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PowerTune, Cont

PowerTune’s functionality is accomplished in a two-step process. The first step is defining the desired TDP of a product. Notably (and unlike NVIDIA) AMD is not using power monitoring hardware here, citing the costs of such chips and the additional design complexities they create. Instead AMD is profiling the performance of their GPUs to determine what the power consumption behavior is for each functional block. This behavior is used to assign a weighted score to each functional block, which in turn is used to establish a rough equation to find the power consumption of the GPU based on each block’s usage.

AMD doesn’t provide the precise equations used, but you can envision it looking something like this:

Power Consumption =( (shaderUsage * shaderWeight) + (ropUsage * ropWeight) + (memoryUsage * memoryWeight) ) * clockspeed

In the case of the Radeon HD 6970, the TDP is 250W, while the default clockspeed is 880MHz.

With a power equation established, AMD can then adjust GPU performance on the fly to keep power consumption under the TDP. This is accomplished by dynamically adjusting just the core clock based on GPU usage a few times a second. So long as power consumption stays under 250W the 6970 stays at 880MHz, and if power consumption exceeds 250W then the core clock will be brought down to keep power usage in check.

It’s worth noting that in practice the core clock and power usage do not have a linear relationship, so PowerTune may have to drop the core clock by quite a bit in order to maintain its power target. The memory clock and even the core voltage remain unchanged (these are only set with PowerPlay states), so PowerTune only has the core clock to work with.

Ultimately PowerTune is going to fundamentally change how we measure and classify AMD’s GPUs. With PowerTune the TDP really is the TDP; as a completely game/application agonistic way of measuring and containing power consumption, it’s simply not possible to exceed the TDP. The power consumption of the average game is still below the TDP – sometimes well below – so there’s still an average case and a worst case scenario to discuss, but the range between them just got much smaller.

Furthermore as a result, real world performance is going to differ from theoretical performance that much more. Just as is the case with CPUs where the performance you get is the performance you get; teraFLOPs, cache bandwidth, and clocks alone won’t tell you everything about the performance of a product. The TDP and whether the card regularly crosses it will factor in to performance, just as how cooling factors in to CPU performance by allowing/prohibiting higher turbo modes. At least for AMD’s GPUs, we’re now going to be talking about how much performance you can get for any given TDP instead of specific clockspeeds, bringing performance per watt to the forefront of importance.

So by now you’re no doubt wondering what the impact of PowerTune is, and the short answer is that there’s virtually no impact. We’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of all the games and applications in our test suite, and whether they triggered PowerTune throttling. Of the dozen tests, only two triggered PowerTune: FurMark as expected, and Metro 2033. Furthermore as you can see there was a significant difference between the average clockspeed of our 6970 in these two situations.

AMD Radeon HD 6970 PowerTune Throttling
Game/Application Throttled?
Crysis: Warhead No
BattleForge No
Metro Yes (850Mhz)
HAWX No
Civilization V No
Bad Company 2 No
STALKER No
DiRT 2 No
Mass Effect 2 No
Wolfenstein No
3DMark Vantage Yes
MediaEspresso 6 No
Unigine Heaven No
FurMark Yes (600MHz)
Distributed.net Client No

In the case of Metro the average clockspeed was 850MHz; Metro spent 95% of the time running at 880MHz, and only at a couple of points did the core clock drop to around 700MHz. Conversely FurMark, a known outlier, drove the average core clock down to 600MHz for a 30% reduction in the core clock. So while PowerTune definitely had an impact on FurMark performance it did almost nothing to Metro, never mind any other game/application. To illustrate the point, here are our Metro numbers with and without PowerTune.

Radeon HD 6970: Metro 2033 Performance
PowerTune 250W PowerTune 300W
2560x1600 25.5 26
1920x1200 39 39.5
1680x1050 64.5 65

The difference is no more than .5fps on average, which may as well be within our experimental error range for this benchmark. For everything we’ve tested on the 6970 and the 6950, the default PowerTune settings do not have a meaningful performance impact on any game or application we test. Thus at this point we’re confident that there are no immediate drawbacks to PowerTune for desktop use.

Ultimately this is a negative feedback mechanism, unlike Turbo which is a positive feedback mechanism. Without overclocking the best a 6970 will run at is 880MHz, whereas Turbo would increase clockspeeds when conditions allow. Neither one is absolutely the right way to do things, but there’s a very different perception when performance is taken away, versus when performance is “added” for free. I absolutely like where this is going – both as a hardware reviewer and as a gamer – but I’d be surprised if this didn’t generate at least some level of controversy.

