As electronics become more powerful they are generating much higher heat loads and require more efficient cooling. For many of these applications, traditional air cooling has become insufficient. Liquid cooled solutions are becoming more popular as they have the capacity for higher heat transfer and design flexibility. This allows for smaller, higher performing cooling solutions.
A liquid cooling system is a hydraulic circuit that typically consists of a cold plate that interfaces with the heat source, a pump that circulates the fluid through the system, and a heat exchanger that rejects the heat absorbed by the liquid from the device. Liquid cold plates have a much smaller working envelope than a heat sink that would be used in an air cooled solution for the same application. Additionally, multiple cold plates can be used with the same pump and heat exchanger, enabling remote cooling for several devices.
In addition to more efficient cooling, liquid systems also tend to have more design flexibility. Liquid cold plates come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and fabrications and the nature of liquid cooling allows for heat to be transferred and dissipated remotely. Liquid cooling also grants an additional level of control over the cooling system as the inlet temperature to the cold plate and flow rate can be easily modulated.
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Liquid System Components
Liquid Cold Plates
The cold plate is the component of the liquid cooling system that interfaces with the heat source. Cold plates vary widely in complexity and construction depending on the application needs. A cold plate can be as simple as a copper tube attached to an aluminum plate or they can be extremely complex utilizing multiple technologies to achieve optimized heat transfer. These technologies can include high heat transfer fins, highly engineered micro or meso channels, or varied manufacturing processes such as vacuum, CAB, or dip brazing.
Heat exchangers are the mechanism by which heat is rejected from the system. Heat transfers through the cold plate to the heat exchanger where it is then released through the heat exchanger into the air or another liquid. The liquid, once cooled, returns to the cold plate and the cycle repeats. For more on how heat exchangers work, see the heat exchanger technology section.
Liquid Cooling System Considerations
Allowable pressure drop, flow rate, and material compatibility should always be considered when choosing your cold plate and liquid system components. The allowable pressure drop is directly correlated with the pump and the force and flow rate at which it moves the fluid through the system. Materials and fluids need to be compatible through the entire system to prevent galvanic corrosion as well as optimizing your system for your application.