Exotic 3M fluid enables two-phase, immersion-cooled supercomputer


— 6:00 AM on April 10, 2014

Immersion cooling isn't a new idea. It's been deployed in servers, and I once came across an entire desktop rig plunged in a fish tank full of mineral oil. I haven't seen anything quite like the proof-of-concept "supercomputer" put together by 3M, Intel, and SGI, though. The Ice X system is loaded with Xeon E5-2600 processors and cooled by a special 3M Novec Engineering Fluid that doesn't require pumping.

The official press release offers little insight into the server's compute horsepower. However, it does provide some interesting details on the two-phase cooling system, which submerges hot-swappable modules in the non-conductive 3M fluid. The Novec fluid is allowed to boil, generating vapor that rises to a condenser. That condenser cools the vapor, returning it to a liquid that drips back into the tank below.

There's an accompanying video, of course, and the footage of high-end computer hardware in boiling liquid is pretty sweet.

The system is said to use 10X less space than traditional air cooling, and it promises to dissipate up to 100kW/m² of floor space. Impressively, the condenser apparently runs on "normal facility water" rather than a dedicated supply. Heat can be harvested from the system, too, and the Novec fluid sounds pretty innocuous. It won't catch fire, put holes in the ozone, or leave behind any residue. It even has "low toxicity," though I wouldn't recommend drinking the stuff.

High-density datacenters are the target market for this innovative cooling solution, but desktop PCs can also partake.  An older Novec demo on YouTube shows the fluid cooling a Z77-based system.

Unfortunately, I can't find any mention of how much the Novec fluid costs. Odds are it isn't cheap.

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