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Tweaking PowerTune

While the primary purpose of PowerTune is to keep the power consumption of a video card within its TDP in all cases, AMD has realized that PowerTune isn’t necessarily something everyone wants, and so they’re making it adjustable in the Overdrive control panel. With Overdrive you’ll be able to adjust the PowerTune limits both up and down by up to 20% to suit your needs.

We’ll start with the case of increasing the PowerTune limits. While AMD does not allow users to completely turn off PowerTune, they’re offering the next best thing by allowing you to increase the PowerTune limits. Acknowledging that not everyone wants to keep their cards at their initial PowerTune limits, AMD has included a slider with the Overdrive control panel that allows +/- 20% adjustment to the PowerTune limit. In the case of the 6970 this means the PowerTune limit can be adjusted to anywhere between 200W and 300W, the latter being the ATX spec maximum.

Ultimately the purpose of raising the PowerTune limit depends on just how far you raise it. A slight increase can bring a slight performance advantage in any game/application that is held back by PowerTune, while going the whole nine yards to 20% is for all practical purposes disabling PowerTune at stock clocks and voltages.

We’ve already established that at the stock PowerTune limit of 250W only FurMark and Metro 2033 are PowerTune limited, with only the former limited in any meaningful way. So with that in mind we increased our PowerTune limit to 300W and re-ran our power/temperature/noise tests to look at the full impact of using the 300W limit.

Radeon HD 6970: PowerTune Performance
PowerTune 250W PowerTune 300W
Crysis Temperature 78 79
Furmark Temperature 83 90
Crysis Power 340W 355W
Furmark Power 361W 422W

As expected, power and temperature both increase with FurMark with PowerTune at 300W. At this point FurMark is no longer constrained by PowerTune and our 6970 runs at 880MHz throughout the test. Overall our power consumption measured at the wall increased by 60W, while the core clock for FurMark is 46.6% faster. It was under this scenario that we also “uncapped” PowerTune for Metro, when we found that even though Metro was being throttled at times, the performance impact was impossibly small.

Meanwhile we found something interesting when running Crysis. Even though Crysis is not impacted by PowerTune, Crysis’ power consumption still crept up by 15W. Performance is exactly the same, and yet here we are with slightly higher power consumption. We don’t have a good explanation for this at this point – PowerTune only affects the core clock (and not the core voltage), and we never measured Crysis taking a hit at 250W or 300W, so we’re not sure just what is going on. However we’ve already established that FurMark is the only program realistically impacted by the 250W limit, so at stock clocks there’s little reason to increase the PowerTune limit.

This does bring up overclocking however. Due to the limited amount of time we had with the 6900 series we have not been able to do a serious overclocking investigation, but as clockspeed is a factor in the power equation, PowerTune is going to impact overclocking. You’re going to want to raise the PowerTune limit when overclocking, otherwise PowerTune is liable to bring your clocks right back down to keep power consumption below 250W. The good news for hardcore overclockers is that while AMD set a 20% limit on our reference cards, partners will be free to set their own tweaking limits – we’d expect high-end cards like the Gigabyte SOC, MSI Lightning, and Asus Matrix lines to all feature higher limits to keep PowerTune from throttling extreme overclocks.

Meanwhile there’s a second scenario AMD has thrown at us for PowerTune: tuning down. Although we generally live by the “more is better” mantra, there is some logic to this. Going back to our dynamic range example, by shrinking the dynamic power range power hogs at the top of the spectrum get pushed down, but thanks to AMD’s ability to use higher default core clocks, power consumption of low impact games and applications goes up. In essence power consumption gets just a bit worse because performance has improved.

Traditionally V-sync has been used as the preferred method of limiting power consumption by limiting a card’s performance, but V-sync introduces additional input lag and the potential for skipped frames when triple-buffering is not available, making it a suboptimal solution in some cases. Thus if you wanted to keep a card at a lower performance/power level for any given game/application but did not want to use V-sync, you were out of luck unless you wanted to start playing with core clocks and voltages manually. By being able to turn down the PowerTune limits however, you can now constrain power consumption and performance on a simpler basis.

As with the 300W PowerTune limit, we ran our power/temperature/noise tests with the 200W limit to see what the impact would be.

