Turbines

Fig. 2. The major components of a wind turbine. [6]

Turbines and Fire

Hundreds of wind turbines catch fire each year. The most common cause is lightning strikes, but overheated equipment can also be responsible. Highly flammable materials such as hydraulic lubrication oil and plastics are in close proximity to machinery and electrical wires inside the nacelle. A fire can ignite from faulty wiring or overheating. The results are catastrophic. The rush of oxygen from high winds can quickly expand a fire inside a nacelle. Once a fire starts, it is not likely to be deliberately extinguished. Water hoses can’t reach a nacelle’s height and wind turbines like these are typically set in remote locations, far from emergency aid. [7]

Cooling Electronics in Wind Turbines

Fig. 3. A wind turbine’s blazing nacelle and hub at a wind farm in Germany. Lubricating oil is often the fuel when these fires occur. [8]

Electronic Devices in the Nacelle – and Heat

Most wind turbines don’t catch fire, of course. Yet, despite all the surrounding wind, the electronics in their nacelles still need significant thermal management to function continuously. The most important electronics are the generator and power converting devices.

The generator is the heart of a wind turbine. It converts the rotational energy of the wind-spun rotor into electrical energy. It generates the electric power that the wind turbine system feeds into the grid.

Generating electricity always entails the loss of heat, causing the generator’s copper windings to get hot. Larger capacity generators are even further challenged. The thermal losses will increase with the generator in proportion to the cube of its linear dimensions, resulting in a serious decline in generator efficiency.[9]

Excess generator heat must be dissipated to maintain efficiency and avoid damage. On most wind turbines this is accomplished by enclosing the generator in a duct, using a large fan for air cooling. Some manufacturers provide water-cooled generators that can be used in wind turbines. The water-cooled models require a radiator in the nacelle to void the heat from the liquid cooling matrix.

Wind turbines may be designed with either synchronous or asynchronous generators, and with various forms of direct or indirect connection to the power grid. Direct grid connection means that the generator is connected to the (usually 3-phase) alternating current grid.

Wind turbines with indirect grid connections typically use power converters. These can be AC-AC converters (sometimes called AC/DC-AC converters). They change the AC to direct current (DC) with a rectifier and then back to usable AC using an inverter. In this process, the current passes through a series of Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor switches (IGBTs). These convert direct current into alternating current to supply to the grid by generating an artificial sine wave. The more frequently the switch is turned on and off, the closer to a true sine wave the current flow becomes, and the more sine-like the flow, the purer the power. The resulting AC is matched to the frequency and phase of the grid. [10]

However, the faster these switches actuate, the more heat they develop and given a wind turbine’s variable inputs, IGBTs for this application need to cycle very frequently. This generates large amounts of heat that will dramatically decrease overall efficiency unless properly cooled. [11]

Cooling Electronics in Wind Turbines

Fig. 4. An active air cooling system inside a wind turbine nacelle features an air-to-air heat exchanger for managing heat in the generator (Vensys). [12]

Even with efficiency improvements, a wind turbine’s power generation systems and subsystems must manage ever increasing heat within its limited nacelle space. In addition, even if incurred power losses are as little as 3-5 percent, thermal management systems would have to dissipate 200-300 kW and more of heat.

Air cooling has been used effectively in small-scale wind turbines, but it is not practical for removing the heat produced in MW-scale units. Its thermal capacity is so low that it is difficult to blow enough air across a motor or through the converter to maintain reliable operating temperatures. That is why water cooling is used more often than air for larger wind turbines.

Cooling Electronics in Wind Turbines

Fig. 5. Electronics in a medium voltage (Up to 12 MW) wind turbine converter. Cooling is provided by a closed-loop unit with a mix of deionized water and glycol (ABB).[13]

However, water cooled systems are relatively large, and their thermal efficiency limitations force the size and weight of power generation sub-systems to essentially track their power throughput. Due to the thermal performance limitations of water, the power-generation equipment for a 10 MW wind turbine is nearly twice the size and weight of a 5 MW model. This is largely because water cooling cannot adequately remove additional heat loads without spreading them out.

