Vicor 48 V Direct to Processor Conversion

April 29, 2014
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New solution eliminates need for intermediate 12 V stage

The computing load now presented to data centers has become so intense that it has meant that the power schemes, architectures and component parts have been required to undergo a tremendous change. I recently interviewed Robert Gendron, Vice President of Vicor’s Picor division, about the company’s recent innovations that eliminate the need for intermediate voltage stages when converting from 48 V to the voltages required for modern processors.

Robert Gendron, Picor

Robert Gendron is Vice President, Strategic Marketing and Business Development

Space availability on the processor board, together with the urgent need to contain heat losses and spiraling air conditioning costs, have driven the need for high efficiency power building blocks. The situation has now become so serious that data centers often have difficulty in obtaining enough power from their utility companies. It is therefore no surprise that operators are utilizing renewable power, which is predominantly DC, to help offset the huge power demand. As a result, these operators are now adopting high voltage distribution to interface with this renewable source and to raise the efficiency which has, in turn, forced a complete re-evaluation of the power architecture.

Robert explained, “At Vicor, this huge challenge has driven the development of new product and packaging technology to maximize power density and efficiency performance while moving the all important total cost of ownership (TCO) of our solution to a price-point that benefits the computing industry. The traditional power architecture uses an intermediate 12 V stage between the 48 V supply and the processor point of load voltage. Vicor has developed a 48 V direct-to-processor voltage power delivery solution that eliminates this intermediate 12 V stage and increases end-to-end efficiency. This elimination of the 12 V stage has also replaced the complex and design-intensive modeling of multi-phase power supplies that have powered processors for almost two decades. The use of multi-phase (and often multi-vendor) supply building blocks – which has required a huge investment in designer effort – has yielded only incremental improvements over the years. But now data center operators demand high efficiency, design simplification and economic power implementation on the PCB, an area where we can provide the solution.

“Our solution has meant that the pressure on the ‘hallowed’ area around the CPU – where designers want to place the IO components – has been relieved because it requires just one PoL regulator in this restricted area. Our new Picor PI3751 Cool-Power ZVS Buck-Boost PRM can be located right at the edge of the board with only the Vicor VTM current multiplier required to be mounted adjacent to the processor.

“Although these new products signify a breakthrough for the server market where operators are aiming for a more “’green’ infrastructure, they can additionally provide solutions for many other applications in high voltage distribution including those in telecom and industrial,” continued Robert. “There are now variants of these solutions in development for powering other processors and ASICs. In these applications, to achieve customer cost requirements it makes sense to build Vicor’s VTM current multiplier in the 3-dimensional ChiP package that provides the vital high density, while with the PRM function it is more cost-appropriate to use the 2-dimensional LGA SiP package for the part.”

Vicor has developed these solutions for the Intel 12.0 and 12.5 standards, which meant working very closely with Intel and its customers to reach compliance and to deliver a solution that is acceptable in terms of performance and cost. Vicor is now shipping product and its launch has been very well received by operators and designers alike.

“As one would expect, the processor takes the top priority position for reasons of power consumption and the need for power density and efficiency,” commented Robert. “Powering memory is the next in line. With the expanding need for more capacity and higher performance DDR3 memory Vicor plans to have scalable solutions for increasing the system power efficiency.”

By creating more efficient power solutions, Vicor is helping the growing number of companies and industries that want to design their own server boards so that they can build-in unique capabilities to differentiate their products. Ease of implementation and time to market are vital considerations here.

Robert concluded, “Data center designers have been really pushing the envelope with the high level of cooling needed and are now embracing the high efficiency/high density advantages that these new products offer. The end game will certainly be when installations are powered by DC from the solar/wind generation source all the way through to the processor itself, with as many intermediate conversion stages as possible eliminated. This will be the point where the cost/performance metric measured in terms of the total cost of ownership will reach its optimum level, and this new direct 48 V direct-to-processor voltage power delivery solution is a key step forward in this journey.”

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