Thermal Management in Embedded PC Systems

Getting the maximum performance out of embedded PCs while keeping their size, weight and cost within reasonable limits requires careful thermal design. Under worst-case operation, excessive internal temperatures can cause embedded PCs to exceed their expected maximum operating temperature resulting initially in performance loss and, ultimately, in component failures and downtime.

Thermal management has always been important but with increasing operating frequencies for higher performance and the continued shrinking of integrated circuits (ICs) and other components, it is more than important it's critical. Hot spots can easily be created in today's embedded PCs. According to an Intel executive at a recent technology forum, "Thermal issues are the number one problem we face today."

System designs using embedded PCs require heat dissipation from a few watts for a 386-based system to over 100 watts for a dual Pentium® 4 processor system. Compounding the thermal management task are the special environmental, high availability and longevity requirements frequently found in embedded systems. Dissipating even 10 watts can be difficult in a system that cannot use fans, must be completely sealed, and must operate in an environment where the ambient air temperature is 50C and the maximum operating temperature is 85C. Obtaining the proper thermal design consists of both thermal modeling and verification by actual measurements.

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