Radeon HD 6970: PowerTune Performance
PowerTune 250W PowerTune 200W
Crysis Temperature 78 71
Furmark Temperature 83 71
Crysis Power 340W 292W
Furmark Power 361W 292W

Right off the bat everything is lower. FurMark is now at 292W, and quite surprisingly Crysis is also at 292W. This plays off of the fact that most games don’t cause a card to approach its limit in the first place, so bringing the ceiling down will bring the power consumption of more power hungry games and applications down to the same power consumption levels as lesser games/applications.

Although not whisper quiet, our 6970 is definitely quieter at the 200W limit than the default 250W limit thanks to the lower power consumption. However the 200W limit also impacts practically every game and application we test, so performance is definitely going to go down for everything if you do reduce the PowerTune limit by the full 20%.

Radeon HD 6970: PowerTune Crysis Performance
PowerTune 250W PowerTune 200W
2560x1600 36.6 28
1920x1200 51.5 43.3
1680x1050 63.3 52

At 200W, you’re looking at around 75%-80% of the performance for Crysis. The exact value will depend on just how heavy of a load the specific game/application was in the first place.

PowerTune, Cont Another New Anti-Aliasing Mode: Enhanced Quality AA
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  • cyrusfox - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    You should totally be able to do a 4X1 display, 2 DP and 2 DVI, as long as one of those DP dells also has a DVI input. That would get rid of the need for your usb-vga adapter. Reply
  • gimmeagdlaugh - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Not sure why AMD 6970 has green bar,
    while NV 580 has red bar...?
    Reply
  • medi01 - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Also wondering. Did nVidia marketing guys called again? Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    I normally use green for new products. That's all there is to it. Reply
  • JimmiG - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Still don't like the idea of Powertune. Games with a high power load are the ones that fully utilize many parts of the GPU at the same time, while less power hungry games only utilize parts of it. So technically, the specifications are *wrong* as printed in the table on page one.

    The 6970 does *not* have 1536 stream processors at 880 MHz. Sure, it may have 1536 stream processors, and it may run at up to 880 MHz.. But not at the same time!

    So if you fully utilize all 1536 processors, maybe it's a 700 MHz GPU.. or to put it another way, if you want the GPU to run at 880 MHz, you may only utilize, say 1200 stream processors.
    Reply
  • cyrusfox - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    I think Anand did a pretty good job of explaining at how it reasonably power throttles the card. Also as 3rd party board vendors will probably make work-arounds for people who abhor getting anything but the best performance(even at the cost of efficiency). I really don't think this is much of an issue, but a good development that is probably being driven by Fusion for Ontario, Zacate, and llano. Also only Metro 2033 triggered any reduction(850Mhz from 880Mhz). So your statement of a crippled GPU only holds for Furmark, nothing got handicapped to 700Mhz. Games are trying to efficiently use all the GPU has to offer, so I don't believe we will see many games at all trigger the use of powertune throttling. Reply
  • JimmiG - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Perhaps, but there's no telling what kind of load future DX11 games, combined with faster CPUs will put on the GPU. Programs like Furmark don't do anything unusual, they don't increase GPU clocks or voltages or anything like that - they just tell the GPU - "Draw this on the screen as fast as you can".

    It's the same dilemma overclockers face - Do I keep this higher overclock that causes the system to crash with stress tests but works fine with games and benchmarks? Or do I back down a few steps to guarantee 100% stability. IMO, no overclock is valid unless the system can last through the most rigorous stress tests without crashes, errors or thermal protection kicking in.

    Also, having a card that throttles with games available today tells me that it's running way to close to the thermal limit. Overclocking in this case would have to be defined as simply disabling the protection to make the GPU always work at the advertised speed.
    It's a lazy solution, what they should have done is go back to the drawing board until the GPU hits the desired performance target while staying within the thermal envelope. Prescott showed that you can't just keep adding stuff without any considerations for thermals or power usage.
    Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Didn't you see you can increase the throttle threshold by 20% in Catalyst Control Centre. This means 300W until it throttles, which in a sense disables the PowerTune. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    On page eight Ryan mentions that Metro 2033 DID get throttled to 700MHz. The 850MHz number was reached by averaging the amount of time Metro was at 880MHz with the time it ran at 700MHz.

    Which is a prime example of why I hate averages in reviews. If you have a significantly better "best case", you can get away with a particularly bad "worst case" and end up smelling like roses.
    Reply
  • fausto412 - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    CPU's have been doing this for a while...and you are allowed to turn the feature off. AMD is giving you a range to go over.

    It will cut down on RMA's, Extend Reliability.
    Reply

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