A better way to cool computer chips receives support

A software-driven approach to microchip heat detection and control receives a National Science Foundation grant

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside investigating better ways to cool today's high-performance computer microprocessors have received $275,000 from the National Science Foundation to further their work.

The three-year grant supports a project titled Thermal Sensing and Control for Efficient Dynamic Thermal Management, led by Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Jun Yang, with Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Sheldon X.-D. Tan, and Professor of Electrical Engineering Jie Chen. All three are faculty members at the Bourns College of Engineering at UCR.

Yang said today's Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) microprocessors, which hold more than 100,000,000 transistors, are hindered by high power consumption and the heat they generate, which in turn creates reliability problems, reduces microprocessor service life and can sometimes physically damage the chips.

"We are developing a software-based thermal sensing system that is more accurate at monitoring heat changes during run time," Yang said. "Usually, these chips have only one thermal sensor that cannot get accurate readings for the range of temperatures found throughout the chip."

Not only do today's temperature sensors read just one location on the chip, their efficiency is hindered by the on-chip high-frequency signal noise due to electronic interference from other processes. Temperature sensors also are unable to quickly process rapid heat buildups so readings may lag behind real-time conditions during the most critical moments. The result of these design shortcomings is significant performance degradation.

Yang proposes a two part solution. First is a fast and accurate software thermal sensor that uses a fine-tuned numerical method to quickly calculate accurate temperatures physically across the microprocessor on a given set of thermal limits.

Second is a heat control method that uses a promising control technique allowing it to operate quickly using the information developed by the software-based thermal sensor. This control system should be able to anticipate areas of heat buildup within the microprocessor and quickly cool them to within target levels.

"We hope that our findings will have broad applications in microprocessor design and development, including general-purpose processors, graphics processors, network processors and a variety of other thermal constrained, high-performance VSLI chips," Yang said.

The project's educational component will include freshman mentoring by faculty and graduate students, a support network for female students, inclusion in the UCR Freshman Discovery Seminars program, the launching of a computer engineering outreach program, and the development of K-12 students' and teachers' research exposure activities.

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The University of California, Riverside is a major research institution. Key areas of research include nanotechnology, genomics, environmental studies, digital arts and sustainable growth and development. With a current undergraduate and graduate enrollment of more than 16,600, the campus is projected to grow to 21,000 students by 2010. Located in the heart of Inland Southern California, the nearly 1,200-acre, park-like campus is at the center of the region's economic development. Visit www.ucr.edu or call 951-UCR-NEWS for more information.


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