This morning, I heard a story on NPR about IBM’s new ”bluefire” supercomputer that’s just been delivered to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). It sounds like a pretty cool computer, but the reporter spent half the story going on about its “unique water-cooling.” Where’d he get that idea? IBM’s press release says this:
Bluefire relies on a unique, water-based cooling system that is 33 percent more energy efficient than traditional air-cooled systems. Heat is removed from the electronics by water-chilled copper plates mounted in direct contact with each POWER6 microprocessor chip.
Hmm. Where have I heard of something like that before? Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Cray-1’s cooling system (circa 1976):
… [E]ach circuit board was paired with a second, placed back to back with a sheet of copper between them. The copper sheet conducted heat to the edges of the cage, where liquid freon running in pipes drew it away to the cooling unit below the machine.
Now, there may well be things about bluefire’s particular liquid-cooling system that are unique and original, but there’s absolutely nothing new about the idea of liquid-cooling a computer. I’d go so far as to say that in the history of supercomputers, air cooling is the aberration. Even before the Cray-1, the CDC 6600 was Freon cooled, too. Heck, my old Power Mac G5 was liquid cooled. You can even buy liquid-cooling kits for the Xbox 360 and PS3.