As we approach the extent to which powerful processors can be miniaturized the engineering has to move in a new direction.
At IBM that direction is a brain-inspired 3D architecture, staking processors and memory in close proximity. But it is a solution with the same old problem. How do you remove all the heat?
One possible answer; Electronic Blood.
The art of liquid cooling has been demonstrated by Aquasar and put to work inside the German supercomputer SuperMUC which – perversely – harnesses warm water to cool its circuits.
SuperMUC consumes 40% less electricity as a result.
But for IBM to truly match the marvels of the brain, there is a third evolutionary step it must achieve – simultaneous liquid fueling and cooling.
Just as blood gives sugar in one hand and takes heat with another, IBM is looking for a fluid that can multitask.
Vanadium is the best performer in their current laboratory test system – a type of redox flow unit – similar to a simple battery.
First a liquid – the electrolyte – is charged via electrodes, then pumped into the computer, where it discharges energy to the chip.
Redox flow is far from a new technology, and neither is it especially complex.
But IBM is the first to stake its chips on this “electronic blood” as the food of future computers – and will attempt to optimize it over the coming decades to achieve zettascale computing.
Many great achievements in engineering have looked to nature for as a path to success. IBM is exploring the compact efficiency of the human brain as a model for getting more out of a more compressed package.
“Ninety-nine per cent of a computer’s volume is devoted to cooling and powering. Only 1% is used to process information. And we think we’ve built a good computer?”
“The brain uses 40% of its volume for functional performance – and only 10% for energy and cooling.”
Michel’s vision is for a new “bionic” computing architecture, inspired by one of the laws of nature – allometric scaling – where an animal’s metabolic power increases with its body size.
Can they built it better, faster, even stronger…? Will it cost 6 million dollars? Can they get that power into a form factor anyone can use at a price they can afford. It’s not as if they have not done it before.
We’ll just have to wait and see.