48V/1V Voltage Regulator for High-Performance Microprocessors


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Virginia Tech


The data center serves as the hardware foundation for artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, constituting a global market that has surpassed $200 billion and is experiencing rapid growth. It is estimated that data centers contribute to 1.7-2.2% of the world's electricity generation. Conversely, up to 80% of the long-term operational expenditure of data centers is allocated to electricity consumption. Consequently, enhancing the efficiency of electric energy conversion in data centers is not only economically advantageous but also crucial for achieving carbon-neutral objectives. Through collaborative efforts between the industrial and academic sectors, substantial advancements have been achieved in the energy conversion efficiency of data centers. Most converters within the data center power architecture now boast efficiencies exceeding 99%. However, the bottleneck for further improvements in system efficiency lies in the voltage regulator modules (VRMs), which grapple with challenges such as high conversion ratios, elevated output currents, and substantial load transients. These challenges are particularly pronounced for AI processors and graphics processing units (GPUs), given their heightened power demands compared to conventional central processing units (CPUs). To enhance system efficiency, a revolutionary shift in power architecture has been introduced, advocating for the adoption of a 48 V data center power architecture to replace the conventional 12 V architecture. The higher 48 V bus voltage significantly reduces distribution loss on the bus. However, the primary challenge lies in managing high step-down voltage conversion while maintaining high efficiency. Additionally, high-performance microprocessors, including CPUs, GPUs, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), require hundreds of amperes of current at low voltage levels (e.g., GPUs need >220 A at <1.85 V, CPUs need >1000 A at <1.0 V). An unavoidable consequence of upscaling processor current and size is the substantial resistive loss in VRMs. This is because such loss scales with the square of the current [I2R], and the power path area (and resistance R) expands with the processor size. The Power Delivery Network (PDN) resistance in the "last inch" of the power delivery path is becoming a limiting factor in processor performance and system efficiency. The key to reducing the I2R loss is minimizing the distance between the VRMs and processors by utilizing ultra-high power density VRMs. Furthermore, the design of Voltage Regulator Modules (VRMs) for high-performance microprocessors encounters additional formidable challenges, especially when dealing with the requirements of contemporary computing architectures. The key hurdles encompass achieving high efficiency, handling low output voltage, accommodating wide voltage ranges, managing elevated output currents, and addressing significant load transients. These challenges prompt both academia and industry to explore novel topologies, innovative magnetic integration methods, and advanced control strategies. The prevailing trend in state-of-the-art 48V solutions centers around the adoption of two-stage configurations, wherein the second stage can leverage conventional 12V solutions. However, this approach imposes limitations on power density and efficiency, given that power traverses two cascaded DC/DC converters. Additionally, the footprint of decoupling capacitors and I2R loss on the intermedia bus between the two stages is emerging as a noteworthy consideration in designs. In response to these challenges, a novel proposition introduces a single-stage 48V coupled-transformer voltage regulator (CTVR) tailored for high-performance microprocessors. This innovative design aims to deliver ultra-high power density and superior efficiency. The converter employs a unique magnetic structure that integrates transformers and coupled inductors from multiple current-doubler rectifiers. Significantly, by utilizing the magnetizing inductors of transformers as output inductors, there is a substantial reduction in the size of magnetic components. Various implementations are explored, each addressing specific design objectives. Initially, a single-stage coupled-transformer voltage regulator (CTVR) with discrete magnetics is presented, offering a 48V solution while maintaining a comparable size and cost to a state-of-the-art 12V multiphase buck regulator. Leveraging the indirect-coupling concept, magnetic components are standardized, enabling scalability and facilitating multiphase operation. A prototype is constructed and tested to validate the CTVR's performance. With a 48V input and 1.8V output, the peak efficiency registers at 92.1%, and the power area density is 0.45 W/mm2. However, voltage ringing is observed in both primary and secondary switches due to a larger leakage inductance and hard-switching operation. Subsequently, a transition to soft-switching operation is implemented to address the voltage ringing issue. The leakage inductance is intentionally designed to supply energy for zero-voltage switching (ZVS) of primary switches, turning the previously perceived drawback into an opportunity for efficiency improvement. As a result, testing demonstrates a peak efficiency increase of more than 1%, reaching 93.6%. Furthermore, efforts are made to enhance small leakage inductance by employing well-interleaved printed circuit board (PCB) windings. Following a series of design optimizations, the prototype achieves a peak efficiency of 93.1% and a remarkable power density of 1037 W/in3, accounting for gate driver loss and size. Despite an increase in cost associated with PCB windings, this proposed solution attains the highest power density and stands as the pioneering 48V single-stage design surpassing 1000 W/in3 power density. When prioritizing efficiency in the design, the quasi-parallel Sigma converter emerges as another optimal choices for a 48V solution. However, the intricate and distinctive quasi-parallel structure of the Sigma converter necessitates a thorough examination of its control mechanism, particularly in light of the rapid load transient response requirements. To address this, an adaptive voltage positioning (AVP) design for the Sigma converter is introduced, employing enhanced V2 control. Guidelines and limitations are provided to stabilize the converter and enhance its overall performance. Ultimately, the AVP function and load transient performance are substantiated through simulation and experimental results.



Magnetic integration, coupled inductor, voltage regulator, constant-on time control, dynamic performance