Finally, while we’ve looked at PowerTune in the scope of desktop usage, we’ve largely ignored other cases so far. AMD will be the first to tell you that PowerTune is more important for mobile use than it is desktop use, and mobile use is all the more important as the balance between desktops and laptops sold continues to slide towards laptops. In the mobile space not only does PowerTune mean that AMD will absolutely hit their TDPs, but it should allow them to produce mobile GPUs that come with higher stock core clocks, comfortable in the knowledge that PowerTune will keep power usage in check for the heaviest games and applications. The real story for PowerTune doesn’t even begin until 2011 – as far as the 6900 series is concerned, this may as well be a sneak peak.

Even then there’s one possible exception we’re waiting to see: 6990 (Antilles). The Radeon HD 5970 put us in an interesting spot: it was and still is the fastest card around, but unless you can take advantage of CrossFire it’s slower than a single 5870, a byproduct of the fact that AMD had to use lower core and memory clocks to make their 300W TDP. This is in stark comparison to the 4870X2, which really was 2 4870s glued together with the same single GPU performance. With PowerTune AMD doesn’t necessarily need to repeat the 5970’s castrated clocks; they could make a 6970X2, and let PowerTune clip performance as necessary to keep it under 300W. If something is being used without CrossFire for example, then there’s no reason not to run the 1 GPU at full speed. It would be the best of both worlds.

In the meantime we’re not done with PowerTune quite yet. PowerTune isn’t just something AMD can set – it’s adjustable in the Overdrive control panel too.

Redefining TDP With PowerTune Tweaking PowerTune
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  • AnnihilatorX - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I disagree with you rarson

    This is what sets Anandtech apart, it has quality over quantity.
    Anandtech is the ONLY review site which offers me comprehensive information on the architecture, with helpful notes on the expected future gaming performance. It mention AMD intended the 69xx to run on 35nm, and made sacrifices. If you go to Guru3D''s review, the editor in the conclusion stated that he doesn't know why the performance lacks the wow factor. Anandtech answered that question with the process node.

    If you want to read reviews only, go onto google and search for 6850 review, or go to DailyTech's daily recent hardware review post, you can find over 15 plain reviews. Even easier, just use the Quick Navigation menu or the Table of Content in the freaking first page of article. This laziness does not entrice sypathy.
    Reply
  • Quidam67 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Rarson's comments may have been a little condescending in their tone, but I think the critism was actually constructive in nature.

    You can argue the toss about whether the architecture should be in a separate article or not, but personally speaking, I actually would prefer it was broken out. I mean, for those who are interested, simply provide a hyper-link, that way everyone gets what they want.

    In my view, a review is a review and an analysis on architecture can compliment that review but should not actually a part of the review itself. A number of other sites follow this formula, and provide both, but don't merge them together as one super-article, and there are other benefits to this if you read on.

    The issue of spelling anf grammer is trivial, but in fact could be symptomatic of a more serious problem, such as the sheer volume of work Ryan has to perform in the time-frame provided, and the level of QA being squeesed in with it. Given the nature of NDA's, perhaps it might take the pressure off if the review did come first, and the architecture second, so the time-pressures weren't quite so restrictive.

    Lastly, employing a professional proof-reader is hardly an insult to the original author. It's no different than being a software engineer (which I am) and being backed up by a team of quality test analysts. It certainly makes you sleep better when stuff goes into production. Why should Ryan shoulder all the responsibility?
    Reply
  • silverblue - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I do hope you're joking. :) (can't tell at this early time) Reply
  • Arnulf - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    "... unlike Turbo which is a positive feedback mechanism."

    Turbo is a negative feedback mechanism. If it was a positive feedback mechanism (= a consequence of an action resulting in further action in same direction) the CPU would probably burn up almost instantly after Turbo triggered as its clock would increase indefinitely, ever more following each increase, the higher the temperature, the higher the frequency. This is not how Turbo works.

    Negative feedback mechanism is a result of an action resulting in reaction (= action in the opposite direction). In the case of CPUs and Turbo it's this to temperature reaction that keeps CPU frequency under control. The higher the temperature, the lower the frequency. This is how Turbo and PowerTune work.

    The fact that Turbo starts at lower frequency and ramps it up and that PowerTune starts at higher frequency and brings it down has no bearing on whether the mechanism of control is called "positive" or "negative" feedback.

