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Designing a Fin Array to Minimize the Temperature of a

Computer Chip
ENGR 382-54: Heat Transfer
Brandon Hoshaw


Computer performance can rely heavily on the thermal management of the electronic
components within it. Computer chips within the computer hardware use fin arrays to help transfer the
heat produced by the chips to the surrounding environment. This helps maintain acceptable
temperatures so the chip will not overheat. To improve the effectiveness of a fin array a fan is used to
create an airflow that is forced down the channels between the fins. As more fins are added to the fixed
area above the computer chip the distance between the fins is made smaller. As the fin distance is made
smaller the fan becomes less effective at forcing air through the channels of the array. Since the amount
of airflow is affected by the distance between the fins, the convective heat transfer coefficient is also
dependent on the size of the gap between the fins. This means that for each fin design there is a
different heat transfer coefficient which causes the computer chip to be at different temperatures even
though it is producing the same amount of heat. The goal of this project was to calculate the
appropriate amount of fins that were needed in order to maintain the lowest possible temperature for
the computer chip.
For this project the given information was the power generation of the chip, the platform area
of the chip, the fin length and the inlet air temperature. To first determine the appropriate amount of
fins needed for the computer chip, the heat transfer coefficient had to be calculated for each scenario.
Analytical methods were first used to determine the heat transfer coefficient which was then used to
calculate the temperature at the base of the fin array. Once it was determined what amount of fins
would produce the lowest base temperature, ANSYS 15.0 would then be used to simulate and further
confirm the results found in the analytical methods used. At the end it was proven that using 12 fins
would produce the lowest possible temperature.

For this problem a fin array was created to go over a computer chip that had a platform area of
1cm by 1cm and a power generation of 12 watts. The fin array was to be constructed from aluminum
and the fin length was to be 4cm long. The fins were to be placed on top of a 0.2 cm thick aluminum
plate; the plate would then be placed on top of the computer chip. The air at the inlet of the fin array
was set to be equal to 20 C (293 K). When designing the fin array the fin thicknesses were to be equal
to the inter-fin spacing. A range of 1 to 20 fins was tested for this problem. Figure (1) shows the fin
array being used.

When solving this problem analytically several assumptions were made. The first assumption
that was made was that the conductivity of air and of aluminum would remain at the same values for all
the fin configurations. This was done because the change in conductivity for both materials was very
small between each configuration and the overall difference in conductivity values would have had a
relatively low impact on the overall final results. The value used for the conductivity of air was 0.0257
W/(m*k) and the value used for the conductivity of aluminum was 250 W/(m*k). The second
assumption that was made was that the temperature of the base of the fins was equal to the
temperature of the base of the plate. This assumption was made because the resistivity between the
base of the fins and the base of the plate was so small that it had little impact on the final temperature.
To start solving this problem the thickness of the fins had to be determined. The fin thickness (t)
was determined to be equal to 1 divided by the number of gaps (g); where the number of gaps was
equal to double the amount of fins (f). This would produce a result that had units of centimeters. This
can be seen in equation (1).

Once the fin thickness was determined the velocity of the airflow through the channels could be
calculated. By balancing the fan blower curve with the fin resistance equation (2) for velocity is
obtained; here V is speed of air flow in feet per minute and t is in feet.

After the speed of the air flow had been obtained the volumetric and mass flow rates could be
calculated. By multiplying the speed of airflow and the area of the fin the volumetric flow rate was
obtained by using equation (3) is volumetric flow rate of air in , V is in meters per
second and t is in meters.

Figure (1): The fin array with varying
Mass flow was then calculated by multiplying the volumetric flow rate by the density of the air. For
equation (4) it was assumed that the density of the air remained constant at
kilograms per second.

Using the first law of thermodynamics the exit temperature of the air from the fin array was calculated.
Using 1005 J/kg*k for the specific heat of air, equation (5) is obtained:

Here, Q
per fin
is in watts, T
and T
are in Kelvin. Once T
is found then the average temperature of
the air was found. After the average temperature was calculated the next step in solving for the base
temperature of the fins was to determine the value for the heat transfer coefficient. In equation (6), the
heat transfer coefficient can be calculated by multiplying the conductivity of air by 4 and dividing by t;
here t is in meters.


After obtaining h, the base temperature of the fins was then calculated by using equation (7). In
equation (7) L is the length of the fins in meters, w is the width of the fins in meters, K is the conductivity
of aluminum which was assumed to be 250 (W/m*k), A

is the cross sectional area of the fin in m^2
and P is the perimeter of the fin in meters.


