Vapor chamber technologies offer an attractive approach for passive cooling in portable electronic devices. Due to the market trends in device power consumption and thickness, vapor chamber effectiveness must be compared with alternative heat spreading materials at ultrathin form factors and low heat dissipation rates. A test facility is developed to experimentally characterize performance and analyze the behavior of ultrathin vapor chambers that must reject heat to the ambient via natural convection. The evaporator-side and ambient temperatures are measured directly; the condenser-side surface temperature distribution, which has critical ergonomics implications, is measured using an infrared (IR) camera calibrated pixel-by-pixel over the field of view and operating temperature range. The high thermal resistance imposed by natural convection in the vapor chamber heat dissipation pathway requires accurate prediction of the parasitic heat losses from the test facility using a combined experimental and numerical calibration procedure. Solid metal heat spreaders of known thermal conductivity are first tested, and the temperature distribution is reproduced using a numerical model for conduction in the heat spreader and thermal insulation by iteratively adjusting the external boundary conditions. A regression expression for the heat loss is developed as a function of measured operating conditions using the numerical model. A sample vapor chamber is tested for heat inputs below 2.5 W. Performance metrics are developed to characterize heat spreader performance in terms of the effective thermal resistance and the condenser-side temperature uniformity. The study offers a rigorous approach for testing and analysis of new vapor chamber designs, with accurate characterization of their performance relative to other heat spreaders.

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