    Considering your fondness for Wikipedia (as displayed by the reference in the article) you might want to check out these:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_feedback
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_feedback

    and more specifically:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_feedback#Con...
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Hi Arnulf;

    Fundamentally you're right, so I won't knock you. I guess you could say I'm going for a very loose interpretation there. The point I'm trying to get across is that Turbo provides a performance floor, while PowerTune is a performance ceiling. People like getting extra performance for "free" more than they like "losing" performance. Hence one experience is positive and one is negative.

    I think in retrospect I should have used positive/negative reinforcement instead of feedback.
    Reply
  • Soda - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Anyone noticed that the edge missing og the boards 8-pin power connector ?

    Apparently the AMD made a mistake in the reference design of the board and didn't calculating the space needed by the cooler.

    If you look closely on the power connector in http://images.anandtech.com/doci/4061/6970Open.jpg you'll notice the missing edge.

    For a full story on the matter you can go to http://www.hardwareonline.dk/nyheder.aspx?nid=1060...
    For the english speaking people I suggest the googlish version here http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=da&sl...

    There are some pictures to backup the claim the mistake made AMD here.

    Though it haven't been confirmed by AMD if this is only a mistake on the review boards or all cards of the 69xx series.
    Reply
  • versesuvius - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I have a 3870, on a 17 inch monitor, and everything is fine as long as games go. The hard disk gets in the way sometimes, but that is just about it. All the games run fine. No problem at all. Oh, there's more: They run better on the lousy XBOX. Why the new GPU then? Giant monitors? Three of them? Six of them? (The most fun I had on Anandtech was looking at pictures of AT people trying to stabilize them on a wall). Oh, the "Compute GPU"? Wouldn't that fit on a small PCI card, and act like the old 486 coprecessor, for those who have some use for it? Or is it just a silly excuse for not doing much at all, or rather not giving much to the customers, and still charge the same? The "High End"! In an ideal world the prices of things go down, and more and more people can afford them. That lovely capitalist idea was turned on its head, sometime in the eighties of the last century, and instead the notion of value was reinvented. You get more value, for the same price. You still have to pay $400 for your graphic card, even though you do not need the "Compute GPU", and you do not need the aliased superduper antialiasing that nobody yet knows how to achieve in software. Can we have a cheap 4870? No that is discontinued. The 58 series? Discontinued. There are hundreds of thousands or to be sure, millions of people who will pay 50 dollars for one. All ATI or Nvidia need to do is to fine tune the drivers and reduce power consumption. Then again, that must be another "High End" story. In fact the only tale that is being told and retold is "High End"s and "Fool"s, (i.e. "We can do whatever we want with the money that you don't have".) Until better, saner times. For now, long live the console. I am going to buy one, instead of this stupid monstrosity and its equally stupid competitive monstrosity. Cheaper, and gets the job done in more than one way.

    End of Rant.
    God Bless.
    Reply
  • Necc - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    So True. Reply
  • Ananke - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Agree. I have 5850 and it does work fine, and I got it on day one at huge discount, but still - it is kind of worthless. Our entertainment comes more exclusively from consoles, and I discrete high end card that commands above $100 price tag is worthless. It is nice touch, but I have no application for it in everyday life, and several months later is already outdated or discontinued.

    My guess, integrated in the CPU graphics will take over, and the mass market discrete cards will have the fate of the dinosaurs very soon.
    Reply
  • Quidam67 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Wonderfully subversive commentary. Loved it.

    Still, the thing I like about the High end (I'll never buy it until my Mortgage is done with) is that it filters down to the middle/low end.

    Yes, lots of discontinued product lines but for example, I thought the HD5770 was a fantastic product. Gave ample performance for maintstream gamers in a small form-factor (you can even get it in single slot) with low heat and power requirements meaning it was a true drop-in upgrade to your existing rig, with a practical upgrade path to Crossfire X.

    As for the xbox, that hardware is so outdated now that even the magic of software optimisation (a seemingly lost art in the world of PC's) cannot disguise the fact that new games are not going to look any better, or run any faster, than those that came out at launch. Was watching GT5 in demo the other day and with all the hype about how realistic it looks (and plays) I really couldn't get past the massive amount of Jaggies on screen. Also, very limited damage modelling, and in my view that's a nod towards hardware limitations rather than a game-design consideration.
    Reply

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