All of these calculations were performed on fin arrays that ranged from 1 to 20 fins. The analytical
calculations produced the results of the base temperature ranging from 795.18 K to 316.45k. Using 12
fins produced the lowest temperature for the base of the fins at 316.45 K. Below table (1) shows the
results and details of the analytical calculations.
# of Fins
Fin Thickness
Mass Flow Rate
(Kg/s) T exit (K)
h (W/m^2*
k) Tb (k)
1 0.5 0.001944513 299.14051 20.56 795.1847
2 0.25 0.00093612 299.37754 41.12 454.6841
3 0.166666667 0.000585932 299.79276 61.68 378.2314
4 0.125 0.00040373 300.39374 82.24 349.2868
5 0.1 0.000291725 301.18598 102.8 335.3365
6 0.083333333 0.000216927 302.17383 123.36 327.6265
7 0.071428571 0.000164634 303.36089 143.92 323.0055
8 0.0625 0.000127021 304.75029 164.48 320.1173
9 0.055555556 9.94174E-05 306.34474 185.04 318.3017
10 0.05 7.88311E-05 308.14669 205.6 317.2072
11 0.045454545 6.32627E-05 310.15833 226.16 316.6327
12 0.041666667 5.13385E-05 312.38167 246.72 316.4567
13 0.038461538 4.20965E-05 314.81857 267.28 316.6019
14 0.035714286 3.4853E-05 317.47074 287.84 317.0171
15 0.033333333 2.91158E-05 320.33978 308.4 317.6671
16 0.03125 2.45264E-05 323.42721 328.96 318.527
17 0.029411765 2.08206E-05 326.73443 349.52 319.5784
18 0.027777778 1.78019E-05 330.26278 370.08 320.8079
19 0.026315789 1.53227E-05 334.01353 390.64 322.205
20 0.025 1.32706E-05 337.98789 411.2 323.7617
Table (1): Results produced from the analytical calculations.

After analyzing the results from the analytical calculations, it had been determined that using 12
fins for the fin array would produce the most optimum results. To obtain further detail of the fin array,
ANSYS 15.0 was used to construct and test the 12 fin array under the original conditions specified
earlier. When constructing the fin array in ANSYS a fin thickness of 0.0416 cm with a fin length of 4 cm
was used. These fins were attached to a 1 cm *1 cm base that was 0.2 cm thick. The entire array was
then set to be made out of aluminum which was assigned to have the conductivity of 250 (w/m*K).
Figure (2) shows the geometry that was constructed using ANSYS.

Figure (2):
Aluminum fin
array that was
constructed and
tested in ANSYS.
To properly test the geometry a heat flow, a film coefficient and an ambient temperature were
assigned. A heat flow of 12 watts was applied to the bottom surface of the 0.2 cm thick plate with a
direction pointing upwards towards the fins. The ambient temperature was assigned to be equal to the
array inlet temperature which was 20 C. The convective heat transfer coefficient that was obtained
from the analytical calculations for 12 fins, 246.72 (w/(m^2*k), was used for the value of the convective
film coefficient. The film coefficient was applied to all the faces of the fins and to the gaps between the
To receive the most accurate results, the model most be mesh independent. In order to check
for mesh independence a parameter test was put in place. The element sizing, number of elements and
the base temperature of the fins were used as parameters for the testing of mesh independence. To
test for mesh independence the number of elements in the mesh were compared to the base
temperature of the fins. Once the base temperature stopped varying as the number of elements used
increased the geometry could then be declared mesh independent. Figure (3) shows the results from
the parameter test for mesh independence.

The parameter test started with 2770 elements being used; this produced a temperature of 43.216 C.
The number of elements was then increased by 2000 to 3000 elements with each test. This resulted in
the base temperature to increase as the number of elements increased. When the number of elements
reached about 15,000, the temperature of the base began to level off. The number of elements then
was increase in steps from 15,000 to 22,000. The temperature of the base remained the same even
though the number of elements continued to increase. This shows that at 15,000 elements the
geometry was mesh independent. Figure (4) shows the mesh that was used for the final testing of the
0 5000 10000 15000 20000 25000



Number of Mesh Elements
Base Temperature vs. Number of
Figure (3):
Results from
the parameter
test for mesh


Three separate tests were performed on the geometry after it was determined to be mesh
independent. The geometry was tested for temperatures at the base of the fins, the bottom of the plate
and throughout the entire array. The temperature at the base of the fins would be the closest
comparison to the analytical calculations since that was the final temperature found at the end of those
calculations. Figure (5) and figure (6) show the results for the base temperatures from the ANSYS

Figure (4): The
final mesh that
was used for
testing had 14,736
Figure (5): The
results for the
temperature at
the base of the
fins. This shows
that the
was 43.15 C
(316.15 k).

For the base temperature of the fins, the results produced by ANSYS gave an average temperature of
43.15 C (316.15 K). Compared to the analytical calculation result of 316.45 K, the ANSYS results were
slightly smaller. This could be because of the faces chosen for the convective film coefficient or because
of the heat loss from the bottom of the plate to the top of the plate that was not taken account of for
the analytical calculations.
Two additional tests were performed in ANSYS. Figure (7) shows the results for the temperature of the
entire array. Figure (8) shows the actually temperature the computer chip would experience under the
given conditions.

Figure (6): Results from the fin base temperature test.

Figure (7): The resulting temperatures of the entire fin array. The max temperature
experienced is 44.108 C (317.108 k).


To maintain ideal computer performance, thermal management of the electronic systems is
important. This project tested to see what the optimal number of fins would be to keep a computer
chip that had a power generation of 12 watts at the lowest possible temperature. After completing
analytical calculations it was clear that 12 fins would produce the best results. The 12 fin array was then
constructed and tested in ANSYS to get more detailed information. After testing it was known that a
computer chip using this fin array would experience a maximum temperature of 44.108 C. Without the
use of the fin array the chip would overheat and would be impossible to use. The thermal management
of the computer chip by the use of fins is an extremely effective and cost efficient way to make sure that
a computer is running at its peak performance. This shows how a simple fin array can make a huge
difference in something as complicated as a computer.
Figure (8): The resulting temperatures the computer chip would experience. The max
temperature is 44.108 C (317.108 k).