One supplier of liquid cooling systems for wind turbine electronics is Parker Hannifin. Its Vaporizable Dielectric Fluid (VDF) system provides heat transfer capability significantly greater than that of water. The VDF system requires less fluid and lower pump rates. The same dissipation rates provided by a 6 liter/minute water flow can be achieved by 1 liter/minute VDF flow, thus allowing for a smaller system.

The hermetically sealed VDF assembly is designed to be leak proof, but if a leak occurs the non-conductive fluid will not damage electronic components. The cooling system’s efficiencies and lack of thermal stack-up provide an additional advantage in that the system maintains a fairly tight temperature range. The lack of thermal cycling removes a strain on the turbine’s electronics, which extends their useful life. [14]

Cooling Electronics in Wind Turbines

Figure 6. Dual-phase liquid cooling method for converters has a circulating refrigerant in a closed-loop. Vaporizing coolant removes heat from devices and re-condenses to liquid in a heat exchange (Parker). [15]


Heat issues in wind turbine electronics mainly concern the generator and the power conversion electronics. The heat load of the generator comes from copper wire resistance and from iron loss from the rotation of the core. Further heat loss is mechanical due to friction. These energy losses become heat energy that is distributed into the wind turbine nacelle.

The excess heat from the nacelle-based power conversion systems is mainly due to impedance from electronic components such as capacitors and thyristors. Higher temperatures will reduce the system’s life and increase failure rate. Thermal management methods such as liquid cooling can be effectively adapted for nacelle electronics. [10]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alta_Wind_Energy_Center
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_by_country
3. http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/how-twinning-tech-will-power-our-future/71993
4. Layton, Julia, How Wind Power Works, HowStuffWorks.com.
5. http://www.awea.org/Resources/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=900&navItemNumber=587
6. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/smart-grid-energy-harvesting-martin-ma-mba-med-gdm-scpm-pmp
7. http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_17-7-2014-8-56-10
8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYoQ6mS2gss
9. http://ele.aut.ac.ir/~wind/en/tour/wtrb/electric.htm
10. Jian, S., Xiaoqian, M., Shuying, C. and Huijing, G., Review of the Cooling Technology for High-power Wind Turbines, 5th Intl Conf on Advanced Design and Manufacturing Engineering, 2015.
11. http://www.windpowerengineering.com/design/mechanical/cooling-electronics-in-a-hot-nacelle/
12. http://www.vensys.de/energy-en/technologie/generatorkuehlung.php
13. https://library.e.abb.com/public/430f5f2493334e4ead2a56817512d78e/PCS6000%20Rev%20B_EN_lowres.pdf
14. http://www.windsystemsmag.com/article/detail/60/cool-system-hot-results
15. http://buyersguide.renewableenergyworld.com/parker-hannifin-renewable-energy-solutions/pressrelease/parker-to-launch-converter-cooling-systems-for-1mw-wind-turbines-at-husum-wind-energy-2012.html

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

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.

Case Study: LED Solution for Outdoor Canopy Array

Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) was approached by a company interested in a new design for an outdoor LED unit that would be installed in gas station canopies. The original unit was bolted together and contained a molded plastic shroud that held the LED array, the PCB, and an extruded aluminum heat sink.

ATS engineers designed an aesthetically pleasing alternative that utilized natural convection cooling, while increasing the number of the LEDs in the array and its power. The engineers met the customer’s budget and thermal performance requirements.

Challenge: Create an outdoor canopy device that would increase the number of LED in the array, increase power to maximum of 120 watts, and increase lumens, while cooling the device through natural convection.

Chip/Component: The device had to hold an LED array and the PCB that powered it.

Analysis: Analytical modeling and CFD simulations determined the optimal fin efficiency to allow air through the device and across the heat sink, the spreading resistance. The weight of the device was also considered, as it would be outside above customers.

Solution: An aesthetically-pleasing, one-piece, casted unit with built-in electronics box for LED array and PCB was created. There was one inch of headroom between the heat sink and the canopy to allow for heat dissipation and the casting would allow heat transfer as well as allow air to flow through the system.

Net Result: The customer was able to add LEDs to the array and increase power. The new unit also simplified the manufacturing process and cut manufacturing costs.

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.